I chose to create a casual style Italian restaurant called Nonni's and I chose to create a summer dessert menu. This was my proposed menu:
Nonni’s Italian Restaurant – DOLCI – Dessert Menu
Italian for “pick me up”
Ladyfingers, Espresso, and Mascarpone
Chocolate Sauce and Espresso Sauce
Sweetened Ricotta Cheese with Chocolate Chips and Orange Zest
Cannoli Shell Crust
Caramelized Orange Sauce and Chocolate Sauce
Sorbetti e Biscotti
Enjoy three different types of sorbet and three different Italian cookies
Limoncello Sorbetto in a Lemon Shell with Pistachio Biscotti and Mint Sauce
Tangerine Sorbetto in a Tangerine Shell with Amaretti and Chocolate Sauce
Blood Orange Sorbetto in an Orange Shell with Anise Pizzelle and Apricot-Honey Sauce
Zeppole e Affogato
Zeppole (fried Italian doughnut rounds), Cinnamon and Sugar, Warm Chocolate Sauce
Affogato (Italian for “drowned”) – Espresso poured over a scoop of Chocolate Gelato
Fresh Strawberries and Strawberry Sauce with Balsamic
Budino di Gianduja
Custard of Dark Chocolate, Toasted Hazelnuts, and Crumbled Biscotti
Gianduja Gelato, Vanilla Praline Sauce and Chocolate Sauce
Frutti di Bosco Crostata
Rustic, Flaky Tart with “Fruits of the Forest” –
Blackberries, Blueberries, and Raspberries –|
Berry Coulis, Vanilla Bean Chantilly Cream, and Fresh Basil
All desserts are $6.00.
After reviewing my project proposal, Chef and I decided that I would create and plate the Cannoli Tart and the Zeppole e Affogato for my practical exam. We had one class day to prep our components and one class day to finish prep and plate two identical plates of each dessert for grading.
To date, this was the most detailed and intense project I have completed in my culinary school career. My aunt and uncle were visiting during the time I was working on the proposal a few weeks ago, so they can attest to the time I spent just working on gathering my information and recipes, and getting everything together initially.
Of note, I should tell you that my class was working out of the storeroom instead of our normal classroom because kids baking camps had taken over our usual bakeshop. So we had a makeshift kitchen set up in the storeroom and we had to use ovens and stovetops in two additional rooms. At one point, I had things going on in three different kitchens. I was getting my exercise in addition to attempting to accomplish my work.
I set out with a to do list of items to complete and the order I hoped to complete them. On Monday, I spent class time making my own ricotta cheese, preparing candied orange peel, making tart dough, churning chocolate gelato, and attempting to create chocolate curl garnishes. The chocolate gave me some difficulty and I lost at least an hour of time attempting to make these garnishes. It seems like I should have been able to do more than this in five hours of class time, but given the nature of the steps involved in these processes and a fire alarm in the middle of it all, this was all I was able to accomplish.
On Tuesday, I went to school to continue working on my components. I baked off tart shells, made a caramelized orange sauce, made a chocolate sauce, prepped a strawberry sauce, and again worked on chocolate curl garnishes. It was another five hours spent at school where I felt I should have been able to accomplish more, but the chocolate work was getting the best of me and my frustration level. Thanks to Chef V for helping me work through my chocolate frustrations and leaving the day with something to call a garnish!
On Wednesday, I got into class around 7:15am with a revised to-do list and spent the morning working on the following:
1. Using my home-made ricotta cheese to make the filling for the cannoli tart, with chocolate chips and orange zest.
2. Rewarming my chocolate sauce; bottling it for use.
3. Finishing the strawberry sauce; bottling it for use.
4. Reducing my caramelized orange sauce; bottling it for use.
5. Drying out my candied orange peel which was affected by humidity since Monday.
6. Melting chocolate and brushing the inside of the tart shells with it.
7. Making zeppole dough; allowing it to rise for 1 hour.
8. Gathering strawberries, plates, etc. and preparing my components for plating.
9. Un-molding my chocolate curl garnishes.
10. Making a chocolate dipping sauce and keeping it warm until plating.
11. Preparing oil and a station for frying.
12. Frying off zeppole at 11:00am.
I had all of my components ready at 11:15am, and I had 15 minutes to prepare my plates for presentation at 11:30am. The last thing I had to do was brew fresh espresso and present my plates to Chef.
I liked my overall concept of the cannoli tart because I found a way to take a traditional Italian pastry and create a new form of it. Making my own ricotta cheese was easy, but time-consuming, yet in the end, resulted in a delicious and smooth ricotta filling. The tart shell was too thick overall for the dessert, and proved a little challenging to break into, but I still believe it could work with some necessary tweaks. My favorite thing about this dish was the inclusion of orange in the ricotta filling, the sauce, and the garnish, and Chef liked also that this flavor ran through each of my components. Some will say that cannolis should include candied orange peel in the filling, but since it doesn't appeal to everyone, it's often eliminated. I wanted to use orange and was pleased with the results here; the caramelized orange sauce is so tasty, and even though the process to make candied orange peel is time-consuming as well, it's always a nice treat. It took a great deal of time, energy, and ideas to create the chocolate curl, and though I spent most of the process in utter frustration, I learned a great deal through the process.
I also liked that this tart concept can be made even smaller in the form of a petit four and can easily see myself playing around with this with my leftover ingredients. I wasn't thrilled with my overall plating of this dessert; the caramelized orange sauce wasn't as thick as I needed it to be, and because I missed the mark on the consistency I wanted, I couldn't plate it the way I set out to initially. The plate worked overall, but I would have liked for it to be more crisp and clear. All in all, though, the cannoli tart was a success.
The zeppole and affogato is a really fun dessert. I liked both of these components - the doughnut rounds with the dipping sauce and the chocolate gelato with espresso can both stand on their own, but together create a really pleasing dish. The zeppole are really good right out of the fryer, but even tastier when just warm with the sauce. The chocolate gelato is so good it speaks for itself really. Overall, I think this dessert definitely hit the mark in terms of taste.
Again, my strawberry sauce missed the mark on consistency, but it worked well enough to complement this dish. On this dessert, I learned a lot about timing because of the cold, warm, and hot components throughout. I also learned how challenging it is to carry plates with smaller plates and bowls on them, so Chef gave me some pointers on how to improve this in the future. Overall, though, this too was a success.
All in all, I successfully accomplished my goals with this project, and was pleased with my ideas and results. After 10 weeks of this course, I feel confident in understanding the basics to creating restaurant style desserts and their components. And if I ever find myself wanting to work in an Italian restaurant, I think I have a pretty great concept for a dessert menu.