2011 January: Sweet Tooth

“Desserts are a missed opportunity,” says Jeffrey Freehof, owner of The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia, and a resident expert at Pizza Today. In our September 2010 issue, he called out desserts as one of the five things every pizzeria should be making in-house. His advice is worth repeating: “Sure, there are a lot of great items you can purchase already prepared with a built-in profit margin,” he says, “but you can usually double your profit (or more) if you can make it yourself.” So, Pizza Today put out its feelers, looking for insight from operators who have created successful dessert programs by either going 100-percent homemade or, more commonly, using a clever combination of homemade, convenience products and prepared desserts.

At 75-seat Bella Vista Trattoria in Wilmington, Delaware, chef/co-owner Candace Roseo offers a rotating dessert menu of 12 Italian favorites. “We stay true to our brand and to our high standards, and to the way of life we knew growing up outside of Naples,” she says. Much of Bella Vista’s menu is produced in-house — from the bread and pizza dough to the pizza sauce and biscotti. “We have a weekly back-of-the-house prep already in place, and it’s manageable,” adds Roseo. “If you have the system set up, then homemade desserts can be much less expensive than those purchased from a purveyor.”
But Roseo does rely on convenience products where appropriate. For the very popular cannoli, she buys the pastry shell, but makes the filling. “It’s just not practical for us to make the shells. We don’t want to fry them in the same fryers that we use for chicken and eggplant,” she says. For the restaurant’s traditional Calabrese cannoli filling, she combines ricotta with vanilla, confectioner’s sugar, candied citrus and mini chocolate chips.

Bella Vista’s tiramisu is made from scratch, but Roseo admits that it took them a while to get the system down pat. “We had to figure out packaging and storing, but we landed on the right equipment and method, and we’re really happy with the result,” she says. The prep cooks make the tiramisu in batches, then use a 13-inch by 9-inch heavy-duty resin sheet pan with a lid for storage (similar to a catering tray), freezing them until needed. They prep six trays a week, with each tray holding 15 individual servings. They thaw one tray for service, defrost one in the walk-in and have the rest on hand in the freezer.

Bella Vista tried making its granitas and ices in house, but decided to source them from an Italian purveyor instead. “It was a little more work than it was worth,” says Roseo. And with the sfogliatelle, Italian pastries that look like seashells, Bella Vista moved from making them in house to bringing them in unbaked. “You make them by hand,” says Roseo. “They’re hugely labor intensive. We had quality-control issues — for mass production it just wasn’t working.” They now bring them in frozen and bake them off for service.

At Piece Brewery & Pizzeria in Chicago, most of its desserts, such as the Supreme Cheesecake with Raspberry Sauce and the Chocolate Extreme Cake, are out-sourced. But, the signature Chocolate Pizza is homemade. “We don’t make most of our desserts, because they’re not a big part of what we do,” says Bill Jacobs, owner of this 220-seat eatery. “We sell pizza and beer.” Indeed, Piece has an onsite brewery and serves very popular New Haven-style pies. The chocolate pizza, inspired by silent partner Rick Nielsen’s (of Cheap Trick fame) trip to Italy, features pizza dough topped with Nutella 9 (chocolate-hazelnut spread) and mascarpone. Piece bakes it, slices it, and serves the whole pie for $11.95. It runs a 20 percent food cost. “It does really well for us and is so easy to execute,” Jacobs says.

For the staff at San Francisco’s Pauline’s Pizza, the homemade-dessert menu is a heartfelt extension of their core branding and mission statement. The eggs used in the desserts? Sourced from the chickens raised on property. “We also grow our own produce, source organic and make everything in-house,” says Mike Green, sous chef and chief ice-cream maker. “It’s who we are and our customers love us for it.” That customer base has been steady for the last 25 years. “Word of mouth keeps us successful,” says Green.

For Pauline’s seasonal sorbet trio, diners might find an expression of the season’s best melons with scoops of ambrosia melon, heirloom melon and kiwano melon. This pizzeria, which serves Californian-style pizza, runs a core dessert menu of five, including chocolate mousse and butterscotch pudding. Homemade ice cream is a star at Pauline’s, with seasonal favorites featuring homegrown fruits and nuts from the organic garden and ranch. “When you make homemade desserts, your customers know that you care what you’re putting on the plate,” he says.

Chocolate Chip Pizza

1 pound homemade pizza dough or purchased pizza dough
2 teaspoons butter, melted
¼ cup chocolate-hazelnut spread
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons milk-chocolate chips
2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts, toasted (optional)
Powdered sugar for dusting

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Roll out the dough to a 9-inch-diameter round. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan. Brush the dough with butter, then bake in a 450 F oven until crisp and golden, about 18 minutes. Immediately spread the chocolate-hazelnut spread over the pizza; sprinkle chocolate chips over top. Bake just until the chocolate begins to melt, about 1 minute. Sprinkle hazelnuts over the pizza. Dust with powdered sugar. Cut into wedges. Serve.

Katie Ayoub is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today. She lives in Naperville, Illinois.

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