New Year’s 2011: Desserts That Pop

by Jessica Dukes
Antoinette Bruno
December 2010

New Year’s Eve dining has a bit of an identity crisis. Christmas menus are straightforward, calling for comforting, festive, winter flavors. Thanksgiving is turkey (or game), Valentine’s Day means romance, obviously, and Mother’s Day is all about giving mom a break in the form of brunch. Everyone goes away happy.

But New Year’s Eve is a mixed bag, a celebration of “out with the old, in with the new”—meaning feelings of nostalgia and throaty, sentimental renditions of Aulde Lang Syne. And New Year’s Eve can also mean sparkle and glam, a night on the town capped (or started) off with popped Champagne. Expectations are jumbled, ranging from the nostalgic and familiar to the luxurious and celebratory—a variety of needs that all need to be met before midnight.

One of the easiest and simplest ways to please the varied—and variously sober—New Year’s crowd is with dessert. Whether it’s the sweet, lush nightcap to answer hours of year-end revelry or an intimate celebration of its own shared amongst friends, dessert is the surefire draw to get chilly patrons off the street and into your seats. It’s up to you how to feed them. And of course, when you’re serving New Year’s dessert, an actual nightcap is typically in order, so don’t shy away from dessert pairings this holiday.


Down on the West Loop of Chicago, Pastry Chef Patrick Fahy of Blackbird offers a dessert that’s sexy and finessed. Fahy provides a powerful, punchy, salted caramel gastrique as an escort to a seductive little sugar-blown pear. The pear shatters at the touch of a spoon to reveal a refreshing Bartlett pear sorbet. Being New Year’s Eve, fizz is always fitting, and Blackbird Lighthearted Sommelier Eduard Seitan offers two complimentary pairings: “a Spanish Espumoso Brut Nature from NV AN in Rueda, Verdejo, is a little more lively and playful than Champagne, with great acidity and great bubbles, [whose] main character is crisp pear.” And Domaine de Barroubio, a Muscat from France, is neither overly sweet nor overwhelming. Its notes of pears and apricots harmonize with the delicate pear in Patrick’s dessert.

New Year’s diners will love the spectacle of sugar-blowing, a retro-skill revived from its heyday in the 1980s: it takes an elegant, holiday-appropriate flavor profile to a celebration-worthy level of gastro-glam. And it’s a great challenge for any chef whose New Year’s resolution involves expanding his or her repertoire.


At The Oval Room in Washington, DC, Chef Tony Conte’s recipe for Strawberries and Cornflakes is an inspired “breakfast” dessert that conjures up an elevated bowl of cereal—the ideal late night treat for nostalgic partiers. It balances the familiar with sophistication, and it’s just plain fun. House Sommelier Brent Kroll recommends pairing it with a racy and elegant Casas del Mar, a Brut Rose from Penedés, Catalonia, Spain, to amp up the luxury factor. It’s affordable (i.e., not a resolution-buster), and has richer fruit to stand up to the luxuriant textural swatches of strawberry in the dessert. Kroll also recommends Adelscheim Pinot Noir Deglace from Oregon’s lush Willamette Valley with “fleur de sel on the nose, candied strawberry notes, and a syrupy, viscous texture” that sidles up to the silky cornflake custard.


Over at 2941 in Falls Church, Virginia, Pastry Chef Anthony Chavez’s seductive take on a classic flavor profile pairs a pale green pistachio soufflé with a rich, dark sour cherry filling for a gorgeous color contrast (sure it’s New Year’s, but red and green will be very much a la mode). Serving the soufflé atop a sablé base makes for an intriguing yet refined twist on classic French pastry. And roasted cherries and Belgian Kriek sorbet, with its notes of sour Morello cherries, make for a seriously sophisticated, romantic dessert—just the thing for couples ringing in a quiet New Year. Matthew Carroll, the sommelier at 2941, suggests a Rodenbach Grand Cru, an oak-aged Flemish sour ale whose tartness “provides a subdued foil” to the deep jammy flavor in the dessert.