Cinnamon and chocolate are not inherently sweet. In fact, they’re both pretty bitter (one’s tree bark for goodness sake), but add some sugar, and you’ve got two of the most popular dessert flavours. If ground up bark can get a pass, other savoury ingredients deserve a chance. Garnishing and flavoring desserts with bitter, savoury, acidic, or spicy ingredients might actually be better than piling on more sweet stuff. After all, the best dishes balance all of these, so why should dessert be any different?
At a restaurant in Mexico City, I had a dessert taco that involved a goat cheese ice cream with a crispy, puffed, cheese-flavored “taco” shell. It was an unexpected pairing of sweet, savoury, funky and sharp, and each flavour complemented the others. The flavour of the shell reminded me of a Cheez-it crossed with a a cheese curl, but without the safety-vest orange colour, and it inspired me to start branching out with my ice cream at home.
For the adventurous, crunchy, salty snacks can serve as savoury ice cream sprinkles. Cheez-its have the perfect texture and a good bit of salt, and they boast a pretty authentic cheddar flavour. Try a kettle chip, or take a big risk and crush up some Takis. If you’re sceptical of this whole concept, bring out that trusty bag of pretzel sticks to remind yourself that sweet and salty have a long, harmonious history together. Try building a sweet and savoury ice cream sandwich with a biscuit, and explore bitter notes by adding raw nuts. Switch your focus away from salt and texture, and add acid and fat with some fruity olive oil and vinegar, or build some heat with a dash of hot sauce, or a sprinkle of crushed chilli flakes.
Once you’ve tried a few combinations and found your new favourite ice cream toppings, extend your flavour exploration to other desserts. Hot chocolate with chilli is a beloved duo; try adding that kind of heat to your next batch of chocolate brownies. Gorgonzola, and other blue cheeses, are bursting with funky, salty notes that pair well with fruity desserts; crumble a bit on your slice of blueberry pie. Once you open your palate up to these combinations, it’s a little bit like seeing the matrix. The possibilities are endless, and your desserts become limitless.
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