French treats served as multi-course set at new dessert bar
At Dessertree in Sinsa-dong,customers can watch classic French desserts being created in the open kitchen. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
A sweet plate shared over coffee with friends, a treat saved for the end of the meal ― it seems we can never get enough of dessert.
Perhaps, that is what has spawned a new breed of sweet shop.
The dessert bar ― an establishment where confections can be enjoyed as a full course set (often called a tasting menu) ― emerged in Manhattan as early as 2003 and can also be found in London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and, in Seoul.
When Lee Hyun-hee opened Dessertree in Sinsa-dong this January, she intended to include a prix fixe deal.
After spending around five years in France, where she studied pastries, sweets and cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, the 33-year-old patissier decided to take what she had learned and apply it directly to her business.
While working in the hotel and restaurant industry in France, she saw that at the end of the meal the main dessert was usually preceded by a palate-cleansing sorbet and followed by a plate of petit fours.
At her establishment, Lee takes that final part of the meal and serves it in its glorious three-course entirety. However, she said customers were not yet accustomed to the idea of dessert as a multi-stage affair.
Desser t ree’s Bananes Caramelisees Avec Glace Caramel Demi-sel masters the balance of salty and sweet with housemade salted caramel ice cream, caramelized banana, hazelnut crumble and a statement-making tuile. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
“The mindset toward a set is that it is for several people to enjoy together,” she said. “Some who come here think that is what it is. So I explain that it is a starter, main dessert and petit fours.”
“Generally, customers order a dessert set and add on an a la carte dessert,” she said.
Lee opened with a target clientele of couples and women in mind, an idea that makes sense considering the current trend abroad of a dessert bar as an ideal date spot. Now, it looks like her angle is catching on.
“A lot more couples and women come now,” she said.
Everything is prepared in the open kitchen running behind the bar, so that customers can watch Lee and the establishment’s manager wield torches and form perfect quenelles (ovals) of in-house ice cream.
“I am continuing to do what I did,” she said of her multi-course approach.
What Lee does is create classic French desserts, infusing a modern note into her starters and petit fours.
Sorbet is made with sour cream, adding a tangy and creamy accent to the standard palate cleanser. A second sensory surprise comes from a spiced red wine and balsamic vinegar sauce that is drizzled over it.
The guimauve (French for marshmallow), served as a petit four, gets a savory note from a garnish of sliced green olive and a sour oomph from a bit of citrus.
With her Bananes Caramelisees Avec Glace Caramel Demi-sel, genoise (sponge cake) is topped with a sweet, crunchy layer of biscuit made from thin, crushed crepes, hazelnut praline and milk chocolate.
Two slices of caramelized banana are placed on top, followed by chunks of hazelnut crumble and a quenelle of salted caramel ice cream. A tuile accented with a bit of pureed banana crowns the confection.
Bold is the operative word for this main dessert. Salt amps up the sugary sweetness of the caramel in the ice cream, it is a flavor that makes its presence known, without going too far.
For her omelette norvegienne (also known as Baked Alaska), Lee demonstrates her understanding of the interplay between tart and sweet.
A peaked dome that has been baked just enough so that it is crisp on the outside and marshmallow-like on the inside, the meringue acts as the perfect insulation for a double layer of housemade strawberry sorbet and vanilla ice cream.
As a finishing touch, the meringue is splashed with Grand Marnier, torched and sprinkled with almond slivers and powdered sugar.
Strawberry sorbet acts as a tart foil to the sweet meringue. The bitter orange fragrance of the Grand Marnier heightens the fruit accents of the sorbet, while layers of genoise between the ice cream and sorbet and on the bottom add heft.
For spring, Lee revealed that she is working with rhubarb for a new dessert but that she will not be changing the menu drastically.
“Each season, we will add a couple of items,” she said.
By Jean Oh (email@example.com