By Stephanie L. Charns, CSCE
Late autumn is such a beautiful time of year. From the toasty smell of a festive bonfire to the crunching sound made from freshly fallen leaves, I find nature’s beauty inspirational when creating a dessert. Toasting a freshly made marshmallow that rests atop a chocolate ganache tartlet sprinkled with bits of crispy bacon brings the dessert alive. Capturing the true feeling of the season in a dessert is a fun challenge for me.
As coffee shops are busy making pumpkin lattes, there are many other delicious fall items that can be taken advantage of as well. Sweet potatoes, butternut squash and beets work well in the bakeshop. Sweet potato biscuits with fresh made butter and local honey, butternut squash gelato on a warm walnut tart and chocolate beet cake are desserts I truly enjoy making this time of year. One of my all-time favorite fall desserts is gingerbread. Apples, pears and caramel are wonderful complements to this spicy cake.
Richmond, Virginia, is an area that is increasingly becoming more food aware, which makes the farmers’ markets bountiful as well as beautiful. Such organizations as Slow Food RVA bring awareness to the value of eating local. Richmond is surrounded by a beautiful countryside filled with farms, wineries and breweries–a region that truly inspires creative desserts. I enjoy the opportunity to talk with the person who is fastidiously raising the food I will use to create a work of art on a plate.
With each dessert, I strive to source the majority of ingredients from local farms and mills. For example, there is a flour mill just outside of Richmond that produces wonderful flours. I use milk and cream from local farmers to create fresh-made butter and yogurt. Many of the ingredients used in the bakeshop cannot, unfortunately, be sourced locally, therefore I attempt to purchase these items from sustainable companies. Sourcing quality ingredients helps me to shape the dessert itself.
As I sketch the dessert, the voice of my pastry instructor resonates in my head to keep the design simple while allowing the complexity of the flavors to shine. Additionally, I reflect on the aesthetic nature of the composed dish: Will the guest find this pleasing to the eye? I look to nature to help with this composition–colors, flavors, aromas and sounds are all factors. I try to incorporate all these elements on the plate. Each season brings fresh colors, flavors and ideas.
Yield: 1 half hotel pan (for a slightly thicker slice) or 2 half sheet trays (for a thin slice)
Oven: 350°F conventional
18 fl oz local bourbon barrel or chocolate stout beer
1/2 T. baking soda
16 oz blackstrap unsulphured molasses
16 oz dark brown sugar
5.25 oz granulated sugar
22.5 oz all purpose flour, unbleached
1.5 oz ground roasted ginger
1/2 T. baking powder (aluminum free)
1/2 T. fine sea salt
2 t. cinnamon
3/4 t. ground five-pepper blend*
8 fl oz olive oil
.5 oz fresh ginger, grated
*In this gingerbread recipe, I use a spice grinder to blend equal parts black peppercorns, white peppercorns, pink peppercorns, green peppercorns and whole Jamaican allspice to create a five-pepper blend.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Line hotel pan or sheet tray with parchment paper and spray sides of with baking spray.
3. In a stainless steel pot, bring beer to a boil.
4. Once boiling, add the baking soda.
5. Let the foaming stop and add molasses, brown sugar and granulated sugar. Mix until
sugars have dissolved.
6. Pour mixture into a mixing bowl. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined.
7. Add eggs, olive oil and fresh ginger. Mix until well combined.
8. Transfer batter into prepared pan (line with parchment paper and spray sides of pan with baking spray).
9. Bake until cake is slightly springy but firm to the touch.
Have a pastry question for Stephanie? Leave it in the comments below!
A former pastry chef for the governor of Virginia, Stephanie is a culinary/pastry instructor and works as a freelance pastry chef in Richmond, Virginia and Raleigh, North Carolina.