Here’s an extra bite from my column this week, which included a teaser from a delicious pop-up dessert dinner at The Penny Ice Creamery in Santa Cruz benefiting the Food What?! nonprofit based at UC Santa Cruz. Check out an in-depth look at the dinner of desserts here!
This past week, The Penny Ice Creamery hosted a unique popup dinner in their small shop in Santa Cruz. Chef/c0-owner Kendra Baker prepared a three course dessert dinner. Yes, you read that right—dessert for dinner. It’s the dinner we always dreamed of as kids!
What brought about this special popup dinner? The Penny Ice Creamery held the dessert dinner as a benefit for local nonprofit Food, What?!, which tackles issues of food justice by involving communities and youth in sustainable agriculture.
So Tuesday night we settled in for a deliciously decadent dinner of desserts and wine pairing provided by Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, with wines are made with California grapes, but in the traditional Iberian style of Portuguese wines.
The first course was a creamy, dreamy ricotta bavarois, blending sweet and savory by using red beets and blood oranges.
The pure white log of bavarois was topped with vibrant blood red beets and oranges, like a work of modern art. I loved the accompanying beet sorbet—it was silky smooth and packed with flavor. The addition of edible wood sorrel flowers and a splash of green wood sorrel foam made a playful nod to a beet salad.
The accompanying wine—Quinta Cruz 2010 Verdelha from Silvespoons Vineyard, Alta Mesa—was light, with hints of citrus, so it left the heavy lifting to the bavarois.
The second course highlighted purely sweet flavors, but wisely through a light dish of caramelized tonka bean brioche. Tonka beans are actually seed pods from an Amazonian tree and have flavors similar to vanilla. They gave a sweet hint to the gooey brioche. Paired with cinnamon, almond and ice milk, this dish reminded me of an ice cold glass of horchata, deconstructed and reimagined as dessert.
The pairing with a Qsocalis rare Alambic brandy was a little unfortunate. The dessert was so light that the hard brandy overpowered the brioche’s delicate flavors.
The final course was a dark chocolate creme. I was pleased to see Chef Baker didn’t fall for the temptation to incorporate chocolate into all the courses—it gave other sweet ingredients some time to shine. (And let’s face it, three courses of chocolate would have been a bit much, no?)
The chocolate creme was quite light, with just the right touch of cocoa. It quivered ever so slightly as I cut into it with my fork—the perfect texture.
And I loved the pairing with tart candied kumquats, the most underrated and underutilized of all citrus fruits. But the reine de près soured my love for the chocolate citrus combination. This herb gave the dish a grassy flavor, which was an unexpected twist for my palate.
I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked the port pairing—a Quinta Cruz 2006 Rabelo port. Normally I loathe ports—I find most too pungent—but this one was light, with a good balance of sweetness. It was a great companion for chocolate.
Our dinner was a delightful opportunity to see the full breadth of talent of pastry chef Kendra Baker. She and co-owner Zachary Davis have made quite a name for The Penny Ice Creamery among ice cream aficionados—I’m up at The Penny about once a month to get my fix on their unique ice cream flavors. This dinner gave Chef Baker the opportunity to showcase her skills at preparing elegant plated desserts too, proving that pastry chefs can be just as skilled as their savory counterparts.
I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to try some beautiful desserts while supporting a good cause.