Olive Desserts:
Curing the Common Confection
  by Anna Mowry
November 2007

Olives popped up in some very successful desserts this year, and while it may have come as a revelation to some diners, the pastry chefs behind the recipes shrug off the hype. “For me, it wasn’t about what I could do with olives to surprise people,” says Pastry Chef Jordan Kahn, who, while tinkering in the kitchen at Varietal in New York, developed a dish that pairs Picholine olive nougatine with sweet potato ice cream, yogurt, and pureed yuzu. “It just made sense to add saltiness to the richness of sweet potato – using olives to achieve that was a natural, obvious decision. People enjoy the balance in sweet and salty flavor combinations.” » more


Cara Cara Orange Push Pop with Black Olive Caramel,
Fennel-Orange Salad, Orange Soda, and Black Olive Gelee

Pastry Chef Ryan West of XYZ at the W Hotel – San Francisco, CA

Valrhona Manjari Soufflé Tart with Candied Kalamata Olives
Pastry Chef Elissa Narow of Custom House – Chicago, IL

Meyer Lemon Chiffon Cake with Crisp Meringue,
Castelveltrano Olive Brittle and Tarragon Ice Cream

Pastry Chef Leena Hung – San Francisco, CA

Sweet Potato Ice Cream, Yogurt, Yuzu, Picholine Olive

Pastry Chef Jordan Kahn – San Francisco, CA

Nougatine contains caramelized sugar, which benefits from the addition of salt; it lends a savory depth, heightening the complexity of flavor. In Kahn’s dessert, olives are an unexpected, logical vehicle for salt, their brininess tempering caramel’s sweetness. Ryan West, the pastry chef at XYZ in San Francisco, also combines olives with caramel in his recipe for an orange push pop with black olive caramel. Both his and Kahn’s desserts are surprising concoctions of flavors that achieve a tasty equilibrium.

Across the country, pastry chefs are bending the traditional rules of their craft, increasing their use of salty and savory ingredients and creating new avenues to deliver them (61% of those pastry chefs surveyed in our Pastry Trends Survey are using vegetables in their pastries, and we’re not talking carrot cake). Curing imparts an intensely briny dimension to olives, making them a fitting food to shake up the use of salt in the pastry discipline. Certain varieties have either fruity, citric or nutty undertones, which are natural to the olive itself. Secondary layers of flavor come from the addition of other ingredients at brining or packing. An olive tinged with the right notes can pair well with lemons, nuts, and many other ingredients commonly used in desserts.

Last winter in Chicago, Custom House Pastry Chef Elissa Narow brought olives to the dessert menu through her Valrhona Manjari Soufflé Tart with Candied Kalamata Olives. The dark, fruity Kalamatas went hand-in-hand with the Valrhona Manjari, a chocolate with a deep, fruity fragrance and flavor profile. Narow’s use of olives puts an innovative spin on chocolate soufflé, a menu mainstay that can suffer because of its often overly predictable formula.

San Francisco Pastry Chef Leena Hung (who was making desserts at Fifth Floor when we last saw her) had intended to garnish a Meyer Lemon Chiffon Cake with desiccated Castelveltrano olives, but dehydration left them unattractively black, so she decided to incorporate them into toffee. It was a sensible solution given the olives’ buttery flavor profile: “They can stand on they’re own – they’re that rich,” says Hung. Inspired by Mediterranean cuisine, where olives and lemons are a common duo, the cake and its olive-studded brittle were so popular she had to delay the dessert’s retirement from her menu.

Indeed, an idea that was first met with wariness – both Hung and Narow recall patrons expressing skepticism upon seeing olives in dessert descriptions – is taking root. “Now I see olive brittle all the time,” Hung says. She is currently developing a recipe for financiers with olive centers, crowned with candied orange or lemon peel, another expression of her fondness for the marriage of citrus and salt. Narow has also created a reincarnation of her tart, combining candied Kalamatas with a baked chocolate mousse cake made from 66% dark chocolate. “The chocolate and olive combination is only getting more popular. It’s definitely not going away anytime soon,” she insists.

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   Published: November 2007