Sound familiar? Flashbacks to mom? Or maybe just flashbacks to last night with your own picky eater. Vegetables have been standing in the way of dessert long enough. Cheeky chefs everywhere are inciting revolution demanding that we have our cake and eat it too (not just your grandma’s carrot cake, either). While the concept of using vegetables in desserts has been around for centuries, modern chefs are spreading their wings and coming up with some truly inspired creations.
Skating the delicious line between sweet and savoury, vegetables bring complexity and creativity to a dinner course that sometimes relies a little too heavily on classics lacking imagination. Let’s face it; sometimes you’re just plain tired after planning the rest of the amazing meal, and scooping ice cream sounds good enough. But take a look at what these talented chefs have to say, and see if you (and your kids!) aren’t excited to eat your vegetables.
Chef Elizabeth Falkner (president of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, chef, pastry chef artist, author, television personality) reminds us of the far-reaching history behind this notion.
“In Japan, many desserts are made with a purple sweet potato,” says Faulkner. “In Provence in the South of France, there is a famous tart made with Swiss chard cooked down in a pastry. In Turkish cuisine, Southern Italy and Africa, there are many savoury dishes that have sweet elements. The crossover has existed for centuries and continues to evolve as fashion in food evolves and cycles. From the modernist cuisine, chefs have felt freer to compose savoury and sweet ingredients together.”
Chef Faulkner lists off some of her most memorable vegetable desserts over the years: sweet corn ice cream, roasted pepper sorbet, Thai basil infusion parsnip cake.
Chef Faulkner is not the only pastry chef in love with the garden, Vanessa Roenspies, pastry chef from Model Milk, Calgary, confesses, “Vegetables are the hidden gems when it comes to baking. I’m personally not a fan of overly sweet desserts; I use vegetables to add depth and balance to my creations.”
For Model Milk’s dessert menu, Roenspies has created beet red velvet cake with chevre icing and sweet pea ice cream as the crowning jewel.
Melanie Hennessey (of Hennessey’s All Occasion Cakes and Winsport Canada) works with sweet and starchy root vegetables in many of her delicious creations: vanilla parsnip cake with bourbon caramel sauce, chocolate beet cupcakes, sweet potato coffee cake. Melanie likes to create desserts that make you drool and make you think. Never compromising on full, rich flavour, Melanie uses vegetables that add a creamy natural sweetness while enhancing the other flavours in her cakes.
Andrea Harling, executive chef Brava Bistro reflects, “I truly believe that eating what is right for our bodies is important. We have lost sight of the quality and importance of cuisine.”
Harling approaches her food with a creative, nutritious balance. Her new menu features chocolate paté, beet and cherry gelée, beetroot ice cream, whipped local honey and beetroot powder.
Chockfull of fibre, potassium, vitamins and healthy fats, vegetables are a terrific substitute in some of your favourite recipes. One of my favourite substitutes is avocado. Buttery, nutritious and packed with potassium, ripe avocados can substitute for all or part of the butter or other fat in many baked goods while increasing their nutritional value. One of the most amazing desserts is avocado-spice layer cake. Layer the cake with sweet frosting made with a puréed avocado. How about taking that to your next Super Bowl party?
Here at the Calgary Petroleum Club, we offer a number of sweet/savoury dishes including our deliciously refreshing minted pea sorbet, created by our talented assistant pastry chef, 21-year-old Courtney Thomas and (my personal favourite) candied tomatoes. Served with peppered steak as a main or with basil chevre ice cream for dessert, they’re a versatile and delightful way to spice up a dish.
With a history as rich as the flavours, the possible combinations are endless. Don’t be afraid to make bold decisions and try something that sounds unconventional. Oftentimes these are the most memorable flavour palettes. For starters, check out Chef Faulkner’s recipe for Kale Doughnuts with Maple Pecan Bacon Stud Glaze below.
Recipe: Kale Doughnuts with Maple Pecan Bacon Stud Glaze
Recipe by Elizabeth Falkner
4 oz. warm water
.25 oz. dry yeast
3/4 cup milk
½ C. blanched kale
3 oz. melted or browned butter
¼ C. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 ea. eggs
20 oz. flour
Combine the yeast and water to activate the yeast. Purée the milk and blanched kale until smooth. Place the flour in a mixing bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment. Add the yeast mixture, the kale milk purée, sugar, salt and eggs to the flour. Knead for a couple of minutes.
Set dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and set aside for 30 minutes. Roll out dough on flour dusted surface. Cut into doughnut shapes. Heat vegetable oil to 360 F. Fry donuts for two minutes on each side. Set on cooling rack.
Maple Pecan Bacon Stud Glaze
¼ C. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. sherry vinegar
1 C. sifted powdered sugar
1/3. C. cream
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth.
1 C. rendered bacon
½ C. toasted chopped pecans
1 oz. maple syrup
Combine the rendered bacon and pecans in a sauté pan over medium heat and add the salt and maple syrup. Cook just for a minute to coat the bacon and pecans. Cool.
About the author:
Liana Robberecht, Executive Chef, Calgary Petroleum Club, began her training with the Professional Cooking Program at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (Edmonton), passing the Red Seal qualifying examinations in 1995. Chef Liana is passionately committed to regional cuisine, and a farm-to-table philosophy pervades the three kitchens and staff of 45 under her leadership. She has a number of professional memberships under her belt, including the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Board and the SAIT Advisory Committee for the Professional Cooking Program.