Smoke Drifts Into Restaurant Desserts (Nation’s Restaurant News)

Smoke drifts into restaurant desserts

Chefs apply technique typically reserved for savory dishes to cakes
Mar 30, 2015 Fern Glazer

Chef Victor Albisu’s Grilled Carrot Cake.
Photo: Del Campo
Smoking has long been used to add flavor to savory main menu items, such as meat and fish. In recent years, however, the method has drifted, as smoke tends to do, to other sections of the menu, including dessert.

Whether to balance out sweetness, add an unexpected element or to smooth the transition from savory entrée to sweet ending, chefs from all corners of the country are infusing cakes with the smoky flavors previously reserved for savory dishes.

At Del Campo, a South American grill in downtown Washington, D.C., every item is grilled, smoked, burnt or charred in some way — even the desserts.

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“We don’t stop at just savory food; we continue into our desserts,” said chef Victor Albisu. “I like continuing the theme of the grill throughout the dining experience. People love it.”

Albisu is currently serving two cakes that get a touch of smoke from the restaurant’s grill: Grilled Carrot Cake and Grilled Lemon Cheesecake. For the carrot cake, Albisu grills the orange tubers before shredding them and mixing them into cake batter. Once the cake is baked it is brushed with butter and placed on the grill before being served with dulce de leche and cream cheese ice cream.

“Caramelized carrots are really good,” Albisu said. “Grilling the carrots adds a sweetness while it adds a little bit of smoke.”

While Albisu’s Grilled Lemon Cheesecake doesn’t actually get grilled, the rotating selection of fruits that dress it do, including lemon, blueberries and blackberries.

La Sirena Clandestina, a Latin spot in Chicago’s West Loop, is also adding a touch of smoke to its dessert menu. Chef John Manion recently offered a tres leches cake made with smoky mezcal caramel, whipped crème fraiche and cashew brittle.

At Sugarmill in Denver, which serves savory dishes and specializes in desserts, pastries and sweets, chef Troy Guard’s dessert menu features a rotating selection of smoky cakes.

“I grew up in Hawaii, so I like anything barbecued,” Guard said.

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Better Half chef/owner Zachary Meloy’s Black Cocoa Sponge Cake. Photo credit: Better Half
Among the many smoky cakes recently offered is a Torched Citrus Peel Cake, a yellow cake made with caramelized citrus rinds and topped with blood orange mezcal icing, a Yellow Cake made with cold smoked cherries that are pureed and then swirled into the batter and a stout icing, and a Toffee Cake with smoked caramel and smoked raspberry beet puree.

Guard also offers a Wood Grilled Carrot Cake at Guard and Grace, one of his other restaurant concepts, made with grilled carrots and smoked cream cheese icing.

“These types of smoked cakes are doing well,” Guard said. “People have been really excited about them.”

Smoke permeates the dessert menu at Better Half, a contemporary seasonal American restaurant in Atlanta owned by executive chef Zachary Meloy and his wife Cristina.

“We like to incorporate smokiness as much as we can into our desserts,” chef Meloy said. “It adds a touch of surprise to the experience.”

Meloy recently put on the menu a Black Cocoa Sponge Cake, which he paired with moist, Texas-style buttermilk sheet cake with a rich and smoky cajeta, or Mexican caramel sauce, studded with tiny flecks of chipotle. He boosted the flavor further by using a cold smoking gun to inject smoke into the base of the accompanying coffee ice cream, and then added toasted coconut.

Meloy has previously made a cinnamon cake with ground cinnamon sticks that he then crumbled and smoked. He also enjoys infusing with smoke the accompaniments to cakes and other desserts, making, for example, apple-smoked gumdrops or smoked fruit sauces.

While Meloy says most diners enjoy his smoky cakes, he admits they are not for everyone.

“Sometimes it’s a little challenging for folks,” he said. “People who are looking for a piece of cheesecake, they look at us funny.”