An Exercise in Plating

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on March 13, 2012


Food presentation has come a long way from the family style type of serving we all grew up with, where piles of piping hot food, gravies and sides were passed around the table on huge platters.

Nowadays, professional Chefs and home Chefs alike have not only become artists in the cooking of their dish, but also in how the final product is presented.

Desserts are no exception, and many times they are one of the most important parts of the meal because they always come at the end and are inherently the last thing your guests will remember from their dining experience.

When I develop recipes for the home baker, I try to keep things simple. I have seen many celebrity Chefs suggest on their programs that when making something like a fruit sauce, all you need to do is add the fruit along with a little sugar to the food processor and simply puree it…well, that’s not entirely true.

I always cook my fruit sauces, and some are a little thinner than others since you only use the juice without any pulp (like citrus fruits) that have to be made into more of a thin curd…so there are different principles that will apply depending on what fruit you are using.

Below I have compiled a variety of different basic sauces that I like to make which include an anglais, chocolate sauce, tangerine sauce and a strawberry sauce. The chocolate sauce that I make is actually David Lebovitz’s recipe which I just love and it works really well…I increased the amount of chocolate to 2.5 oz for a slightly thicker consistency  which ‘held’ together a little better on the plate, but if you are just going to use it as a sauce over ice cream, his recipe is just fine as it is.

Make sure that when you use different sauces together that they are all the same consistency otherwise you will have a real mess on your hands. Once you make them, store them in squeeze bottles which will be easier to use, especially if you have a lot of plates to decorate at once.

These simple sauces along with a few simple designs will help to elevate your plate presentations to another level which will yield more ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ in addition to all of the ‘yumms’ that are sure to follow…

David Lebovitz’s Chocolate Sauce

1 cup water

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup corn syrup

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted (preferably Dutch processed)

2 oz bittersweet chocolate

In a small saucepan, add the water, cocoa powder, sugar and corn syrup and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once it has come to a boil, remove from the heat and add the chocolate and whisk until it has all been incorporated. Pass through a sieve into a small bowl and allow it to cool completely before using and it will thicken to a lovely sauce that can be used for plate designs or something that can be served over just about any dessert. Store in refrigerator for up to 10 days, allow to come to room temp before using from the fridge.

Tangerine Sauce

4 yolks

¼ teaspoon cornstarch

1 drop orange oil/tangerine oil (or ¼ teaspoon extract made from natural oils ONLY)

¼ cup tangerine juice or orange juice, plus a little more to thin out if necessary

5 tablespoons of granulated sugar

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Add the egg yolks, sugar, natural oil (or natural extract) and cornstarch to a small bowl and whisk together. Heat the tangerine juice in the microwave for about 20 seconds and then add to the egg yolk mixture. Put all of this into a small sauce pan and cook/stir with a wooden spoon for about 5 minutes or so until the mixture has begun to thicken. Pass this through a sieve into a storage container and add the butter while still warm. Stir in until it has melted. Allow this to cool and then store in the refrigerator. Use within 5 days.

Crème Anglais (half of original recipe, makes about 2-3 cups)

5 yolks

5 oz granulated sugar (1 cup minus 2 tablespoons)

6.5 oz whole milk

6.5 oz heavy cream

½ split vanilla bean

**For step by step direction with images, please click here. 

NOTE: Make sure to use the whole cream and milk combination, it has been proven that this provides a higher milk fat content than using half and half.

Pour your milk and heavy cream into a medium sized stainless steel pot. Cut and split open your vanilla bean and add it to the milk mixture. If you need some instruction on how to do this, click here.  Put it on a moderate heat and let it heat up but not boil. This is called scalding the milk, and you know that it is ready when you see a thin skin forming on the top of the milk and a few whisps of smoke coming off the surface.

While the milk mixture is heating up, separate your yolks from the whites. Make sure to put them in a large enough bowl that will accommodate all of the liquid, because you will be tempering that in. Set the yolks aside, and cover and refrigerate the whites or freeze them in and ice cube tray for more manageability. Add the sugar to the yolks and mix well right away. If you do not whisk the sugar into the yolks immediately, the sugar will cook the surface of the yolk, and you will end up with a few lumpy pieces in your mix.

Once the milk is scalded, pour slowly over the sugar/yolk mix. Use a wire whip to incorporate well and to keep the mixture moving so that you don’t scramble the yolks. Slowly add all of the hot liquid into the egg mix, and once it is all mixed well together, put this back into your stainless steel pot. Now you need to use a wooden spoon, and stir continuously over moderate heat until it has thickened and it coats the back of a spoon…this should take about 10-15 minutes. When you feel that it is ready, run your finger down the back of the spoon and make sure that the mixture stays thick, and does not run together.Strain into a storage container and let cool completely. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate.You must use this within 5 days. Before using, use a wire whisk to reincorporate everything together, because it may separate a little while stored in the refrigerator.

Strawberry Sauce

2 cups strawberries

½ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Wash and cut berries and place them into the food processor until you have a thin puree. Remove the puree and add it to a small pot along with the sugar and the lemon juice and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring continually so that the mixture does not burn. You will see it thicken and when it does, pass this through a sieve into a small container, then cover and refrigerate until you are ready to plate.


Some simple plating design ideas…


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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Maria Springer/Maja's Kitchen February 15, 2013 at 8:01 p

Caterina….what a wonderful teaching post….thank you…this is great!
Love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Have a wonderful day!

avatar Jane Bonacci February 16, 2013 at 12:52 p

Fantastic tutorial on dessert plating!!

avatar Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet February 16, 2013 at 4:23 p

Thank you Jane! xoxo

avatar Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet February 16, 2013 at 4:37 p

Thank you so much Maria…these few little things make a big difference in presentation!

avatar Robert Simon December 23, 2013 at 4:17 p

Always knew you have skills. Beautiful!

avatar Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet December 25, 2013 at 9:55 p

Thank you Robert, that such a lovely thing to say! Studying and working with some of the best chefs in the world didn’t hurt either!

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