Insta-Worthy Desserts: How to Plate Like a Pastry Chef

You've spent all day making a drop-dead gorgeous dessert for your dinner party. If your friends don't spend at least two minutes Gramming that thing, you'll be bummed.

So let's make sure your work gets all the attention it deserves. Let's talk about plating.

You probably know that making the dessert is only half the battle. Plating is just as important — and it's not just about squirting a drizzle of chocolate ganache here and there.

When you're getting your dessert ready for its social-media moment, think of yourself as a pastry chef or, better yet, as an artist. Then follow the tips below to get the "OMG!" reactions you're looking for.

1. Go Wild with Color

Some of the most irresistible desserts look a little uninspiring on the plate. They need a hit of color to come to life. A handful of berries transforms brownish foods like chocolate cake or a Belgian waffle, while a lemon tart becomes even more vibrant when you add a violet flower or a marbled raspberry coulis.

2. Mix Up Textures

A dessert with multiple textures isn't just more fun to eat; it's more fun to look at. Pair a smooth ganache with nubby cookie crumbs and pillowy marshmallows and your guests won't be able to take their eyes off the plate — at least until they devour the dessert.

3. Compose Your Plate as You Would a Painting

Pretend you're a painter and your plate is a blank canvas. Or maybe you're a photographer composing the frame for a image.

There are lots of different ways to think about composition when you're plating a dessert. What would fill the space in an interesting way? Will you take a minimalist approach, using an oblong plate and aligning different dessert elements at intriguing angles? Or will you choose a round plate and make the dessert a central focus?

There's no right or wrong answer. Consider the elements of the dessert you're serving, and experiment to see what looks right to you.

4. Choose a Bowl that Works

This may sound like common sense, but always use the bowl or plate that best suits the dessert. Make sure it's big enough — you don't want anything to look crowded or squeezed. If you're serving something creamy, a bowl or a plate with raised edges is the way to go. Never forget the most important function of dessert: to be eaten and enjoyed.

5. Mix Hot and Cold

A slice of warm pie or a fruit tart is magical when you pair it with ice cream. Contrasting temperatures add sensory thrills, but you'll need to pay extra attention to plating. A slightly chilled vessel makes sense for cold desserts, while most cakes or pies do just fine on a room-temperature plate.

6. Create a Focal Point

A focal point gives your eye a place to go and creates excitement on the plate, especially when a dessert isn't, in and of itself, a showstopper. For instance, turning a classic brownie à la mode into an ice cream sandwich, then surrounding it with raspberries, brings intrigue to a dessert that might otherwise look a little generic.

7. Add Drama

Think about ways to make your dessert more thrilling. Gravity-defying elements definitely do the trick, though they usually require some DIY special effects. You can add sparkle to a parfait dessert by hovering a white chocolate wafer on it; when the wafer melts, the effect is eye-popping. It's fun to get a "Wow, how'd you do that?" reaction when you bring out the dessert.

8. Beware of Tall or Wobbly Desserts

Sure, a slice of layer cake looks fantastic standing up on a plate. But guess what's going to happen as soon you carry it to the table: Yup. Many pastry pros can't resist serving slices of cake upright, but if you're in doubt that your dessert can make the trip to the table without crashing down, lay it on its side. You can still add excitement with a fabulous garnish.

9. Garnish with Care

Planning to add random mint leaves or raspberries just for effect? Forget it. If those ingredients don't actually make sense with the flavors and elements of your dessert, they'll only create confusion. Also, consider how your guests will be eating the dessert. While whole nuts might look pretty scattered on top of a cake, they're impossible to spear with a dessert fork. Keep in mind what the garnish is adding, not just to the form, but to the flavor and function too.

10. Be Consistent

If you're preparing desserts for more than one person, make sure your your plating style and serving size are the same every time. Nobody likes to look across the table and see that someone else got a prettier or bigger slice of tart.

January 05, 2019
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Insta-Worthy Desserts: How to Plate Like a Pastry Chef