Choosing the best of the lot while on the dessert trail can be quite tricky and a peg for an intense debate. So this time, we decided to move away from the traditional fare and decided to get a vote on those who have innovated and still managed to crack the style code. And we found that while Paris by far, has the lead, both for the quality of desserts, overall presentation and the oomph factor, dozens of countries across the world compete for the next few spots.
We reach out to four dessert lovers and frequent travellers and ask them to pick their favourite spots!
Sanjhi Rajgarhia (founder of foodcloud.in) and Gauri Varma (founder/baker at G’s Patisserie)
Without a doubt, they pick the easy one – Paris. While Sanjhi loves the attitude of the French, and the country’s ability to add both style and flair to everything they do – from fashion to food, Gauri has done several apprentice outings with pastry chefs in Paris and says their never-ending energy and innovation gives them the lead ahead of others.
The French finesse, seen in all their desserts, makes even the otherwise dull looking Tarte Tartin or Macaroon appear delightful and while the top notch presentation builds your appetite, the taste the follows the first bite doesn’t ever let you down either.
“What I enjoy about the French pastry chefs is that they never tire of innovating. And innovation is at the back end, fusing ingredients and flavours to create something exciting each season. We are behind the French by hundreds of years when it comes to ‘fusing’ flavours or desserts and a rabri soufflé for us is fusion.”
The sheer sweet delight lights up Sanjhi’s face as she adds, “From flower flavoured macaroons and sorbets, to spiced bananas dipped in rich French chocolate to the sheer play of colours, to pick a dessert is akin to staring at a series of shopping windows for hours.”
The French perfected the craft of dessert making during the 17th and 18th centuries. The word “dessert” is actually derived from the French word “desservir” which means “to clear the table” and signifies the French custom of offering cheese, fruits or something sweet at the end of a meal. The concept has evolved thereon into a full-blown art form. Popular French desserts include chocolate mousse, crème brulee and flaky Choux pastries such as profiteroles, éclairs and cruellers. Other specialties include tarts, madeleines, Dacquoise all sorts of mousse and mille-feuilles. They’re also experts at delicate layering.
Hours of labouring, extra flaky due to protein-based flour and oodles of butter and delicate glazing truly puts the French ahead of the pack.
Anubhav Swami, creative consultant in the hospitality industry
Hop on over to neighbouring Germany, voted by Anubhav as his favourite for desserts. “But don’t expect the French finesse or delicate touch to the German desserts,” cautions Anubhav. “They’re all for large sizes, big fruit pieces and often you may not even find the dessert appealing to look at, until the first bite.”
The land of Sacher Torte and Black Forest cake (both always come with alcohol – usually a cherry kirsch, unlike the Indian equivalents that we are used to) has a wide range of other ‘sweet meats’ to dig into. Bratapfel or baked apples lack the delicate sweetness of neighbouring France and don’t go finding the plum cake during Advent months, because there’s none to be found.
“But enough of the negative comparisons,” says Anubhav, “because there is an extremely large country to explore with a sweet tooth. Typical winter or Christmas delicacies are various types of “Stollen” – a derivative from bread. A basic sugar and dry-fruit-with-spices one dominates the East and is absolutely moist and delicious, while others with poppy seed paste, chocolate or candied fruits are equally popular throughout the year. There is even an official Stollen – “Dresden Stollen” which is produced by 150 recognised bakers in the city of Dresden and distinguished by a special seal depicting King Augustus 11 (the second), the strong!
“Dessert mitflaumen” or desserts made of plum are also extremely popular and typically, the ones with a meringue topping or the ones that closely resemble an apple pie are the clear winner.
Ask Anubhav to pick a favourite and he’s thinking… “I enjoy the Prinzregententorte, a Bavarian cake, which consists of at least six thin layers of sponge cake interlaid with chocolate buttercream, with a dark chocolate glaze. The complexity of the dessert could challenge neighbouring France but the presentation is honest, simple and whole-hearted, much like the people of Germany.”
Sonia Mohindra, director at Under One Roof Hotel Consultants
“I frequent Thailand very often on work and though my outing is limited to Bangkok and a few hundred kilometres around it only, I notice that the country is picking the best of desserts from East and West and making sure both tourists and locals can enjoy the best from the world,” is Sonia’s observation as she touches down from yet another work trip to Bangkok.
Typically, desserts in Thailand bring to mind images of Mango sticky rice or sweet, mini Thai crepes but that’s a more traditional picture of Bangkok, clarifies Sonia. Today’s Bangkok is buzzing with new brands and trends.
The Japanese Raindrop Cake or Mizu Shingen Mochi sits aplomb beside the latest American rage, quarter kilo cakes and quarter-kilo cupcakes. Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tarts are ruling the roost from Sydney to San Francisco and while they haven’t touched Indian shores, people are queuing up in a posh mall in Bangkok to savour a bit of these.
The portions are large, the feeling at the end of a dessert is of hearty contentment and yet, Bangkok marries the best of large American dessert portions with the sensibility of East (Japan, Singapore) and Parisian presentations and flavours.
The success of Roast café or even Dean and Deluca in Bangkok to deliver western desserts including the quintessential pancakes, or Jones The Grocer (of Australian origin, this is a food emporium with a full gourmet experience) has set up shop in New Zealand, Singapore, Middle East and then Thailand, can be attributed to Thailand’s strong understanding of flavours mixed with a large moving population of tourists, expats and locals which has imbibed from its varied culinary experiences.