There's something about dessert that speaks to everyone. And these days, more than ever, with Valentine's Day around the corner. We're lucky to be in the midst of a sweet revolution. As India gets food-fashionable, chefs are becoming more than willing to experiment with artful cuisine and adopt risky ways to innovate in the kitchen and one the plate. With new techniques and tools they are reconstructing our notions and moving beyond the world of pastry. Crunchy, salty and foamy -desserts are taking on many forms. There's a whole lot of science and chemistry involved to showcase the range, depth and diversity of flavours. These are, without a doubt, some of the most impressive and unique creations I've come across.
1. Eat off the Table at Tian, ITC Mauryas, New Delhi
This one is worth saving room for. It's beautiful and delicious and comes with a fair bit of entertainment, showmanship and spectacle.
In Chef Vikramjit Roy's words, "I'm highly inspired by Jackson Pollock, a painter who does abstract art, that's where the idea of this dessert came from. The kind of art that has an element of madness and chaos and yet there's a method to bring that about. The same goes for the dessert, it's not just about the colours, flavours and textures, there's a particular sensibility to it. The elements of smell, sight and excitement take you to a different space. It's an experience. No two bites will have the same flavour or texture."
The dessert is prepared in front of you on a glass slab like a painting being created on a blank canvas. There are 32 different ingredients. From the sweetness of green tea and white chocolate compote to Ghana bitters to the tang of soy and sour notes of the raspberry compote along with the graininess of Nutella sand, every bite has a satisfying contrast. All of these are spilled out across the table while a huge chocolate egg takes center stage. It is filled with dehydrated fruit crumbs, marshmallows, stone chocolates, chocolate mousse and liquid nitrogen to seal the top. When the dessert is ready, the egg is shattered on the table to bring forth many textures soft versus delicate versus crisp.
2. Tamra Chocolate at Shangri-La's - Eros Hotel, New Delhi
A dainty dessert made with multiple layers and textures of chocolate. The base of the dessert is a flourless chocolate sponge cake topped with a sheet of tempered dark chocolate. A chocolate sphere is placed on top of the cake. Once the dish is presented, hot caramelized chocolate is poured over it melting the sphere and revealing the surprise chocolate mousse filling. The dessert is finished with sesame crisp and homemade jelly. "The dessert showcases how chocolate can be presented in five different ways in one dish by using various techniques along with a theatrical element," shares Chef Neeraj Tyagi.
3. Zen Forest at Fatty Bao, New Delhi
Fatty Bao offers a quirky selection of sweets but the Zen Forest is the standout of the dessert tray. The dessert is an amalgamation of multiple elements such as green tea moss and chocolate soil at the base, logs of parfait made using yuzu, black sesame sponge rocks, white sesame nougatine, beetroot and black pepper sorbet, chocolate twigs and microgreens.
The green tea moss and chocolate lend sweet and bitter notes, yuzu parfait has a refreshing citrus favour, the black sesame sponge and white sesame nougatine add nuttiness while the beetroot and black pepper sorbet makes it earthy. The inspiration comes from a spring forest which depicts vivid colours and that's exactly the idea behind the name.
4. Milky Way at Farzi Café, Connaught Place, New Delhi
Take your sweet tooth on a joyous ride with Farzi Café's own version of the galaxy. The dessert is arranged on a platter consisting of small rounds made with white chocolate-coconut ganache, chocolate pepper balls, blueberry cream, gajar ka halwa and chocolate cake crumble that represent planets and asteroids. There are also nut rocks and batashas that add the element of crunch. It is presented to you and then comes the drama. A ball of orange mousse is placed in the center representing the sun. Between smoke and whipped cream, it is crushed and shattered symbolizing the Big Bang. The dessert is finished with a drizzle of chocolate rabri cream which brings all the wonderful flavours together. White chocolate lacks a certain esteem and not many chefs would like to experiment with it. Chef Sainyam Kapoor's delicious creation gives it a chance to redeem its reputation.
5. New Age Tiramisu at Caperberry, Bengaluru
The Tiramisu at Caperberry is prepared live at the table using mascarpone espuma, Savoiardi biscuit, almond extract, espresso frappe and Kahlua. It's a gorgeous dessert that doesn't sacrifice authenticity.
The flavours are fresh and the texture is so light and airy, that eating it could only be more heavenly on a cloud. "Most people find Tiramisu heavy and creamy. I decided to play around with the textures to offer the same flavours in a new style," says Chef Abhijeet Saha.
6. Ciffron Melange at Lavonne, Bengaluru
Ciffron melange is a dessert that brings together a variety of flavours and textures. It comprises of a Yuzu umeshu and white chocolate ganache centered with a saffron creme brulee placed on a bed of almond crumble, spheres of Yuzu jelly, kisses of raspberry gel, lemon coconut pudding along with micro greens.
"My inspiration comes from the different local flavours I taste when travelling. Umeshu is a plum wine from Japan, it's a beautiful drink and I tried the yuzu flavour. I immediately knew I had to use this when I got back. Yuzu is a citrus fruit from Japan. It is exciting to keep trying different flavour combinations and putting together a dessert that looks modern but has flavours that will remind you of your childhood or using these new ingredients I discover during my travel," says Pastry Chef Vinesh Johny.
7. Jalebi Caviar at Masala Library, Mumbai
The good old jalebi is deconstructed into caviar-like minute spheres and served on a bed of pistachio rabdi that soaks the sweetness accompanied with puffs of saffron foam floating on the side. This dessert is a play on textures with tiny molecules of jalebi that have a distinctive crunch together with the creaminess of rabdi and feather-light foam that melts on your palate.
"During the initial days of research, we were exploring various options for creating desserts which would leave a lasting impression in terms of flavour, visual appeal as well as an experience. We wanted to play with something iconic, which formed the basis of the ideation process. It was during the course of the discussion, it just happened that an idea struck me for us to recreate jalebi in the form of caviar shaped pearls.Consistency is something we don't negotiate with and to get the same shape and size of the pearls, we actually had to have a customized utensil made for this dish.", says Zorawar Kalra, Founder & Managing Director, Massive Restaurants Pvt. Ltd.
8. Guava Tan-Ta-Tan at Bombay Canteen, Mumbai
The Guava Tan-ta-Tan is a puff pastry tart with a pink guava filling, served with lal mirchice cream and guava caramel sauce. "Like the rest of the menu at The Bombay Canteen, this dessert celebrates things that are intrinsically Indian, whether it be regional flavors, street food, local produce or something we grew up eating. The food at the restaurant is reminiscent of different things to different people because it connects them to something from their own backgrounds. Nostalgia is a recurring theme on the plate," Chef Thomas Zacharias.
The inspiration comes from childhood dreams of eating slices of green guava with red chilli powder. Using pink guava instead which is sweet and has a more pronounced flavor helps to intensify the sense of nostalgia while the puff pastry tart and the guava caramel sauce add refinement.
9. Darjeeling Tea and Gold Flakes Panna Cotta at Bohemian, Kolkata
Chef Joy Banerjee is known for re-inventing flavours into more desirable concoctions and that's exactly what he's done here. The dessert balances the delicate chocolatey panna cotta with high notes of Darjeeling tea reduction and hints of tobacco smoke. It is finished with an edible cigarette placed on the panna cotta, covered in caramel sauce and is ready to please. So, where does the inspiration come from? "These are two of my favourite things," he laughs.