Culinary Waves: A dose of savory balances out sweet desserts

Jan 11, 2018 by Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Culinary Waves: by Chef Mary Beth Lawton Johnson

I remember when the desserts of the past had all the combined elements that revolved around nothing but sweet, soft and crunchy. For the new year, I am showcasing savory ingredients in my desserts, such as vegetables I have on board in recipes like butternut squash and pumpkin cheesecake or roast carrot soufflé with crème fraiche and cinnamon sauce.

Dessert simply doesn’t have to be sweet anymore. Savory is in!

I like to feature a savory dessert paired with a sweet sauce or condiment – only because I simply can’t give up my sweet tooth. I may have a soft spot for sweetness, but it is up to you, the chef on board, whether you choose to go all the way with savory or balance it out with a touch of sweetness to round out a wonderful meal.

Most people have a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, so why not give that goal a jumpstart by offering them vegetables – even for dessert. I’ve been doing this for years.

One of my go-to desserts that balances both savory and sweet is an Apple Thyme Tart with balsamic syrup. The actual tart is not sweet, except for the Granny Smith apples, which are baked in handmade crust with fresh thyme scattered over the top and a reduced balsamic thyme drizzle. Serve it with ice cream, or if you want to go lighter, a quark, which is a type of cheese.

Too many desserts can be overwhelming in the sweet department and throw the entire dinner off with items that don’t match each other or compliment the flavor profiles. So when considering a dinner, take into account what flavor profiles compliment each other. Pork and citrus work well, lamb and squash pair nicely, or beef and sweet potato soufflés for dessert will carry the dinner off nicely. It doesn’t mean the dessert has to be entirely savory, just not entirely sweet.

One of my favorite menu items to work with is chocolate, but not everyone can have chocolate at night because for some, it keeps them awake. For people who can’t have chocolate, offer a soufflé or pots de crème. A fried bean tortilla in an egg white- and sugar-coated crust with cinnamon makes a great ending to a spicy meal.

If chocolate is your thing, pair chocolate with cheese and fresh herbs, such as fresh rosemary, and make them into a biscuit that can be dipped into melted chocolate or spread with fruit jam served with pungent cheese.

Roasted carrots or parsnips made into a mousse topped with candied bacon and a honeyed yogurt offers a balanced dessert that is savory and sweet.

Instead of a cream- and sugar-laden chocolate mousse, try avocado cocoa mousse. It replaces bad fat with good fat, so it’s healthier – plus, it won’t keep chocolate-sensitive diners up all night.

One of my vegan recipes for the vegetarians onboard is a tofu mousse. It is a staple that I serve when the guests don’t want the typical heavy mousse with gelatin made with animal fat.

Recently I ate potato doughnuts instead of cake, or yeast and flour, doughnuts. I couldn’t tell the difference! They were light and airy, and got me thinking about how I could incorporate more healthy starches into the dessert menu. It’s simple. I use pureéd vegetables for breads and soups and sauces to thicken them, so why not cakes and doughnuts? I had an AHA moment! Where have I been all these years? Why was I not on the health bandwagon, even with cookies?

Quinoa makes a great cookie for gluten-free people, and a gluten-free flour blend. Toss in dried fruits and nuts to add taste, as well as fiber and protein.

Savory doesn’t have to mean eliminating the sweet taste altogether; instead, balance it out to have both the savory and the sweet tastes break across your tastebuds. For example, make a gazpacho using hibiscus flower water, watermelon and fresh-chopped vegetables – the dish will be savory and sweet at the same time. Savory dessert ideas are limitless!

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome below.

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About Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years.

View all posts by Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson →



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