Dessert Garnishes and Sauces

8 Garnishes

A garnish, simply put, can be just an add-on whose main purpose is decoration. However, carefully selected garnishes have other functions too. This “decorative” item can add important flavour, texture, and functional elements to the plating of the dessert, and can enhance the enjoyment of the dish.

Garnishes can solve the problem of serving a frozen component (ice cream or sorbet, for example) as part of a plated dessert. If a scoop of ice cream is placed directly onto the plate, it will start melting immediately, marring the presentation. If that scoop is placed onto an item, such as a cookie base, it will slow down the rate of melting, making it easier to serve, and allowing the customer to enjoy and appreciate the effort spent on the presentation.

Other garnishes that can be used to help present a frozen component are:

  • Tuiles, which will also add visual, flavour, and texture (crunchy) elements
  • Sliced fruit
  • Meringue disk
  • Small cookie
  • Chocolate garnish
  • Crumbs (cake, crushed nuts, or brittle)

Some of the more popular items that can be used as garnishes are described below.


These thin cookies can be shaped in numerous ways: with a stencil, spread onto a silicone baking sheet; combed; piped; or spread onto a textured flexible baking mat and then shaped while still warm. For a recipe and variations, see the Appendix.

Meringues (hard)

When making meringues, keep the ratio of sugar to egg whites 1.5-2 to 1. Meringues can be made with the common or Swiss technique, and must be dried in a low-temp oven for 12 to 36 hours. Meringue can be piped into sticks, disks, or baskets such as those made to produce the classic French dessert vacherin.


Sugar can be used to make garnishes using several different methods. Pulled sugar is prepared by cooking a sugar syrup to between 155°C and 160°C (310°F and 320°F) and then cooling, colouring, folding, and stretching it into various shapes such as ribbons or bows. The same mixture can also be used to make blown sugar garnishes, which are created by using a pump to create a balloon out of the slightly cooled sugar syrup. Blown sugar is used to make things such as fruits, with many other possibilities. Bubble sugar is made by pouring liquid sugar (150°C or 310°F) onto a special type of paper and then lifting the paper and allowing it to run down, creating a bubbly effect.

Caramelized sugar: A sugar syrup is cooked to between 165°C and 185°C (330°F and 365°F), depending on how dark you want the caramel to be. Once cooled to the proper consistency, it can be used to make spun sugar, can be piped into shapes or sticks or drizzled over the back of a bowl to make a “caramel cup,” or nuts can be dipped into the caramel and pulled to create spikes.

Isomalt sugar: Isomalt is a special type of sugar which can be cooked to the same temperature as caramel without colouring. It also is less susceptible to moisture, so garnishes made with isomalt will hold up better in conditions with high humidity. It can be used much like regular sugar to create pulled and blown sugar, or sprinkled between two silicone baking sheets and baked at 175°C (350°F) for 12 to 15 minutes. For additional effect, it can be dusted with powdered food colours before baking.


Chocolate has many different applications. Too thick a chocolate garnish can overpower the dessert, so it must be delicate. In all cases, chocolate must be correctly tempered, which will ensure a crisp texture and proper sheen. Some garnishes that can be prepared are chocolate curls, fans, and cigarettes, formed by spreading a thin layer of tempered chocolate onto a marble slab and then shaping once partially set. Chocolate can also be piped into shapes, mixed with nuts and poured to form bark, or mixed with cream and used for spherification to create chocolate caviar.

Marzipan/rolled fondant

Marzipan and fondant can be rolled and cut out into shapes and figurines, or used for bases.

Dough and Pastry

Filo pastry: Filo can be buttered and layered, with flavours, such as nuts, seeds, cocoa powder, herbs, and spices, added between layers. It can also be cut into shapes and made into cups, etc., and baked.

Kataifi dough: Similar to a filo pastry but in thin strands, kataifi dough is commonly brushed with butter before being baked. Can be tied into knots or baskets and baked off. Found in Middle Eastern cuisines.

Bric dough: Bric comes in sheets and is brushed with water, baked with cinnamon sugar, and cut to make interesting shapes. Found in Middle Eastern cuisines.

Puff pastry: Puff pastry can be rolled into sheets and used as a base, cut and twisted to form straws and allumettes, etc. Puff pastry also adds a textural component to desserts.

Choux paste: Choux paste can be piped or combed into long strands and dusted with seeds or nuts before baking.


Sprinkle grated hard cheese carefully onto a baking sheet and bake until crisp, approximately 5 to 10 minutes at 175°C (350°F). The pieces can be broken into shards when cool.

Berries and fruit

Berries and other fruits can be used fresh or dried to make fruit leather or powders.

Dried fruit: Firm fruits can be sliced thinly and soaked in sugar syrup with lemon juice briefly before drying in a low-temperature (95°C or 200°F) oven on a silicone baking sheet for several hours. Fruit treated the same way can also be dried in a dehydrator.

Candied zest: Citrus peels can be poached in sugar syrup and then cooled and coated in finely granulated sugar.

Candied nuts and brittles

Heat sugar syrup to the hard crack stage (148°C to 155°C or 310°F to 330°F) and add toasted nuts. Remove, drain excess syrup, and cool. Nuts can also be chopped and cooked in a syrup to form a nut brittle, which can be broken into pieces or ground to make a powder. A recipe is found in the Appendix.

Rice noodles

Rice or other noodles can be deep-fried briefly and tossed in cinnamon sugar.


A wide range of cookies, such as sugar cookies, shortbreads, etc., can be used as garnishes. Cookies can also be made from sweet dough (pate sucré), tart dough, etc.


Different types of cakes and sponges, such as genoise, angel food, japonaise, joconde, and baumkuchen, can be sliced thinly and cut into different shapes.

“Caviar” and other interesting garnishes can be made with the reverse spherification method.



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Modern Pastry and Plated Dessert Techniques Copyright © 2015 by The BC Cook Articulation Committee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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