From homey slices of pie topped with whipped cream or ice cream to an elaborate “degustation plate” of multiple sweets, every dessert deserves a garnish.
A garnish can be anything that adds visual appeal and complementary colors, flavors, textures, or temperatures to the dessert you’re serving.
Mix and Match
Some classic dessert garnishes:
Sauces (cold or warm): chocolate, vanilla custard (crème Anglaise), caramel
Fruit purées: raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, mango, kiwi, peach
Fresh fruit: (sliced or whole) raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, pomegranate seeds, mangoes, kiwi, peaches, star fruit, pineapple; caramelized banana and/or pineapple
Citrus: fresh or candied zest, fresh or candied rounds
Edible flowers: pansies, rose petals, marigolds, tulip petals, orchids, violets, nasturtiums, orange blossoms, snapdragons
Herbs: mint leaves, lavender sprigs, lemon thyme, rosemary
Powders: confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg
Ice cream: any flavor; if you make your own, try a sour cream or crème fraîche ice cream (substitute sour cream for half of the heavy cream) for a sweet-tart contrast.
Whipped cream: plain, sweetened, or enhanced with liqueur or flavored extracts. Try whipping half heavy cream, half crème fraîche with a little sugar for a tangy-sweet topping.
Chocolate: shavings, curls, or other chocolate designs
Nuts: whole or chopped, plain or candied, toasted or raw (ground raw pistachios are a beautiful garnish); long shreds of fresh or toasted dried coconut
Cookies: any kind, but tuiles and butter cookies are the most versatile
Fruit sauces can be made any time of the year, with fresh or frozen fruit. Simply let frozen fruit thaw and then mash it or puree it in the blender. For a really smooth sauce, pour it through a strainer to get out any seeds or pulp. Adjust the flavor if necessary by adding sugar and lemon juice.
Put your sauce in a plastic squeeze bottle and “paint” the plate with them. It’s especially pretty if you use two sauces with contrasting colors.
- Make a pool of sauce in one color, and then place small polka dots of the other sauce on top of the pool.
- Drag the tip of a toothpick through the middle of each polka dot to create a heart shape.
- Create stars by starting at the middle of each dot and dragging the toothpick outwards several times.
All you need to create delicate chocolate curls is a block of chocolate and a vegetable peeler.
- Rub the heel of your hand over the surface of the chocolate to warm it up slightly (you can also zap the chocolate in the microwave for just a few seconds to make it slightly softer–but if the chocolate is too warm, it won’t curl properly).
- Pull the peeler firmly along the side of the chocolate block. The bigger the piece of chocolate, the bigger your curls can be.
- Store them in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to use them.
- Lift and arrange the curls using toothpicks so the heat from your hands won’t melt them.
If you are comfortable tempering chocolate, you can make all kinds of elaborate designs by piping onto a sheet of parchment paper. You can make hearts, flowers, butterflies, curlicues, fans, letters–anything at all. Use a picture or drawing underneath the parchment as a template. Once the chocolate has hardened, lift the designs off the parchment and garnish your dessert.
Regular dessert plates are, of course, perfectly acceptable for serving dessert. But for added appeal,
- Use dinner plates painted with sauces and other garnishes
- Serve creamy desserts in wine glasses or martini glasses
- Use hollowed-out fruits to serve sorbets or ice cream. Freeze the containers to keep them firm until you’re ready to use them.
- Make chocolate bowls by painting the inside of foil baking cups or small balloons with a thick layer of tempered chocolate (to release bowl, peel away baking cup or pop balloon).
- Drape just-baked tuile cookies over a glass or a bowl while they are still warm to create a cookie cup