Hold For Service

Tuesday, Jan 7th, 2014

A comment on twitter regarding the last post about posset doubted the recipe’s authenticity due to the inclusion of 2 sheets of gelatin. I can understand the doubts of the reader. The post told of a custard set entirely by acid, so what was a sheet of gelatin doing in there?

It’s quite simple, and a point I thought worth bring up as a larger topic. The recipe given is one designed to function in a restaurant service. This means it isn’t simply made, set aside, and eaten at the optimal time. It must endure specific conditions that consider holding the product over a period of time and placing it on a plate as the customers order it.

The gelatin in this posset was introduced to prevent weeping, a small amount of liquid that would break out of the custard during service. The amount introduced offered nearly zero texture. In fact, if it were the only force at hand holding the cream in place, it would still look and feel like cream.

For this custard to be served, we cast it into flat 1 cup deli containers 1 inch deep. Each deli holds 8 portions which are spooned out of the deli as each order comes in. One deli is removed from the refrigerator anywhere from 1 to 8 times during a service, agitated slightly with each spoonful pulled from the mass. The agitation, along with the subtle temperature fluctuation caused by removal and  return to the refrigerator was the cause of a small amount of liquid seeping from the custard. While not the end of the world, the loss of liquid both made the custard a slight bit denser, and concentrated the flavor. We strive for consistency at Blackbird, doing what we can to ensure that the guest who enjoyed our posset at 6 on Tuesday will have the same experience as the dinner who orders this dessert in the peak of a busy Saturday. So to do this, we added gelatin to add longevity to this texture in the circumstances of service.

If you look in the same post at the recipe provided for creme avec, a nearly identical custard that is cast in a casuela and served in it’s entirety, you’ll see the sheets of gelatin was omitted. Because the custards were removed from the refrigerator only once and not agitated until the diner inserted their spoon, we did not encounter the same weeping.

When professional pastry chefs discuss dishes we ask, “how do you hold that for service?” It’s as much a part of the quality of a dish as the recipe used or the creativity in the flavors. If the texture isn’t held properly, or suffers from being held for service, it cripples a dish. I would venture to say this is a defining mark of a great line cook. They take the time to monitor product through the entirety of a service, examine quality fluctuations, and come up with solutions to maximize quality. If you don’t know how to hold your product for service, you can undo a days worth of work in a minute.

I bring this up, because these recipes are designed for restaurant service. They are sized to fit the standardized equipment that we have in our kitchens, and they are modified to survive service conditions. I made the decision to present our recipes exactly as we use them, because when I seek information to use in my restaurant, this is the information I want to find. The internet is choked with recipes, and there are cookbooks for days that tell of every dessert you can think of. However, to introduce these recipes to a restaurant setting a lot of translation needs to happen. I wanted these recipes to speak directly to those professionals doing exactly what we do every day, and help inform them as directly as possible.