RISING PASTRY STAR
Helen Vass, Number 16, Glasgow
Three years ago, Helen Vass was still at college. Since then, this fast-rising talent has worked at Barcelona’s oldest patisserie, Pastelería Escribà, trained with world champion pastry chef, Jordi Bordas, and joined Mark Tilling’s winning team on BBC 2’s Bake Off: Crème de la Crème. Little wonder that Gerry Mulholland, head chef at West End restaurant, Number 16, gives Helen free rein to express herself.
She loves the artistry and theatre of modern Spanish cooking – “I visit Barcelona every few months to get some inspiration” – and channels that into dishes such as a cheesecake mocked-up to look like camembert (served in a wooden box with wax paper); a Reese’s-influenced peanut praline panna cotta cup; or the lemon, a hollow chocolate lemon filled with lemon mousse, pistachio sponge, lemon ganache and cremeux.
Helen also runs Dulce, a new pop-up project (Oct 2; @dulcehelenvass). “These are small, exclusive events where I provide a dessert menu with paired wines. It’s not easy designing a balanced menu that’s not too sweet, but you don’t want guests leaving on a sugar high.” Mains from £14.95, dessert from £7.50; number16.co.uk
Swoon’s chief ice-cream maker, Luisa Fontana – often to be found working in the “flavour lab” at the front of this stylish spot – is a former tutor at the Carpigiani Gelato university near Bologna. Naturally, her gelato is exceptional. It’s painstakingly slow-churned and made using more milk (organic, Somerset) than cream, to give it both a beautifully thick, soft texture and brilliantly clean, vivid flavours. Try the pistachio (the nuts are imported from Bronte in Sicily) or the cracking salted caramel flavour. £2.75-£4.75; swoononaspoon.co.uk
GOING DEEP ON DESSERT
Dessert Restaurant by Sarah Barber, London W1
“For years, I was disappointed when I went out for dessert to various restaurants as most were remarkably similar,” says Sarah Barber, who, within the grand Hotel Café Royal, has created a dedicated dessert space that demonstrates the pastry chef’s art at its most on-trend.
Her menus proceed from savoury-accented dishes that utilise sweet ingredients (for instance, Golden Cross goat’s cheese, wild honey and beetroot snow, or a carpaccio with parmesan marshmallow), to seriously arty but playful, technically sharp desserts such as her yuzu yogurt ‘building bricks’ or peach melba over which customers squeeze their own almond custard from a tube.
A former head pastry chef at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Sarah uses a lot of fruit to naturally sweeten her desserts, and lighter elements, such as lemon verbena foam, to prevent them from becoming too filling. “You can taste several in one meal. They’re well-balanced, not full of sugar. We use techniques that enhance our dishes so they’re lighter but still full of flavour.” Menus from £26; hotelcaferoyal.com
PIG OUT ON PUD
The Pudding Stop, St Alban’s
“Everything revolves around it being sweet or a treat,” says owner Johnny Shepherd of the Pudding Stop. You can start your morning here with pancakes or French toast, but the Pudding Stop truly comes alive in the evenings. People either pop-in late for dessert after eating elsewhere, or make a night of it by sharing a selection of, say, fried Bramley apple pies, salted caramel brownies, a slice of flourless chocolate cake or the dangerously good sticky toffee pudding – all of them baked upstairs, daily.
The Pud has a jovial atmosphere, the social interaction at the communal tables (“You’re forced to make friends,” says Johnny), further eased by a tight selection of pudding-paired drinks, such as Pedro Ximènez, the red dessert wine banyuls, and Beavertown’s dark, smoky Smog Rocket porter. Desserts £5-£6.50; thepuddingstop.com
Eve Kitchen, Sheffield
Lauren Eve Hutchinson has always loved doughnuts. As a child, they were her favourite treat on seaside day trips to Scarborough. Now she’s living the dream (albeit one with 4am starts), after opening her own diminutive café selling handmade doughnuts in Sharrow Vale, Sheffield’s heartland for quirky indies. It’s a 48-hour process to create Lauren’s best-selling jam, Belgian chocolate custard or seasonal fruit and whipped cream creations, in which every element is made from scratch. The doughnuts are made with yeasted dough to ensure they fry on top of the oil, not in it, meaning they remain light, fluffy and crisp. If you eat in, they’re attractively garnished with fruit and edible flowers. Ultimately, says Lauren, doughnuts speak to the big kid in all of us: “They’re fun. They’re naughty. They’re quite a treat.” Doughnuts £2-£3.20; evekitchen.co.uk
Taberna do Mercado, London E1
Ever since Nuno Mendes opened his hip, buzzy Taberna do Mercado, one dessert has been making waves, splitting opinion and thrilling foodies who crave a true taste of Portugal. Unusually made with pork fat, the abade de priscos (pictured) is a rich and dense steamed egg pudding, similar to crème caramel or panna cotta, which restaurant reviewer Andy Hayler memorably described as ‘bacon toffee’. “It’s served with a port wine reduction,” explains Nuno, “and we finish it with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinklings of Portuguese salt, which are non-traditional garnishes.” It sounds intriguing, right? Small plates around £6-£10; tabernamercado.co.uk
LOCAL, SEASONAL LUSCIOUSNESS
Orwell’s, Shiplake, Oxfordshire
Dessert is often where chefs stop cooking locally and seasonally, but not at Orwell’s. This swanky former pub, now the site of serious culinary fireworks, uses both fresh and preserved produce from its Mill Lane polytunnels and beehives in its desserts all year round. The growing is managed by green-fingered Liam Trotman (in partnership with Ryan Simpson, one of Orwell’s two chef-owners), who gleefully describes juggling gluts of strawberries, raspberries or rhubarb in, for instance, his ever-evolving millefeuille. Liam is also big on foraged ingredients such as sorrel whose sour, appley flavour he uses in a green sorbet – “The grass sorbet, that’s what people call it” – served with a Lyonnaise-style pink praline tart. The gardening and the constant changes to the menu are hard work, but Liam loves it: “Put it this way, we don’t get bored.” Mains from £22, dessert from £9; orwellsatshiplake.co.uk
Cinnamon Club, London SW1
“I’ve a theory,” confides Vivek Singh, “that most great cuisines – and Indian cuisine is one – often have terrible desserts. I wish I could say how great Indian desserts can be, but that really is not how I feel.” When he opened the pioneering Cinnamon Club, Vivek was acutely aware that not only do we Brits not consider dessert an integral part of an Indian meal, but many Indians don’t either. The majority of sweet Indian treats were designed to be eaten as snacks at any time, rather than as complementary dishes to crown a great meal. “There’s no way people, would choose a dessert if faced with a sugary, spongy rasgulla, gulab jamun or a big bowl of stodgy carrot halwa,” says Vivek, thinking of his London audience. Instead, with his ace pastry chef, Morsingh Jakhi, Vivek set about combining western desserts with Indian spicing to create something unique.
The desserts now enjoyed in this book-lined room (set in the Grade-II former Westminster Library), range from a sub-continental version of baked Alaska with carrot halwa ice cream to a thick, yogurty shrikhand with tamarind-glazed strawberries. These can be enjoyed as a sharing platter for two (£25). Morsingh is most proud of the saffron-poached pear with cinnamon ice cream: “It combines a quintessentially British fruit with exotic spicing – saffron, cinnamon, anise, cardamom. It’s a true crossover dish.” Mains from £16, desserts from £6.50; cinnamonclub.com
During those long Scandi winters, the natives need something to keep their spirits up, which may explain why Norway and Sweden have evolved a dazzling baking repertoire, popular way beyond Malmö and Oslo. Inspired by visits to his Norwegian grandmother, the eponymous Liv Esther Baltzersen, Paul Rawlinson’s friendly, trendy Harrogate café does a roaring trade in kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon rolls); skolebrød (custard-filled cardamom dough buns); and princess cake (a custard, cream and jam sponge topped with green marzipan). Chef Mary-Jane Walker is always tinkering with Scandi recipes, which is how she developed Baltzersen’s tea-cake-like sultanaboller. Bakery buns, £1.50-£3.50; baltzersens.co.uk
THE SWEETEST STREET FOOD
Yeast Bakery, London E8
On weekdays, Yeast Bakery creates exceptional pastries for trade customers across London (most notably Chiltern Firehouse). On Saturdays, however, owners Ben Keane and Angela Chan open a stall outside their railway arch site and sell their breads and Normandy butter croissants direct to the public. “Wholesale’s great but you don’t get that one-to-one feedback,” says Ben. “We can test things here and see how they go.”
Look out for new versions of Yeast’s kouign-amann (the increasingly hip Breton pastry), and also its Croaf®, a buttery croissant-loaf hybrid made for sharing that, says Ben, is great with curry: “It’s like naan!” Yeast is between Broadway and Netil markets, so you can grab a coffee from Terrone or Climpson & Sons to go with your croissant. Pastries £1.50 – £1.80; yeastbakery.com
The Bakemonger at Caro, Bruton, Somerset
A former textile designer who still freelances in fashion, Helen Bakunowicz is now applying her love of art and design to the creation of ornate cakes. “I work seasonally in terms of flavours and design,” says Helen, who, in May, was creating decorative magnolias from white chocolate, rice paper and mango petals. “My decorations are always handmade and enhance the flavours rather than just being a lump of sugar.”
Helen trades at the Frome Independent market (the first Sunday of each month; thefromeindependent.org.uk) but, on a daily basis, her cakes – usually two varieties, such as individual salted caramel brownies or lime, courgette and pistachio cake – are available to eat-in, in the stylish homewares store, Caro. Cakes £3.50; thebakemonger.com
Bonbon Chocolate Boutique, Manchester
Dark and tiny, its shelves heaving with glinting, glittering chocolates, there’s something magical about Bonbon. “I love the film Chocolat and I feel like I’m working in it every day,” says Sharon Drysdale, a former art teacher whose passion for tempering and truffles led to her opening this chocolate café. Alongside Drysdale’s stellar salted caramel truffles or orange and geranium chocs, two of 13 varieties that are usually on sale, Bonbon also serves brownies, various cakes, Mexican sugar skull-shaped cookies and sublime hot chocolate. All of which can be sampled as a tasting plate (£20pp). Cakes £3.50-£4; bonbonchocolate.co.uk
Ynyshir Hall, Eglwysfach, Wales
If there’s one thing that Gareth Ward hates, it’s a meal where the savoury courses soar but the desserts fall flat. “As a chef,” he insists, “you should be well-rounded and able to do everything.” Consequently, in his three years at this Michelin-starred country house hotel, he’s brought an unusually high level of creativity to its desserts, such as his palate-cleansing lager ‘n’ lime jelly, or a white chocolate mousse that, rather than using heavy eggs and cream, is blended with tofu for a greater purity of flavour. Gareth is constantly eating and says his best dishes often arise from accidents or eating weird things together out of curiosity.
He’s also a big fan of the fresh flavours and the alternative seasoning potential offered by east Asian ingredients.
For instance, his renowned treacle tart is made, not with lemon, salt and butter, but miso and Wagyu beef fat (not to mention blackened breadcrumbs from Ynyshir’s seven-day fermented bread). Its acidity comes from a dollop of soured cream. “If you read the ingredients out you’d say that isn’t going to work,” says Gareth. “Our food is very much our own. It’s a destination for something different.” Dinner from £55; ynyshirhall.co.uk
Written by Tony Naylor
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