Since Aster opened two years ago, pastry chef Sean Ehland has been working with chef Brett Cooper on the perfect transition from savory to sweet. Ehland, who came to SF from Charleston (where he’d been pastry chef at Sean Brock’s McCrady’s), thinks of his desserts as a natural extension of dinner a the Michelin-starred restaurant.
“I don’t want the dessert menu to have nothing to do with the rest of the dishes,” says Ehland. “I try to match ingredients, technique, and presentation to fit the whole experience.”
For the new fall menu, that means a shift away from end-of-summer produce like berries, to squash, citrus, and Ehland’s favorite: apples. Given the area’s long growing seasons, the menu can change multiple times as various things wax and wane in ripeness and flavor. Ehland says he wants to avoid fatiguing diners palates with one ingredient (not to mention the fact that it becomes boring to prepare).
While Ehland will soon depart Aster to take over the pastry and bread program as a partner at Marla Bakery, his desserts will live on through the season. Here’s a look at three of Ehland’s newest fall desserts, available on the menu now.
Poached Pear with Vanilla and Pistachio
“I am very cautious of how I want [the desserts] to be consumed,” says Ehland. “A lot of them are stacked so that they’ll be eaten together. If something is really strong, it is treated like a condiment so it can be added bite by bite.”
The poached pear dessert is one of those desserts. The pear is cured with pickling lime to keep the exterior firm during poaching, then poached in a liquid spiced with star anise, black cardamom, vanilla bean, sugar, and sauvignon blanc. It’s nestled atop a pistachio creme mousseline, filled with vanilla ice cream, and topped with an inadvertently gluten-free tuille, composed of pureed pistachios and rice, rice flour, and various sugars. The tuille is topped with lemon zest, and a small amount of poaching liquid fills the bottom of the bowl; a single drop of lemon oil is added for richness.
Coconut Custard Tart with Coffee Glaze
A simple tart shell is filled with coconut custard and topped with a coffee glaze. A kabocha squash puree (the squash changes based on what is available) is made with squash that is roasted whole and filled with makrut (aka keffir) lime leaves so that they infuse flavor through steam, and blended with Swiss meringue, then plopped atop the tart on a bed of toasted unsweetened coconut . A shockingly flavorful lime sherbet is composed of milk, lime juice, and sugar, then perched atop a nest of crumbled tart shell.
Milk Chocolate Custard with Sorrel and Basil
Rich chocolate custard is piped into a tower, leaving the center open for filling with a granite of wild sorrel. A tuille made with rice and cocoa nibs is placed atop the tower, then topped with dots of basil cream gel, and a chiffonade of sorrel. The result is an icy, tangy treat with bitterness from the cocoa nibs and an herbaciousness from the basil and sorrel.
Chefs like Ehland and Cooper work in tandem to create a beginning and end to the story; it’s a case for ordering dessert, no matter how full you think you may be.