Tips and Ideas for Plated Desserts

A piece of cake on a plate

We eat with our eyes first, so it’s important to learn how to plate desserts properly. Prettily presenting your desserts is a cooking technique that makes for a pleasing visual feast before the spoon or fork is even picked up. Creating plated desserts with a pleasing palette can be tricky; it’s not simply a matter of tossing on an artful drizzle of chocolate ganache. Pastry chefs in restaurants take great pains to plate desserts so that they look as good as they taste, considering their composition much as master painters would consider how to arrange their canvas.

Here are some simple tips for plating desserts effectively and beautifully, which will increase the pleasure of everyone’s favorite course.

Be creative with color.

A tray of food on a table

A splash of color can bring your desserts to life. A dark chocolate cake can go from a brown lump to an artful concoction when garnished with vibrant berries; a lemon tart goes from a fairly monotone palette to lively and lovely when presented with the contrast of a violet flower and marbled raspberry coulis.

Combine textures.

A piece of cake on a plate

Adding different textures to the plate adds excitement to the visual appeal of dessert course, and the enjoyment only continues when the eating commences. For example, pairing a smooth, rich ganache with nubbly cookie crumbs and soft, pillowy marshmallows adds just enough “busyness” to draw the eye in to the dessert. The different textures excite the senses, giving an anticipatory sense of the taste pleasures to come.

Compose your plate as you would a painting.

There are many ways to compose a plate. Consider the plate as if it were a blank canvas or as if you were composing the frame for a photograph. What would fill the space in an interesting way? Will you choose a minimalist approach, aligning different dessert elements as bookends on an oblong plate, as shown above? Or will you have a central focus on a round dessert plate? There is not a right or wrong answer, and you can experiment to see what looks and feels right to you.

Consider the vessel.

It may seem like common sense, but consider the experience of eating the dessert when you choose the type of plate. Don’t serve it on a too-tiny plate which may have garnish popping off and on to the table once the tines of a fork hit the dessert. If your dessert is creamy, it’s going to be easier to access in a rounded container or bowl. Don’t get so lost in the form that you forget the function involved in eating the dessert.

Contrast temperatures.

There’s nothing like pairing a slice of perfectly prepared pie or a fruit tart with a cool slice of ice cream. Combining temperatures can be a beautiful thing, but your plating does require some consideration. Do not put your dessert on a hot plate. Ice cream will melt too rapidly, obviously, but other desserts may “wilt” too. This can vary depending on the dessert. A slightly chilled plate may be helpful when plating cold desserts, whereas room temperature will do just fine for most cakes or pies.

Have a focal point.

Using an element in your dessert as a focal point can help give your plating focus, especially when a dessert isn’t, in and of itself, a showstopper. For instance, a translucent candied banana slice draws the eye in to the deconstructed Bananas Foster featured above, and then spirals out to follow the caramel sauce drizzle. It adds a bit of intrigue to a dessert which otherwise might look generic and, well, slightly boring in its beige color scheme.

These are some useful tips and ideas for plating desserts.

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