Best Dessert of the Fall (and it hasn’t even started)

While this blog normally focuses on a full event, like a restaurant, a meal, or a store, it’s a rule that can be broken.

When justified . . .

And boy, is this justified.

Earlier this week, I went to lunch at Red Dunn Kitchen, in the Trumbull & Porter Hotel in Detroit.

Andy Campbell, the pastry chef, was in the kitchen.   Andy trained in the pastry arts program at Macomb Community College, and has about fifteen years in front of the ovens.

Today, we talked about the new fall menu for Red Dunn, which Chef Jay Gundy and Andy will be serving starting next week.

“Hey, I’ve got a dessert for you to try,” Andy said.

Is there a better sentence to hear from a guy whose job is to create delicious desserts?

A few minutes later, he placed this dish in front of me.  It is a Maple Creme Brûlée, garnished with fresh gooseberries, and a mille-feuille, flavored with sweet potato and marshmallow fluff.

I have a weakness for Creme Brûlée; it’s a go-to dessert for me.  My first fine dining experiences were in the 80s, and Creme Brûlée was THE dessert of the time.

Also known as Trinity Cream, or Burnt Cream, the recipe goes back hundreds of years.  One source puts the earliest mention of the dessert in a cookbook published in 1691, Cuisinier royale et bourgeois.

While I’m reasonably sure Andy didn’t get his recipe from there, it really hasn’t changed much over the years.  Egg yolks and sugar are whisked together, then heavy cream and vanilla are added.  The custard is poured into ramekins, which are placed in a boiling water bath, and baked until set.

Once the custard cools, sugar is sprinkled on top.  The sugar is then burnt into caramel, either by use of a butane torch, or a high-pressure broiler (salamander).  As the sugar melts, caramelizes, and cools, it hardens into a brittle crust.

Breaking through that crust into the cool custard beneath is a tactile experience, and the sugar crust adds a textural crunch to the custard.

In this case, Andy had flavored the custard with maple, a very autumnal taste.

While maple can be cloyingly sweet if overused, in this instance the flavor is balanced.  You know the maple is there, but it is an accent.  It isn’t the predominant flavor in the dish.

That honor goes to the small Napoleon balanced on the rim of the dish.  It consists of two pieces of a very crisp pastry, piped with a creamy, sticky mixture of sweet potatoes and marshmallow.

There is an incredible amount of sweet potato flavor in this little treat*, and combined with the marshmallow, it’s the taste of Thanksgiving dessert.  Fortunately, it’s about two bites, so the richness isn’t overwhelming.

The fresh gooseberries add a note of tartness, and the overall dish is just the flavors of Fall.  It’s the best dessert of the season, and the season hasn’t even started!

If this is representative of the rest of the menu, I can’t wait!


*Andy says the way to extract the most flavor from sweet potatoes is to bake them whole, rather than boiling them.  Once they are baked to the proper consistency, peel them, then process as needed for your recipe.  They’ll be much more flavorful than ones that have been boiled to death.  While you may not be trying to re-create this dish at home, that tip might come in handy if you’re baking a sweet potato pie in the next month or two.  Might even make yours the favorite at the church social!


Red Dunn Kitchen is located in the Trumbull & Porter Hotel, 1331 Trumbull, Detroit.  It’s open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  And they’re open late, if you just want dessert and coffee after the show or game.  You can find their Web site here:

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