Pudding, flan and custard are plain, humble and found in the repertoire of many cuisines.
But chefs today are elevating these desserts by adding texture and unexpected ingredients to create adventurous, over-the-top and even better-for-you takes on these creamy sweets.
“We have this philosophy at Público to have 80 percent of our menu be approachable and 20 percent adventurous,” said Mike Randolph, chef and owner of the Latin wood-fired restaurant in St. Louis.
For dessert at Público, Randolph makes rice pudding an eating adventure by adding an unexpected savory element: foie gras.
To make the sweet-meets-savory pudding, Randolph cooks Missouri rice; thickens it with a custard base and tart, lime-marinated mango puree; and tops it with a grated, frozen foie gras torchon.
“The luscious, understated offal flavor of the grated foie gras just takes it to another level,” Randolph said.
Público Executive Chef and Owner Mike Randolph’s rice pudding with mango, lime and grated foie gras torchon. Photo: Público
The rice pudding has been on the menu since the restaurant opened in 2015. Randolph said customers are intrigued by the dessert and surprised to discover how well it works. However, he admitted that about 10 percent of guests ask for the dish without the foie gras.
In Seattle, Eric Rivera, executive chef of the Bookstore Bar and Café in Seattle, has created the Hottest Hot Chocolate, what he calls a “modern interpretation and combination of all chocolate desserts: ganache, custard, flan, s’mores.”
To prepare the dish, Rivera blends milk, milk chocolate, sugar, salt and carrageenan, and places it in a mold. When it sets, the cold, pudding-like dessert is brought to the table and heated by torching it with a flame to create a toasted hot chocolate of sorts.
“I wanted to do this in the dining room and have it be a hot and cold dessert that gives a ‘wow’ effect to the diner, while allowing different textures and flavors to develop by torching tableside,” Rivera said. “Plus, who doesn’t like torching things?”
The Hottest Hot Chocolate, a chocolate pudding that is fired like a s’more tableside at Bookstore Bar and Cafe in Seattle. Photo: Jackie Donnelly
The Hottest Hot Chocolate is the restaurant’s bestselling dessert, and Rivera said guests often post images of it on Instagram, Boomerang and other social media platforms.
Jonathan Kavourakis is also proud of his restaurant’s social-media-worthy pudding presentation.
The executive chef of Vandal, a restaurant and lounge in New York City, is known for indulgent global street food. Kavourakis’ dessert pièce de résistance is Jaime’s Big Sexy Puddin’, a dark chocolate and vanilla pudding for four served in a giant martini glass and garnished with cookie crumbs, funnel cake, Nutella pinwheels and white chocolate mousse cigars.
“In addition to tasting delicious, we wanted to make sure it was Instagram worthy, so we used a really large martini glass, dusted the rim in purple glitter, made white chocolate mousse cigars and a glitter-dusted funnel cake,” Kavourakis said. “What's sexier than that?”
In St. Louis, Elise Mensing, executive pastry chef of Gerard Craft's Brasserie, a traditional French bistro, is also bringing multiple creamy desserts together in one dish.
Mensing is currently serving a coconut rice pudding brûlée, a tropical take on standard rice pudding with the addition of a crunchy brûlée top to add texture, and a nod to Brasserie’s traditional French menu.
For the dessert, Mensing bakes jasmine rice pudding, then folds in a dairy-free cardamom crème anglaise, made with coconut milk. She then portions the rice pudding into brûlée dishes, sprinkles it with brown sugar and turbinado sugar, heats it through, and finishes by caramelizing the sugar right out of the oven.
“The coconut milk and cardamom subtly flavor the dish, and the jasmine rice and caramelized sugar add another element of texture and flavor that I think make the dish simple yet delicious,” Mensing said.
Meanwhile, other chefs are making pudding a nutritious dessert with the addition of chia seeds, a popular superfood that’s packed with protein and other important nutrients.
At Beatrix in Chicago, executive pastry chef Yasmin Gutierrez offers a chia seed pudding with chia seeds, coconut milk and pomegranate. And at Project Juice locations in Northern California, chef Sascha Weiss developed a mango-vanilla chia pudding with toasted almonds, which is dairy-free, vegan, gluten-free and organic.