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.
Photos via CakeSpy
Here are some simple tips for plating desserts effectively and beautifully, which will increase the pleasure of everyone's favorite course.
1. Be creative with color.
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.
2. Combine textures.
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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. Let it be dramatic.
Have a little fun with your dessert. Employ tricks to add some magic to the presentation. Try recreating gravity-defying aspects taught in the Craftsy class Gravity-Defying Cake Designs on a mini-scale. Or make a parfait dessert hover with the use of a white chocolate wafer which then melts into it to create an amazing effect. People enjoy a little pomp and circumstance with their meal, and it's fun to have your dessert course greeted with "Wow, how'd you do that?"
8. Don't make it too tall or wobbly.
A slice of layer cake looks fantastic standing up on a plate. But if it's too tall, there's a strong chance of it toppling over even on a short journey to where it is being served. If it seems too tall or wobbly, it probably is. While many dessert professionals adore the visual of serving a slice of cake upright, the general consensus is that if you're in doubt, lay it on its side. It can still be prettily appointed, as proven by the above photo of a gorgeous red velvet slice adorned with whipped cream and berries.
9. Garnish with care.
Random mint leaves or raspberries for artful effect? Forget it; it's more likely to be confusing than anything else. Also, consider the eater when adding finishing touches to your dessert plate. While whole nuts might look pretty scattered on top of a cake, they are impossible to spear with a dessert fork. Keep in mind how the garnish will function on the finished plate.
10. Be consistent.
When plating desserts for a crowd, be consistent in your design and in serving size. It can be confusing to see different presentation on each plate, and nobody likes looking over to the plate across the table and seeing a serving double the size.