Plated desserts are a thing for either the professional pastry chef or for the criminally insane home baker who has a day to fill. Having been both I generally understand the motivations.
When you work in a professional pastry kitchen you get a paycheck at the end of the day. Yes, that paycheck wouldn't cover the pound of vanilla beans the manager somehow found the cash for but you getting a $1.50 more an hour would be such fiscal lunacy that he'd rather burn the place down, but it's totally not about that. You get paid in satisfaction, pride in your work, and hopefully family meal in a kitchen that's cool sending fried chicken your way once in a while.
For the home cook it's about challenge, a day without errands pecking at your heels like angry hens, and a desire to recreate a cake you saw online but that will likely end up as a meme on the Cakewrecks fan page.
Of course, both require passion and dedication. Plated desserts require patience, planning, and so many bowls and spoons that you'll wonder why you didn't get an apartment with a dishwasher.
Lucky for me I have one, so if you don't then I guess it sucks to be you.
I also had a day to kill and a friend who insisted that we do a plated dessert because once these ideas spark in her head it's hard to put that brushfire out. So she put me to dancing my knife between piles of strawberries and stacks of rhubarb while she whisked out every lump in a pot of pastry cream that would feed fifty but only needed to feed two.
Shortcakes were made and dressed with lemon and freckles of poppy seed. Whipped cream was, oh yes, whipped by hand.
And so at the end of our afternoon we had the following: Lemon Poppy Seed Shortcake. Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream. Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote. Whipped Lavender Cream.
Proof that crazy can be a good thing.
Makes 6 shortcakes
3 large rhubarb stalks, trimmed and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of salt
1 pound strawberries, cored and cut into quarters
Lemon Poppyseed Sour Cream Biscuits:
1½ cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for sprinkling
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup sour cream
Zest of two lemons
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
2 vanilla pods
3 cups whole milk
2 large eggs
3 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, sliced
Whipped cream for topping (optional)
Fruit Filling: In a heavy-bottom pan, add rhubarb chunks, sugar, and salt. Toss well to coat rhubarb with sugar and allow to sit for 20 minutes. Set pan over high heat and cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from burning. Remove from heat and stir in strawberries, taking care to not mash the fruit. Allow to cool.
Lemon Poppyseed Sour Cream Biscuits: Set oven rack to the middle position. Preheat over to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
To the bowl of a food processor add flour, salt, and baking powder. Pulse a few times to aerate and mix. Add butter and pulse a few more times until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Pour the dough into a medium-sized bowl. Add sour cream, lemon zest, and poppy seeds, mixing with your hands, if you’re willing – otherwise a wooden spoon will work fine. Do not overmix. You should have a nice soft dough by the end. Place dough in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, but don’t let it chill to the point of getting hard.
Divide the biscuit dough into 6 portions, rounding them into rough balls with your hands. Set them each 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops with a little more sugar and slide the biscuits into the oven.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning the baking sheet halfway through, until the tops of the biscuits are a gentle golden brown. Let biscuits sit on the baking sheet for 3 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely.
Pastry Cream: Split vanilla beans in half and scrape out the tiny inner beans with a spoon or butter knife. Add both the tiny beans and the now-empty vanilla pods to a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Pour in the milk and set over medium heat. Heat just until the milk starts to steam. Remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes to steep the vanilla beans. Fish out and discard the empty vanilla pods. (Or keep them and drop them into the milk container in your refrigerator, which will give your milk a nice vanilla flavor.)
While the milk is cooling, pour eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and salt into a medium-sized bowl, whisking until smooth. Whisk in flour, beating vigorously until the mixture is very smooth.
Fill a large bowl with ice and ice water. Set aside.
Reheat the milk to the steaming point and remove from heat. Temper the eggs by very slowly adding 1 1/2 cup of hot milk to the eggs while whisking vigorously to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Very slowly pour the eggs into the saucepan with the hot milk, again whisking vigorously to prevent scrambling. Bring the pastry cream to a boil, still whisking vigorously to prevent the flour from clumping, and then cook for another minute until the pastry cream is very thick.
Remove from heat and add butter, 1 slice at a time, mixing well before adding the next slice. Set saucepan in the bowl of ice water, whisking pastry cream constantly until it is about at room temperature. You may occasionally need to add more ice to the bowl, as it will melt while you are whisking the cream.
Once the cream is cool, press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to keep a skin from forming. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Assemble the shortcakes: Set out 6 bowls and scoop 1/2 cup pastry cream into each bowl. Set a biscuit in each bowl, and top with a few spoonfuls of fruit. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and serve immediately. If you have extra syrup from the fruit, it makes an awesome addition to cocktails, vinaigrettes, or stirred into a bowl of yogurt.