We know it by many names: Afters. Pudding. Postres. Whichever term one chooses, the word “dessert” encompasses a universe of foodstuffs with wide-ranging variations, from pastries and ice creams to gelatins, custards, and chilled, fruit-based soups. Despite these style variances, one unifying thread woven through all such dishes is that dessert courses are typically sweet affairs.
While fruits, nuts, and even cheeses number among standard ingredients used to create the meal-enders that we all love, more chefs and recipe creators are going off script, finding ways to incorporate foods that are anything but typical into their creations. Making use of poultry, red meat, and even bone marrow, these confections are challenging much of what we thought we knew about culinary possibilities regarding desserts and how they’re made. Let’s look at some of the more inventive utilizations to serve this purpose in recent years.
Originating in medieval Europe, the sweet custard known as blancmange begins with breasts of chicken or capon that get boiled until they’re exceptionally tender. The meat is then finely minced or shredded, blended with other, more typical dessert ingredients including milk, sugar, and rice flour, and cooked until the mixture achieves a paste-like consistency. That paste gets molded into servings of velvety milk-and-chicken pudding. A popular legend surrounds a similar dish called Tavuk Göğsü, a contemporary Turkish dessert sharing blancmange’s usage of chicken. Common lore attributes the signature Turkish dish to an ancient Turkish sultan’s after-hours craving for something sweet on a night when chicken was all that royal cooks had available. If this is true, then this early re-purposing of meat as a dessert ingredient is evidence of what wonderful things are often born when necessity meets ingenuity.
Another instance of meat re-purposing is apparent in a more recent development out of New Zealand. Scientist, Mustafa Farouk, Senior Food Technologist at agricultural innovation firm AgResearch, has created a chocolate that is 50% comprised of beef. Working in collaboration with Auckland’s Devonport Chocolatier, Farouk’s aim in engineering this confectionery chimera was to create a protein- and mineral-rich food source for senior citizens that’s easier to chew than red meat. Because chocolate’s deliciousness is beyond reproach, it seemed a good medium to explore, and so he developed a proprietary method of rendering “chocolate butter” from lean cuts of beef hind quarter.
Devonport blends that substance with its candy to produce a rendition of sweetened chocolate that’s not only derived from bovine bits without tasting like it, but also loaded with zinc, iron, and vitamin B12. Emboldened by his success, Farouk has experimented with other beef-centric novelty edibles, including a dairy-free ice cream for the lactose intolerant to enjoy.
The SPAMERICAN™ Food Truck Tour rolled out for its second year in April 2016, taking the tinned pork product, SPAM®, across the U.S. as a gesture of gratitude to fans, chefs, and our military. Among the recipes designed to showcase the product along its route of 16 communities in more than a dozen U.S. states was a Cinnamon-Crusted Spam Waffle. Despite the waffle being a dish more commonly associated with the first meal of the day than the last course of the meal, a dusting of sugar and cinnamon, combined with the caramelized meat and a drizzle of apricot jam was more than enough to elevate this creation to dessert status.
Artisanal Portland, an Oregon-based ice creamery Salt and Straw, has enjoyed significant fanfare since its 2011 launch, thanks in large part to locally-sourced ingredients and an ever-changing roster of compelling seasonal flavor combinations. The latter point is perhaps best illustrated by the popularity of its Bone Marrow and Bourbon Smoked Cherries ice cream, debuted in 2014.
Anyone averse to enjoying their sweetened bone marrow in frozen form will be glad to know that New York City’s The Doughnut Project has also jumped on the bone marrow dessert train, partnering with nearby butcher shop Hudson & Charles to craft a Bone Marrow Chocolate Doughnut. Exclusive to the sweet shop’s West Greenwich Village location, the item sports a bone marrow-infused chocolate filling, and a clementine glaze sprinkled with shaved chocolate.
As a third option, the Chocolate Marrow Cake served at Dallas gastropub, The Blind Butcher, is fashioned by whipping roasted marrow into chocolate cold-brew cake batter before baking and serving it with your chef’s selection of ice cream flavor.
Another doughnut as filled with revelations as it is with uncharacteristic elements is the Foie Gras Doughnut, outlined in the book of recipes from Food Network Star darling, Justin Warner. The sweet was devised in part as a game-ender in a debate with a former girlfriend over which bread reigns supreme (with the lady arguing for the brioche, while Warner advocating for fry breads).
Filled with a mousse that counts the fatted-goose liver, green seedless grapes, shallots, and a touch of Cointreau among its components, the doughnuts’ debut divided the public at once between those offended by the inherent animal cruelty of foie gras production, and those feeling that the delicious end justifies the means. The restaurant to serve the fried oddities has since closed, however the recipe lives on in Warner’s cookbook, The Laws of Cooking: And How to Break Them.
Pumpkin Pie, Snickerdoodle, and Chocolate Chip are just a few varieties of dessert hummus in a rising online ocean of recipes blogs, grocers, and food purveyors. The standard base ingredients of finely ground chickpeas and tahini generally remain intact. Fresh or dried fruit, cocoa powder, and even cookie dough are now joining the party, as imaginations run wild with the possibilities of sweetened hummus as a dessert in its own right as well as providing a dip for other foods.
With such innovations increasing, and with commercially-produced instances continuing to hew closely to vegan and gluten-free standards that characterize traditional hummus, this trend stands a fair chance of converting people who, up until now, have avoided trying the dish, as well as further delighting those already on board.
Regardless of the subjective nature of which culinary endeavors are deemed delicious, appetizing, or even worthwhile pursuits, the way that we conceive and create desserts continues to evolve. As home cooks, scientists, and professional chefs devise new ways to pair and explore seemingly discordant textures and flavor elements, familiar old sweets are made new again. One can only imagine what future dessert norms of cooking and eating their efforts will establish.
If reading this has inspired you to explore some creative dessert ingredient usages of your own, begin by browsing all our delicious bakery and dessert items.