“startEvery restaurateur knows that there is a huge variety of ready to serve prepared desserts available to purchase, and he also knows that the cost of adding a full-time pastry chef to his payroll might very well not make sense. I’d like to propose that there is a middle ground that many owners would do well to explore. The skill set and repertoire of a professional pastry chef takes years to perfect, and many of the items they can produce are simply too much to ask of a probably already over-worked kitchen staff.

But many great desserts are very “chef friendly,” requiring only those skills and techniques that most well-trained chefs already possess. If your chef can make a Hollandaise sauce, he can make any number of custard-based desserts such as Crème Brûlée, Chocolate Pot au Crème or bread puddings. If he can poach salmon, he can poach pears. Dessert sauces can be some of the easiest to prepare, and the most economical, especially compared to some pre-made products. A well chosen dessert recipe will have a much lower food cost, require no special training of your existing crew, be able to fit into their prep schedule and be much more satisfying to your guests than the frozen fare that so many other restaurants are serving.
Crème Brûlée is one of the most popular desserts around and nothing beats the real thing. The normal way to produce it is to cook individual ramekins of custard (egg yolks, cream and sugar) in a water bath in an oven. It’s a little bit of a pain. The following method is similar to making a batch of Hollandaise sauce and yields consistently smooth, creamy and rich results. It can also be done ahead of time, holding well for a couple of days, refrigerated.

Whole Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée

Ten Portions

1 vanilla bean
1 qt heavy cream
With a sharp knife, split and scrape the inside of the vanilla bean.
Place the bean and the scrapings in a two quart sauce pan with the heavy cream
and bring to a boil.
15 egg yolks
5 oz granulated sugar
At the same time the cream is heating,
beat together the egg yolks and the sugar in a large bowl.
Cook over a steam bath, beating constantly until mixture begins to form soft peaks and becomes lemon colored. Remove from the steam bath.
(10) 5 oz ramekins When the egg mixture is cooked, add the boiling vanilla-cream mixture to it and beat with wire whip.
Pour the final egg-cream mixture into the ramekins, almost filling them.
Place in refrigerator and chill, preferably overnight
granulated sugar Not more than an hour before service, sprinkle top with a thin layer of granulated sugar and burn with a propane torch until chestnut brown.

For Raspberry Crème Brûlée, add a few fresh raspberries to each ramekin before filling with the custard.

A variation on the Crème Brûlée recipe is Chocolate Pot du Crème with Cherries. Simply add 2 oz. of cocoa powder to the heavy cream before bringing it to a simmer, beating occasionally with a whip. Proceed as if you were making Crème Brûlée. After combining the cream and egg mixtures, add 10 oz. of fresh, pitted cherries that have been cooked over medium heat in a sauté pan for 5 minutes. Pour into 5 oz. serving bowls and refrigerate. These will keep for several days if covered with plastic wrap after they’ve cooled. At service, decorate the top with sweetened whipped cream piped through a star tip and sprinkle with shaved dark chocolate. To make fresh whipped cream, put one quart of chilled heavy whipping cream, 1 oz. of granulated sugar and 1 tsp. of vanilla extract into a stainless steel bowl. Beat with a wire whip until soft peaks just begin to form. Don’t overbeat it to the point where it looses its shine or gets granular. In general, when you think it needs a little more beating, stop. It can be made easily in a stand mixer, but be very careful not to over whip it when using one. Heavy cream just about doubles in volume when beaten this way.

Warm Croissant Bread Pudding is homey and upscale, all at the same time.

Warm Croissant Bread Pudding

Twelve Portions

4     cups heavy cream
11   egg yolks
2     eggs
4     tsp vanilla
1     cup whole milk
3     cups sugar
7     day-old croissants
6     ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

Spray a 9”x12” hotel pan with non-stick spray. The pan must be at least 4” deep or the pudding will overflow.
Tear croissants into 1”- 2”pieces and place in the bottom of the pan.
Mix all other ingredients well and pour the mixture over the croissants.
Cover loosely with foil and bake in 2” water bath at 325º until center is set, about 2 ½ hours.

After the bread pudding cools, slice it into 1” thick portions. These can be refrigerated for several days. At service, place slices on a sheet pan and warm in a medium oven for about 3 minutes. Don’t overheat. Serve warm, dusted with powdered sugar sifted through a wire strainer, or decorated with chocolate sauce in a zigzag pattern from a streaker bottle. To make chocolate sauce, bring 1 qt. of heavy cream to a simmer, remove from heat, mix in 26 oz. of shaved dark chocolate until it’s totally blended. This simple sauce will keep refrigerated and can either be used warmed or at room temperature.

Dolcetto-Poached Pears with a Hazelnut-Mascarpone Cream is beautiful on the plate, and will be a welcome addition to your dessert menu.

Dolcetto-Poached Pears with a Hazelnut-Mascarpone Cream

Eight Portions

8 ripe pears, peeled
2 whole cinnamon sticks
6 whole clove
4 whole peppercorns
2 whole star anise seeds
1 cup sugar
Dolcetto wine, enough to cover pear
Prepare poaching liquid by heating wine, sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, peppercorns, and star anise until sugar dissolves. Season to taste.
Add pears and poach slowly until pears are fork tender (about 20 minutes). Remove from liquid.
Boil liquid until it reduces to the point where it will coat the back of a spoon. 
8 oz. toasted hazelnuts
12 oz cream cheese
12 oz Mascarpone cheese
powdered sugar 
Roughly grind hazelnuts in a food processor.
Add the cream cheese to the nuts and whip until soft.Add the mascarpone and mix until smooth.

Sweeten to taste with the powdered sugar.

To plate, put 4 oz. of the cream in the center of the plate. Put one half of a pear over the cream, and thinly slice and fan out another half of pear towards the front of the plate. Drizzle the reduced poaching liquid over the pears and sprinkle the plate with chopped, roasted hazelnuts. Garnish with a mint leaf.

There is a world of difference between real, home-made, traditional Tiramisù and the prepared frozen confection so many restaurants serve. This one dessert alone will go a long way in convincing your customers that you take your menu seriously, and are offering them genuine, authentic, not to mention delicious fare.


Ten Portions

Cream Filling

6 large eggs, separated
½ cup granulated sugar
1 pinch salt
1 lb. Mascarpone cream
1 pinch cream of tartar


Combine egg yolks, sugar and salt and beat in a stand mixer until light lemon-colored.
Separately, beat egg whites and cream of tartar to form soft peaks. Fold beaten whites into Mascarpone/cream mixture.

Additional Ingredients
2 boxes of Lady Fingers
2 ½ cups shaved chocolate
1 ½ cups strong coffee
½ cup Kahlua and/or Rum
cocoa powder
Line a 9”x12” hotel pan bottom with Lady Fingers. Soak with coffee and Kahlua/Rum.
Add ¾” of cream filling, sprinkle with shaved chocolate.
Repeat 2 more times, but ending with cream.
Let sit, covered in refrigerator overnight.

To plate, go for a “rustic” presentation, either serving it in a bowl or carefully scooped out with a kitchen spoon on to a plate, then dust lightly with cocoa powder.

Individual soufflés bring a lot of “wow factor” into your dinning room. While most soufflés are a little more hit or miss than most non-pastry chefs would care to deal with, this version really stacks the deck in their favor. It’s more of a baked meringue than a soufflé, but it looks and tastes great, and your guests will love it.

Soufflé Grand Marnier

Six Portions

4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
Beat over double boiler in a stainless steel bowl until it’s lemon-colored and almost forming soft peaks.
¼ cup Grand Marnier Add to egg yolks, place the bowl on ice and continue whipping until cool and foamy.
5 egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar
Whip egg whites until stiff, not dry.

***Fold yolks into whites, not whites into yolks!***

straight-sided 5 oz ramekins Brush ramekins with butter and dust with 10x sugar. Fill with batter and bake at 400º
for 10-12 minutes.

The soufflés should be fired about 10 minutes before pick up, with the egg whites freshly whipped and folded into the rest of the batter just before filling the ramekins, just before baking. A nice touch is to have a waiter add a spoon of warm chocolate sauce from a gooseneck into the top of the soufflé right after it’s presented to the guest.

Freshly made New York Cheesecake with Raspberry sauce is always a treat.

New York Cheesecake

Nine Inch Round Spring Form Pan
3 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup granulated sugar
½ lb unsalted butter, melted
Begin by wrapping outer sides and bottom of spring form pan with aluminum foil to keep water from seeping in.
Combine all crust ingredients and pat into greased pan, covering the bottom and all the way up the sides.
4 lbs softened cream cheese
2 2/3 cups granulated sugar
8 large eggs
2 TBSP vanilla
2 TBSP lemon juice
In a stand mixer, cream the cheese, sugar, eggs and vanilla.
Slowly add the lemon juice until smooth.
Pour filling into crust.
Bake in a water bath at 325º for approximately 60 minutes, until center is set but still jiggles slightly.
Raspberry Sauce
1 pint raspberries
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
Simmer all ingredients for 2 minutes, then purée in a blender. Strain, if desired.

Any berries that you have on hand that are not quite fresh enough to serve whole, such as strawberries, blueberries or blackberries can be substituted for raspberries. This will not only improve the quality of your dessert sauces, it will help with your food costs.

Hazelnut Fudge is a nice way to end a meal or to garnish another dessert. The individual pieces of fudge can be frozen and defrosted as needed.

Hazelnut Fudge

One Half Sheet Pan
8 cups hazelnuts, toasted & chopped 4 cups sweetened condensed milk In a large bowl over a water bath, stir the sweetened condensed milk and hazelnuts until hot.
Remove mixture from heat.
4 lbs. bittersweet chocolate chips
¼ cup vanilla extract
Quickly, add chocolate to milk mixture in quarters. Stir until chocolate melts, then add vanilla.
Add Frangelica to taste.
non-stick spray Line sheet pan with parchment paper. Spray with non-stick spray, spread fudge mixture and smooth top.
Refrigerate. Cut into small diamond shapes

The recipes presented here are just a few of the many desserts that a lot of restaurant kitchens could produce with only a little direction and ambition. Just adding one or two to an already existing dessert menu is a step in the right direction. It’s not unlikely that someone already in your kitchen will show a real aptitude and desire to add some pastry work to their repertoire. Your guests will love it, your food costs will improve, and your staff will enjoy doing something new.

Joe Abuso is the chef/owner of Recipes & Rotations – Real Food for Mom and Dad, menus, recipes and associated tools to senior-living communities. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has cooked at some of the country’s best restaurants.