At her two San Francisco restaurants, Orson and Citizen Cake, chef Elizabeth Falkner is known for her avant garde desserts and experimental cuisine. She's competed on both Iron Chef America and Top Chef Masters, authored a cookbook on the subject of sweets, and recently added another job title to her resume: dessert menu consultant of the Bubble Lounge.
Together with one of her sous chefs, Lexi Barry, Falkner has crafted a special menu for the Champagne-centric eatery. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to attend a preview where I got to taste the five treats. Falkner was on hand to explain the wonderful dishes and answer questions about desserts in general. To see what she had to say about cheesecake, ice cream, and perfecting French toast,
- When making cheesecake, consider different kinds of cheese. While everyone loves the classic cream cheese variation, Falkner says she gets a kick out of making it with more complex cheeses.
- Desserts should never be too sweet. "Like all dishes, a dessert should be balanced."
- To make a treat sound more sophisticated, use its French name. Instead of using the words whipped cream on her menu, Falkner subs in the French word, chantilly. French toast becomes pain perdu, etc.
- Don't overthink sparkling wine and dessert pairings. Falkner points out that Champagne and other sparklers "are just a nice wine with bubbles."
- Falkner believes "ice cream and sorbets are really just frozen sauces that can be made with anything." She's very into ice creams and recommends experimentation. Her latest favorite flavor? Grilled Sourdough! Look for it on the menu at her soon-to-be open Fillmore Street restaurant and bakery, Citizen Cake — the eatery is expected to be up and running no later than July 1.
- For the best French toast, use a thick-dense bread and let it soak in the custard mixture overnight. Cook at a low temperature so the custard has time to set.
- Want to make waffle-shaped cookies or pizzelles, but don't have a special press? No matter! Falkner makes wafer cookies in a panini press.
- The perfect dessert menu is all about balance and should include something lemony, something creamy or custardy, a cake, a treat that highlights seasonal produce like strawberries, something chocolately, and something with ice cream.