Paris has long been the pioneer of the food world, but based on the popular mini-dessert trend, Arizona chefs are keeping pace quite handily with their French counterparts.
Known as cafe gourmand, or “gluttonous coffee,” these tiny versions of crème brûlée, chocolate cake or custard with crème Chantilly are popular menu items in France.
Recently home from traveling in Europe with her husband, Cali McCullough — a Scottsdale resident passionate about the local food scene — said café gourmand is a common menu item at street cafes and restaurants in Paris.
Menus list “café gourmand” but don’t delineate which desserts are included. “They would serve you an espresso with crème brûlée, maybe a little chocolate cake, and at one place they served chilled pear soup,” said McCullough.
The delicacies, though small, come three to a plate and are very rich. When eaten in concert, the trio can be equivalent to the caloric content of a full-sized dessert.
“You might as well have a regular crème brûlée,” McCullough said.
Though the desserts were good, McCullough didn’t like that the café gourmand selections were predetermined and prefers the variety of selecting her own sweets. “I prefer to get a cappuccino or espresso and pick my own dessert,” she said.
She can do just that at T. Cook’s at Royal Palms Resort and Spa, a Valley dining destination serving mini desserts — the American solution to downsized dessert cravings.
“Not many in the Valley were doing mini desserts so I wanted to capture that market” said Travis Watson, T. Cook’s executive sous chef and pastry chef. Watson started serving miniature desserts at the end of his lunch service about two years ago to provide guests a lighter and more varied dessert option.
“Sometimes, after a meal, a little bit of something sweet is all you’re looking for,” Watson said. “On the other hand, there are times when you want something sweet but don’t want to commit to a full-sized dessert or wish you could try several desserts. This methodology is perfect for those guests,” he said.
It didn’t take long for Watson’s mini versions of lemon hibiscus crème caramel, pecan pie or fudgy brownie s’mores to catch on.
“Our guests love them,” he said. “They like that they get to mix and match the desserts and appreciate the variety.”
The trio costs $8, with another $3-$6 for coffee or espresso, which most patrons order along with their dessert, said Watson, who serves the minis on the lunch menu and in T. Cook’s lounge.
Starting in July, T. Cook’s plans to highlight the miniature desserts in a weekly event called “Bites and Bubbles.” From 7 p.m. to midnight on Saturdays, patrons can enjoy a bottle of champagne and two mini desserts inspired by candy bars, said Erin Stremcha, T. Cook’s director of marketing and public relations. Prices start at $10.
Biltmore Fashion Park’s Seasons 52 — an upscale restaurant chain focused on keeping all menu offerings 475 calories or less — also serves mini indulgences, which have been a popular request of Restaurant Week diners. These minis are a bit different than Watson’s though. The bits of key lime pie, carrot cake and blueberry cheesecake don’t come on a plate, they come in 3-ounce shot glasses and are served in specially built tray that house up to nine of the small delights, said Steve De Bavrill, the Phoenix restaurant’s executive chef partner.
Engineered by Chef Cliff Pleau in order to keep Seasons 52’s dessert options under the 475 calorie mark, the minis took form when a friend suggested Pleau try serving desserts in small cups. They were an instant hit and are now their signature dessert.
“It’s the perfect size,” De Bavrill said of the $2.50 shots. “You can eat another bite and not feel overwhelmed. It’s hard for people to say no.”
But who needs to when the desserts are small, affordable and delicious.
“People are becoming more demanding for quality calories,” said Tammie Coe of Tammie Coe Cakes in Phoenix, which serves frosting shots and mini chocolate pots de crème. “Whether it’s organic vegetables or soy to almond milk, people are discriminating, and a mini composed dessert fits the bill,” said Coe.
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