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Monday, April 15, 2013

The DESSERTed Dinner Party - Apples and Caramel, Autumn Menu




     
      A few of months ago, Ryan planted a seed. "Why don't we host a pop up restaurant for our friends" he says. At first instance I kind of dismissed the idea thinking that we already host dinners for our close friends and family so this wouldn't be anything special. The seed started growing and I asked Ryan whether or not we wanted to go ahead and if we would be able to pull it off. A few more shoots sprouted and Ryan suggested that we host a dessert pop up cafe/restaurant, knowing how passionate I am about my desserts. 
      Who would we invite? I thought. When will we hold it? Do we charge our guests? How much? What would be the layout of the night? etc etc. All those things were discussed and then I went ahead and put together a bit of an invitation and showed it to Ryan. Ryan approved and then on to Facebook it went.

      To be honest, we weren't sure how people would react to this invitation. Our close friends and family have always been spoilt with our cooking and baking but I knew that there were a lot of our friends that we don't really socialise with regularly (including our online friends) who would probably love to be able to have that experience. They were the ones that this invitation was targeted to. We were also hoping that these friends would also bring their friends to this event.
      Interest was slow at first, but I didn't really want to spam people so we just patiently waited to see who would respond. We did mention the idea to some friends here and there and before long we had filled about two thirds of the seats we were offering. Three weeks to go and we had 'sold out' our event.

      Next on the agenda was of course the food. During the few months before, we wrote down our ideas for the menu and eventually ended up with a theme of apples and caramel which I thought was perfect for Autumn. We also wanted to use a fruit that was in season for our desserts. It was tough because it was still summer when we were planning this and all I could think of was summer fruits. Ryan also wanted some savoury 'palate cleansers' in between so that our guests wouldn't be too overloaded with sugar hit after sugar hit. We recipe tested and changed things along the way if we thought they didn't work or if recipes needed adjusting. 

     Rather than regular tea blends, we wanted to make it a little special so I did a bit of research to find out what tea would go well with our desserts. We went to T2 and had a cup of Oolong tea and a cup of Darjeeling tea and tasted the teas along with an apple frangipan tart. The Darjeeling was a perfect match, drawing out the sweetness of the apple and caramel in the tart. The fact that it was called the champagne of teas had already had me hooked.

      We had our menu finalised the week before the dinner. I also had a spreadsheet with our shopping list, decor list, and run down of things to do during the week leading up to and also the day of the DESSERTed dinner party.We were getting pretty nervous and excited about the whole thing. Especially when people were telling us how much they and their friends were looking forward to it. There was even more pressure on us as we had paying guests this time, we had to make sure everything was as perfect as could be.

      It's the Friday before D-Day and I am over at Ryan's place nice and early so we can start on the cooking. We were in the kitchen all day, preparing and cooking as many of the various components as we possible could.

      We head back to my place and continue late into the night, not finishing until midnight. The next day I am back over at his place early in the morning. Despite the fact we had done so much the day before, there was still quite a bit left to do and we also had to set up our little instant restaurant.



      Ryan's parents have done some fantastic work to their back yard and we have previously used this space to host various lunches and dinners with our friends. This time there was more pressure to create the perfect ambiance for our guests. We transformed it from this photo above...

into this. I spent most of my lunch breaks trawling through The Reject Shop, and various homeware and bargain shops looking for bits and pieces that would work as decor for our event. Some things I had simply just bought for personal use before we even planned the dinner party but came in handy for the night.





      The four squared metal plaques were actually picked up in South Melbourne Market on our recent trip to Melbourne. I thought it was the perfect fit for our desserts only dinner party.

      We had to do place cards as we had to co-ordinate different groups of friends so that people wouldn't be split up. All seating plans came apart when we had cancellation after cancellation leading up to the night and we had to scramble to fill seats but it all worked out in the end. My good friend Diana had given me a deck of 'conversation starter' cards for Christmas which we placed on the tables just in case and they were very well received even though not needed as all our guests mingled with each other so well.
      Our one major dilemma when we first thought of the idea of hosting a pop up was that we wanted to use proper crockery and cutlery, but when you're catering for 16 people with three courses each plus tea and coffee, where the heck would we source it all. We did think about borrowing from our friends and family and also going out to buy 'cheap' stuff.
      Luckily for us, I remembered that we had all these gorgeous sets of China in the cupboard at home. At first I thought these were just brought home by dad (the obsessive hoarder) who had picked them off from the side of the street but it turns out all these gorgeous sets of China were actually mum and dad's wedding presents from 30 years ago. Who would be crazy enough to put these out on rubbish night! We were a few cups and bowls short but that was easily solved by a few everyday items from our kitchens at home and a trip to the swap and sell markets at Flemington.



     Ryan's parents backyard really is the ultimate space for entertaining day or night. When it gets darker we just switch the lights on and you have instant ambiance. My parents' house is a different story... and when Ryan and I do have a place of our own I doubt we'll even be able to afford anything with a back yard. So hopefully they don't think about selling this gorgeous place. The one thing that we did overlook was the fact that the weather had turned much cooler in the evenings. I did think of warning out guests that it was an outdoor event but as we were under shelter I didn't think the night would get so cold. Next time we will get everyone to bring a blanket!



     Getting ready for service. It felt weird when I told Ryan to 'get ready for service' but really we were, it was literally opening night of our pop up restaurant.

My cooking partner in crime, in his zone, doing what he does best.

The DESSERTed Dinner Party Dream Team.
      We managed to hire two fantastic waiteresses for the night. Our family friends, almost like sisters to us, Celine and Jessica were more than happy to help us out on the night when we came to them with the idea of the pop up. We said we couldn't pay them or give them a seat at the table but the promise of free food in exchange for their help on the night was all it took ;) We already always have so much fun with our Fancy Schmancy Dinner Parties. The girls were really excited and wanted to dress up the part so I let them run with it. Made me feel like I had to make an extra effort to dress up too being host and all ;) The apron was also bought during our trip to Melbourne though I didn't buy it specifically to wear on the night.

The girls getting ready.

Looking good, just the way he is ;)

      I found two tea pots in the cupboards at home and picked up the two blue ones while we were in Melbourne at the Made In Japan warehouse store. These were meant to go on the tables but in the end our waiters ended up serving our guests the tea as they needed it which was not what I originally had planned but worked out to be a nice touch to the evening for our guests. Coffee was also on offer but majority of our guests were happy to sip on their teas. Ryan did end up brewing some for those that were wanting the caffeine hit.

Amuse Bouche - Cinnamon macaron with green apple puree and white chocolate ganache.
      I wanted to incorporate my macarons into the menu somehow. Ryan originally suggested this as a little something to serve with tea and coffee at the end of the meal as a last 'kiss' of flavour. As it was all desserts I suggested that we serve tea and coffee right from the beginning and the macarons would be a good little teaser to start off with.
      I actually wasn't sure I was going to serve these at all as the feet of the shells didn't really come out as perfect as I wanted them to be. They were just too frilly and protruding for my liking but I just didn't have the time to remake them. I also had some issues with the filling as I attempted to make an apple ganache but that all went wrong too. With some thinking on my feet I was able to save the filling and when assembled they didn't look as bad as I originally thought they were.

First Course - Earl Grey Chiffon Cake with Caramel Sauce and Green Apple Jelly.
      All my friends and family love my chiffon cakes and Ryan said that it should definitely be on the menu. I'd only ever made pandan chiffon cakes so had to do some experimenting with earl grey. We've had the earl grey chiffon from Azuma Patisserie in the city and loved it and we also love the earl grey and caramel combination. Though that combination is not a new concept, we wanted to recreate it somehow on our menu.
    I originally played around with making the chiffon cake in individual moulds as it looked better for presentation. I had the cakes all baked and ready but at the last minute changed my mind as I decided that as soft as they were, they just wern't soft enough for my liking when baked in the moulds and I rebaked the chiffon as a whole cake to slice up and serve. The slices may have looked a bit big but that was the smallest I could cut them without having the cake fall apart on me. The chiffon was just so light and airy I wasn't worried the serving was too large. The size of the cake slice did end up making the bowls look like they were not the right fit for this dessert but we were limited with what resources we had.
      I may have warmed up the caramel sauce a little too much as it was a little too runny and soaked into the cake by the time it reached the table which meant it didn't look very 'saucy'. The apple jelly was originally a cider jelly but the bitter undertones from the cider clashed with the caramel and earl grey making it unpleasant to eat together. In the end I decided to just use green apple juice tinted with some colouring. The jelly was actually remade many times during the week to get the right texture and flavour to go with the rest of the dish. It was only meant to be a small garnish for the dish but we were told by our guests that they wanted more of the jelly.

'Palate Cleanser' - Cheese and Chive Gougeres.
      These were my idea, I love eating choux pastry as much as I love baking it and I thought the gougeres, which are the savoury equivalent to a profiterole, would be a great palate cleanser as they would be savoury enough to break up the sweetness of the desserts but also light enough that they would not be too overly  filling. The cheese we chose to use was gruyere which is a great tasting cheese, especially when hot and melted. It gives the puffs a little bit of bite without being too overpowering. I also paired the cheese with some chives and a sprinking of paprika. I left the cheese puffs unfilled as I wanted to keep the palate cleanser light and each person received at least two of them. They were so tasty there were requests for more coming back to us in the kitchen.

      We sent the girls out with my camera but forgot to put it on to automatic setting so a lot of them were quite blurry. Luckily though that the two best photos happened to capture all of our guests.



Second Course - 'Apple Crumble', Toasted home made Brioche, Sauteed Apples with Cider Caramel, Macadamia Crumble, and Cinnamon Cream.
      This was a combined effort between the two of us. We immediately thought apple crumble when thinking of apple desserts as it is such a classic and well loved dessert but we wanted to do something different with it. At first it was just going to be a deconstructed version of some sort but I wanted to think outside the square a bit more for this one.
      In the end I decided to use toasted brioche for the pastry/crunch element, and Ryan wanted to sautee the apples instead of stewing them to maintain a bit of texture in the apples while also giving them a nice caramelised flavour. He also wanted to do this to order so that the apples would be nice and warm which I did questioned him on as we had 16 serves to pump out. He assured me that all would be fine but on the night we were very slow to get the dishes out to the guests as he decided to only use one saucepan because he wanted more control over the apples. He said he was hesitant to have two saucepans going at the same time because he didn't want the apples to burn with his attention being split. 
      Apart from the slowness of the apples being cooked to order they were very well received, especially when drizzled with Ryan's cider caramel. An apple crumble is not an apple crumble without a crumble topping and we thought that macadamias are the perfect match with apples. Would double the quantity of nuts next time though as their flavour didn't really come through as much, even after making the recipe twice. A crumble is not complete without a cream or custard to go with it and we had a few ideas for this but practicality meant that the final decision was to make a cinnamon cream to go with the crumble. Something so simple was actually a highlight for the dish to many of our guests.

'Palate Cleanser' - Mini Spicy Beef Empanadas.
      This was Ryan's idea and he was quite persistent that we have some empanadas on the menu as a palate cleanser. He wanted something a little bit moreish to follow on from the 'main' course and something a little spicy to get everyone's taste buds excited (they're also one of his favourite snacks to eat). I was hesitant at first thinking it was too heavy but then we decided that we'd make them mini size so that we don't over fill our guests. I played around and experimented with a few recipes and tested out a few different types of pastries too. In the end it was a team effort with Ryan responsible for cooking the filling and I made the pastry dough. He helped roll out the dough and I made the pastries as it seemed I had more finesse at dealing with the finer details.

     I had bought some very cute vintage milk bottles but forgot to take a photo of them when they were brought out to the table. One of our guests has kindly let me use this photo, it also shows the action at the tables while Ryan and I were in the kitchen pumping out all the food.

  Third Course - Sea Salt Caramel Pannacotta, Moscato Poached Apple, Cinnamon Apple Crisps.
      The finale. Our original thought was to recreate the pandan pannacotta which we had previously made for one of our Fancy Schmancy Dinner Parties knowing what a hit it already was and that we would easily be able to recreate it without much stress. I thought that it was a little too tropical for Autumn and in the end thought I would align it with the rest of the menu and turned the last course into a salted caramel pannacotta instead. For a crunchy textural element I wanted to make some little apple crisps to go with the smooth and creamy pannacotta and to also tie in with the apple part of the theme. Thinking the dessert needed one more element to complete it I decided to add some poached apple to the dessert. Instead of poaching the apples in regular sugar syrup, I decided to poach them in moscato instead which give them a whole different flavour profile. Everyone loved the idea of moscato poached apple.

     As we were limited with resources for plating our desserts, Ryan suggested that we make the pannacottas in the jars that we had bought for our Christmas Dinner. He is such a smart one that boy. The jars added a fun element to the night despite the fact they were a little tricky to eat out of but that's what spoons are for ;)

      At the end of the night Ryan and I were able to kick back and mingle with our guests and also enjoy our culinary creations.

We also had an impromptu vocal performance from Celine which was requested by Ryan's mum.

      We had a donations box and a feedback box and were overwhelmed by what we received in both, a huge thank you to all our guests. The response from everyone was absolutely fantastic and everyone was so willing to give us feedback both good and bad, though it was mostly positives that we received. We are so glad that everyone enjoyed the night and the food and that everyone was already asking when the next one will be.
       Even though Ryan says that I was the brains behind most of this, I could not have done it without him. Thanks to him for planting the seed for this pop up idea and running with it as my ideas grew and grew, and also for being my cooking partner. We also could not have done it without being able to have access to such a wonderful space to host our friends, and also a great kitchen to work in - a big thank you to Ryan's parents for this. Who can forget our wonderful waitresses for the night, Celine and Jessica, you completed the dream team and Ryan and I could not have done it without you. And last but not least we couldn't have gone ahead and hosted such a fantastic event without our wonderful friends and their friends.
       It was days of hard work (and months of planning), but Ryan and I enjoyed every moment of it, even all the cleaning and packing up that we were still doing the morning after. We really do love cooking and being able to share that love is what makes us happy. This is the most successful event to date that Ryan and I have hosted and there are still many things to learn for next time.
       We are happy to say that we are already thinking about the next DESSERTed Dinner Party. For those that missed out but were keen to come, you will have to be quick as I think the seats will fill up much quicker this time around. Details coming soon so watch this space!