These desserts look almost too good to eat.
By Sharael Kolberg
Too often, savory entrees hog the spotlight. And, no doubt, at the end of a meal, you’re probably too full for dessert. But this part of the menu deserves some attention as Laguna Beach restaurants make some decadent—and often creative—desserts that you’ll want to enjoy all on their own (sans entree). Or, if you do eat dinner, be sure to leave some room for these artful desserts that are almost as pretty on the plate as they are delicious to eat.
Modern European Classics
As you savor a scoop of the Tiramisu A Modo Mio from Oliver’s Osteria, the flavors of the milk chocolate fingerling cookies, mascarpone cream, espresso and dark chocolate flakes blend together in a sweet harmony that is heavenly. The sweetness of the cream offsets the bitterness of the espresso, and the sponge cake melts in your mouth. It is an Italian masterpiece.
Oliver’s Osteria owner and Executive Chef Erik De Marchi, who was born and raised in Imola, Italy, uses a recipe that is different from most tiramisu. Instead of using basic ladyfingers, he makes his own cookie in house using a simple process, then assembles the ingredients to make a light, rich and flavorful dessert. This signature dessert is offered year-round; it’s served on a rectangular ceramic plate and dusted with chocolate.
“I love tiramisu, always have, but wanted to make my own unique version,” De Marchi says. “The flavors are very traditional, but I created something a bit more special, since we make the cookies … in-house for this dessert. I think anything chocolate and coffee work well together, but it’s how it’s prepared and plated that make the difference.”
For a classic French pastry with a modern twist, try the pear mille-feuille at The Loft at Montage Laguna Beach. The name means “a thousand sheets” since it is typically made with layers of puff pastry (it is also known as a napoleon). Executive Pastry Chef Lee Smith of Montage Laguna Beach makes a version that is a bit deconstructed. Ingredients include puff pastry that is used as a base and then filled with pears in various preparations, along with yuzu and lemon grass creams, finished with a house-made brown sugar-pear ice cream. The components are made separately and then assembled to order to ensure the pastry is crisp and all the elements are fresh and vibrant. Notably, Chinese five spice seasoning is incorporated into the pear puree, which is turned into a gel and piped onto the dessert.
“The inspiration was searching for a way to present pears in their best light by using a modern take on a classic dessert, while infusing some more unusual but complementing flavors,” Smith says.
“Pear is not a strong flavor, so we try to concentrate the essence in a variety of ways, such as compressing them with an ‘eau de vie poire’—[a clear pear brandy]—to strengthen the flavor; pureeing and lightly setting them into a gel; poaching with a little vanilla; and of course adding fresh pears of different varieties. The supporting flavors, such as the acidic yuzu and herbal lemon grass, further complement and support the pear.”
Another fruit option is the apple tatin with caramel chocolate mousse and cookie butter crunch, served with bourbon-vanilla bean gelato at Splashes Restaurant inside Surf & Sand Resort. It’s a play on the classic apple tarte tatin. To prepare, Honeycrisp apples are cooked with caramel and cream until tender, then gelatin is added and the mixture is cast into a cylinder mold and frozen. Next, a vanilla sponge cake is made and a caramel chocolate mousse is created from Cacao Barry caramelized white chocolate. To assemble, the sponge cake and mousse are layered together and cut into a bar, then the apple gelatin is added on top before the whole thing is covered with a glaze and placed on a speculoos cookie, which is a mix of rice cereal and feuilletine (tiny pieces of dried crepes), chocolate, speculoos cookie butter and cocoa butter. It’s plated with the scoop of gelato and rib cage chocolate decor from a Valrhona Almond Inspiration couverture, which has a higher percentage of cocoa butter than chocolate for baking or eating.
And, if you love breakfast for dessert, don’t miss out on the authentic Belgian waffles at Brussels Bistro, sprinkled with powdered sugar with the option of adding a scoop of ice cream. Or walk by the streetside pastry case at C’est La Vie and you’ll find a variety of colorful pastries and desserts that you will be enticed to try. The offerings vary daily, but can include items such as napoleons, mixed fruit tarts, chocolate mouse treats and carrot cake.
Let Them Eat Cake
Urth Caffé is known for its heirloom, organic coffees and hand-selected fine teas, but once you lay your eyes on this eatery’s dessert case, you’ll be tempted to dive into a sweet treat. The cafe focuses on maintaining direct relationships with family farms and utilizing sustainable ingredients—opting for organic whenever possible.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with the Berries & Cream Cake by Urth Caffé chef and Master Baker Davide Giova. The light, moist and creamy dessert is made with vanilla sponge cake layered with Chantilly cream and fresh berries. It is topped with whipped cream and more berries. For plating, the cake is garnished with a wedge of orange and a sprig of fresh mint. Can’t get enough? You can buy just a slice—or a whole cake. This delightful dessert is offered year-round.
“I get inspired from a cake that we prepare in Italy for celebrations like birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, etc., that everyone loves,” Giova says. “The flavors that are incorporated are vanilla and lemon zest. The combinations of the soft, moist, vanilla sponge [cake] and the creamy vanilla Chantilly cream with lots of fresh berries works very well together.”
Another fan favorite is the matcha tiramisu, which is made with ladyfinger cookies that are soaked in matcha green tea and then combined with matcha-flavored mascarpone cheese and white chocolate chunks.
If you’re in the mood for a caramel dessert, you have to taste Selanne’s Monkey Bread by Selanne Steak Tavern Pastry Chef Theresa Ebilane. Made with pineapple jam, Luxardo maraschino cherries, rum caramel and candied coconut, it’s served warm with vanilla ice cream and a pineapple chip.
“For texture and crunch, we added a macadamia-and-coconut component,” Ebilane says. “All items are made in-house … the brioche, pineapple jam, vanilla ice cream, rum caramel and pineapple chip.”
To assemble, the brioche, sugar and pineapple jam are layered and baked together. It’s plated and warmed to order, then garnished with the finishing touches of cherries, coconut crunch and vanilla ice cream.
It may seem odd, at first, to order cheese for dessert. However, some sweet treats incorporate the ingredient in surprising ways.
At Sapphire, Cellar-Craft-Cook, the Dark Chocolate Chunk and Fromage Blanc Cookies are made—as the name says—with “fromage” (cheese), then turned into a sandwich filled with peanut butter gelato and topped with Spanish peanut crumble for a cold, creamy dessert that’s worth a calorie splurge.
Another dish, at Broadway by Amar Santana, incorporates goat cheese mousse. That element might give diners pause when considering whether to order the Oh Beehive dessert, but those who try it will soon realize that it tastes as delightful as it looks. To create this artistic vision, there are many steps. The chef whips up a honey pastry cream and molds it into small half domes, which are then frozen before pairing two halves to form a ball that is next stuffed inside a larger dome mold of goat cheese mousse, which also gets frozen into half domes. To plate the dessert, a pate sucree cookie is used as the base, then the goat cheese dome filled with honey pastry cream is placed in the center. Swiss meringue is piped around the outside and torched to resemble a beehive. A scoop of honey ice cream is served on the side and the dish is decorated with a few cubes of elderflower gel and honeycomb garnish as well as micro marigold flowers and a honey tuile cookie. Talk about a sweet treat. This is the ideal finale to any meal—just take a photo first because you’ll want to remember this pretty presentation.