One of the hottest trends found on menus these days is the seasonal menu. Rotating your menu to leverage the freshest ingredients and seasonal changes in tastes and desires helps keep your menu on trend and your restaurant desirable year round. So, here it is, with the hot summer days approaching, you’ve switched your entrees to lighter, breezier fare. Your small plates are now cool and refreshing. Time to re-evaluate your dessert menu.
When rotating menus it’s easy to overlook the one part that, traditionally, has been pretty static. Just like entrees and appetizers, as the seasons change so do our tastes and so do, most certainly, what the freshest and best ingredients are. There really is nothing quite as satisfying as finishing a meal in the dead of winter with a sticky, sweet bread pudding. But…having that bread pudding during a heat wave in July can leave quite the opposite sensation. Similarly, while beautifully chocolate dipped strawberries might look good in December, they won’t quite be a peak flavor.
How to Take Advantage of Summer Fruits
The simplest way to take advantage of summer's fresh berries and fruits, is to make your own ice creams. Who can resist a house made ice cream made with fresh ingredients? You can even dial up the excitement by playing on regional favorites depending on where you are. Peaches in the South. Boysenberries in the Northwest. Perhaps blueberries if you’re in New England. Fresh is good, local is even better.
Of course, tastes these days are focused on lighter options as people tend to watch their waistline during swimsuit season. Consider an Italian gelato, instead of ice cream. Made with milk, the fat content is lower and less likely to mask the fruit flavors. Ice creams and gelato can also be a way to use overripe fruit that isn’t quite suitable to be served on its own but is still edible. A great way to reduce food waste and leverage the more intense flavors found in fruit past its visual prime.
For fresher, more visually stunning fruits, simplicity is often the best. Strawberry shortcake rarely fails but why limit yourself to strawberries? Virtually any fresh fruit could work, from blackberries to cherries. For a little elegance, switch up the shortcake for a pâte à choux as your platform. Or use a biscuit to add a little southern flair - especially good when filled with glazed cherries or peaches and topped with a dollop of whipped cream.
How to Impress
If you’re trying to impress your Instagram followers (and who isn’t?), consider a stunning layer cake. Multiple layers of light, thin cake in between layers of light cream and the freshest fruits won’t just stand out on your social media, it’s the kind of dessert that will get snapped, posted and shared by your diners day in and day out. The best kind of advertising, free.
Don’t be afraid to play to nostalgia either. Pies and cobblers, long the domain of diners, are creeping their way into more and more eateries with ingredients that evoke all manner of childhood memories. Perhaps a strawberry rhubarb or even a decadent raspberry buttermilk pie. These can all be made as a traditional slice or you can get really creative and make individual portions for a more original plate.
The 60s can also provide a little inspiration. An ambrosia possibly evokes a cafeteria disaster of canned mandarin oranges and pineapple chunks in a slightly toxic looking medium. Re-imagined with fresh fruits, marinated in a liqueur like St Germaine or Grand Marnier, then tossed with a crème fraîche can help an old, dated dish appeal to modern tastes. Evan a Pavlova might deserve a resurgence, a crispy meringue shell of beaten egg whites filled with fresh fruit will certainly appeal to those trying to cut fats while satisfying their sweet tooth.
Keep the Future in Mind
Now, while you’re utilizing the bounty of the summer, it might not hurt to keep an eye on the future. For while the availability of quality fresh fruit is short, you can extend it to make it relevant to your menu for the rest of the year. Perhaps a fig jam to go with your cheese plate. Maybe some raspberry preserves to go in your Christmas tartlets. Rather than poaching pears out of season you could can them yourself when fresh in your own mulled wine or flavored brandy - a little extra work up front but huge savings by buying produce when it’s most readily available.
No matter what you do, you want to keep things fresh. Competition is fierce and you don’t want to be the restaurant your regulars only think about during one or two seasons of the year because your offerings don’t change with the seasons - and that includes your desserts. Maybe it made sense when printing menus were so expensive, but with on-demand printing and the ability to create new menus from your own computer, there’s no reason for you not be able to keep up with the changing weather.