Anatomy of a Dessert or Testing, Retesting and Testing Again

July 17, 2009

pecans 3

Whether it is for one of my books, a magazine, or the dessert menus at Farallon or Waterbar, testing recipes is a slow process. Very rarely do I come up with an idea, try it once and love it.  I wish I had more testing days like that but they are few and far between. The reality is that sometime I make the same dessert 5 times before I feel it has hit that “worth the calories” bar of approval.

For the dessert menu at Waterbar, Robyn, Theresa (my pastry cohorts) and I have been working on a German Chocolate dessert. Most people are familiar with German Chocolate Cake- chocolate cake with a custard like layer of coconut, brown sugar and pecans. I wanted that general idea but I was looking to change it up. I thought the pecans, coconut and chocolate combination with ice cream formed in individual ring molds would be delicious.

My first attempt was vanilla ice cream with a German Chocolate swirl. No matter how stiff I cooked the custard it dissolved in the ice cream and did not make a ribbon. I then tried warming the coconut pecan custard and pouring it over the top and down the sides of the ice cream but it was quite unattractive. I switched to spreading the room temperature coconut mixture on top of the ice cream. I didn’t want just plain vanilla ice cream so I swirled in a milk chocolate ganache. Next I had to decide on the base of the ice cream bombe. (If I put the ice cream directly on the plate it would slide all over the place as the waiter carried it to the table.)  I tried both brownies and a coarsely chopped pecan and brown sugar mixture brought together with melted butter. I thought I would like the brownie the best as the pecans and brown sugar would be too sweet. But with chocolate sauce on the bottom of the plate the brownie made the overall dessert too chocolatey, covering up the coconut and pecan flavor. I reduced the amount of sugar in the pecan brown sugar mixture and that worked. Now that I had the pecan flavor in the crust I decided to take the pecans out of the coconut filling as I was concerned they would become soggy. To finish it off for garnish I added some toasted coconut around the pool of chocolate sauce and some candied pecans halves on top. Finally the dessert was complete. German Chocolate in a new form.

After testing a dessert this many times and even though I think I have it, I like to have others try it for a new perspective. My taste buds need a break. That’s where the staff comes in.  You don’t have to leave a dessert with a bunch of spoons on the pastry table long before sous chefs and waiters will ask with a smile- “What’s that, do you need a taster?” They are the best, always willing to help out when called for duty. It’s rough but someone has to do it.


  1. Chocolate, pecans, coconut – it’s all good!

  2. Almost makes you want to be finished with German chocolate for good. Ok, well, at least for a week. . .

  3. You must have perfected it. I had it at the Waterbar in August and it was amazing! I like German chocolate cake but it’s not something I’d order out. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was that it’s already rotated off the menu. I found your blog Googling for the recipe.

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