Greg describes the desserts on the main dinner menu as component heavy, and indeed, his Cranberry, Ginger dessert has no less than nine components. Your eye may first go to the pale, speckled dome, which is a white chocolate gingerbread mousse sitting atop a graham crust. Crumbles of that same crust are used as a bed for the bright red cranberry sorbet. Scattered throughout these two main components are leaves of fried sage, coriander meringue, maple-poached whole cranberries, pearls of maple syrup, ginger salted candied walnuts, and below it all, a vibrant swipe of cranberry gel.
Pâte à bombe
Starting with the largest element on the plate, Greg whips egg yolks into a pâte à bombe, which will serve as the base to the white chocolate gingerbread mousse. Pâte à bombe is similar to an Italian (cooked) meringue, but the sugar syrup is added to whipping egg yolks instead of whites. The result is a light, almost fluffy base that can be used for a wide range of mousse desserts.
Before getting poured into the whipping egg yolks, sugar is cooked to soft ball stage, which Greg tests by dipping his fingers in ice water, grabbing a bit of the cooking sugar with his wet fingers, and dropping the cooked sugar in the ice water. It was an impressive skill I'll happily leave to the professionals.
Greg let leaf gelatin soften in water for a bit before adding it to hot cream. It melts in the hot liquid, but in case there are any errant chunks of gelatin, he strains the mixture into the pâte à bombe after it whips for several more minutes and cools down.
After the gelatin is mixed into the base, Greg quickly folds in the melted white chocolate. Next, some classic gingerbread spices join the party. Added in equal portions, ginger and cinnamon are the two most prominent spices followed by equal portions of nutmeg and clove.
Folding in Whipped Cream
The final step for this mousse is folding in whipped cream, which makes it even more airy and delicate.
Greg pipes the mousse into silicone molds and freezes them so they set up quickly and can easily be popped out for service.
Greg bakes the graham crust until it's a "little darker than golden brown" to bring out the ginger and to make sure that the honey in it is fully caramelized. All of the scraps are ground into crumbs and used to keep the cranberry sorbet in place on the plate.
Once the mousse has set in the freezer, Greg pops it out of the mold and places a round of crust on the bottom.
A simple glaze is poured over each dome of frozen mousse. They are then placed in the cooler to temper out (or soften) before service.
Greg prefers to fry the sage in a microwave for a few reasons: it tastes more fresh and has a cleaner feel on the tongue, it's less greasy, and the leaves remain flat instead of curling up like they would if they were dropped into hot oil. He rubs each leaf individually with oil and places them on a plate lined with cling wrap before microwaving them for two minutes.
The fried sage comes out of the microwave crisp and delicate, so Greg carefully transfers each leaf to a paper towel with an offset spatula.
Maple Poached Cranberries
Cranberries are cooked in maple and simple syrups. Greg doesn't want any of them to burst, so he cooks them either over the lowest flame possible or just the pilot light for 45 minutes to an hour depending on the cranberries. You could easily eat the resulting cranberries one after the other without any of that usual overwhelming tartness. They do retain some level of sourness, but it's nicely rounded out by the syrups.
Greg begins with a swipe of cranberry gel, which is just a puree of cooked cranberries, orange juice, sugar and water that he thickens with agar so that it stands up on the plate and has a nice sheen. The mousse is set down, followed by the poached cranberries, graham crumble, and pearls of the maple liquid that the cranberries are poached in.
"Here," Greg said, offering me a Hershey's kiss-shaped drop of meringue, "they taste like Fruit Loops." I crunched down on one; not only did it taste like a Fruit Loop, it shattered like one too. Perhaps coriander is the secret to that distinctive Fruit Loop taste?
Greg candies whole walnuts in the oven, then fries them to lock in the crispy sugar glaze, and sprinkles them with ginger salt. He adds these with the fried sage and caps everything off with a smooth and tart cranberry sorbet that he forms into a quenelle with a spoon. Here he warms the back of the spoon so the sorbet will easily slide right off onto the plate.
The Final Plate
I always enjoy eating plated desserts with multiple components like this. Each bite offers a completely different taste and textural experience. The mousse and sorbet are both soft and creamy in their own ways while the meringue and walnuts provide a delightful crunch. The berries are sweet, juicy, and a little chewy as are the pearls of maple poaching liquid. Finally the leaves of fried sage are crisp enough to be broken with a little pressure from a fork, but retain just enough of their fresh flavor to complement the rest of the dessert in a surprising and unique way.