Credit: Julia Thiel

Botanically, the eggplant is a berry, but culinarily it resides firmly in vegetable territory. That makes it challenging to incorporate into a dessert, says Beacon Tavern pastry chef Kevin McCormick, who was tasked with just that by Kymberli DeLost (the Gage, Acanto, the Dawson). “It doesn’t have a lot of flavor on its own, but you can manipulate it in a million different ways,” McCormick says. “Every manipulation gives us a different quality of the eggplant itself.”

McCormick says his goal was not to mask the eggplant’s vegetal qualities but to highlight its other qualities—some more appealing than others. “I wasn’t quite expecting how bitter some of the elements [of the dish] would get,” he says. “It was a trial and error of minimizing the bitterness.” McCormick started with an eggplant spice cake, inspired by “the savory qualities of a carrot cake,” he says. He roasted eggplants on the grill until they were smoky, peeled and pureed them, and added classic carrot cake spices like cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. Instead of cream cheese frosting, he made a mousse with goat cheese: “This is, for me, the link between sweet and savory,” he says.

McCormick also roasted small cubes of eggplant and glazed it with a mixture of orange and lemon juice, honey, aniseed, and orange zest for brightness and sweetness. Spices were key to the dessert: the aniseed, he says, “draws that bridge between the savory elements of the eggplant and the sweetness of the dessert.” He made a cardamom ice cream to add complexity and more spice notes, and put coriander seeds in the pickling liquid for Japanese eggplant. “One of the cool qualities of eggplant is the unbelievable purple color,” McCormick says. “When we pickled it, it brought out more of that color.”

The last eggplant element was a chip: After charring, peeling, and pureeing eggplant, McCormick cooked it on the stove to eliminate as much moisture as possible, then spread it thin on a silicone mat and dehydrated it. “It tastes like an eggplant potato chip,” he says.

McCormick also made a sunflower seed streusel, which he says adds texture and toasty flavor, and raisins soaked in riesling (for a sweet-tart flavor). Eggplant wouldn’t be his first choice for a dessert ingredient, McCormick says, but he was pleased with the result. “We get a lot of layers and depth with all the different elements. It’s got characteristics of a carrot cake, but you get some of those vegetal notes, a lot of spice.”

Who’s next:
McCormick has challenged Chris Thompson of Coda di Volpe to create a dish with Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli.