• Jo Barrett's creativity with leftovers includes desserts made from potato skins and a gin distillery's spent fruit. (Jason Loucas)
From potato-skin desserts to corn-husk meringue, chefs show how you can reduce waste by dialling up the imagination (and flavour).
By
Yasmin Newman

12 Jul 2019 - 9:54 AM  UPDATED 12 Jul 2019 - 9:54 AM

When we kicked off #DessertDate, an SBS Food column dedicated to all things sweet, we predicted ‘no-waste’ or ‘zero-waste’ desserts as one of the trends to look out for, both here and overseas.

“The whole idea of being sustainable and using by-products is probably the biggest thing I see,” Sydney's cake king Andy Bowdy said at the time.

Almost two years on, the movement continues to gain momentum, as the future of the planet increasingly influences how many of us eat.

Chef Jo Barrett is at the forefront of the sweet zero-waste crusade here in Australia. At Oakridge Wines' restaurant and adjoining sprawling kitchen garden, located an hour outside of Melbourne, Barrett and partner Matt Stone (who oversees the savoury menu) only use produce grown or made locally, then strive to use every last bit of it.

“Bread is a big thing for us at Oakridge. We get wheat from a local farmer, mill it in-house, then make sourdough everyday. Naturally, we don’t want to waste any of it,” says Barrett.

The dry, leftover bread from the kitchen is milled into flour, then combined with butter, salt, sugar, water and a little regular wheat flour. Barrett bakes the resulting ‘recycled’ sweet shortcrust pastry and fills it with everything from chocolate mousse to infused custards. “It started off as trying to avoid waste, but the pastry has a textural, semolina-like feel and the flavour of roasted bread.”

“Bread is a big thing for us at Oakridge. We get wheat from a local farmer, mill it in-house, then make sourdough everyday. Naturally, we don’t want to waste any of it.”

In this context, ‘waste’ encompasses physical ingredients, as well as the energy to produce it, but also all the inherent flavour.

Potato is another staple in the kitchen, which means a constant flow of peeled skin and Barrett creatively repurposes it into a star sweet ingredient. We’ve featured her potato-skin dessert and mainstay in the restaurant in a previous #DessertDate column, but the popular creation evolves with the seasons. “At the moment, it’s combined with spent coffee grinds and looks like a Maxibon!” she says.

At Oakridge, Barrett’s zero-waste pastry program involves other ‘root-to-leaf’ approaches, like the aforementioned potato-skin dessert, as well as by-products of other foods, such as whey from the restaurant's cheesemaking or spent fruit from nearby Four Pillars Gin in a gin-steeped orange parfait.

“It started off as trying to avoid waste, but the pastry has a textural, semolina-like feel and the flavour of roasted bread.”

It’s also embracing techniques that extend the life and purpose of ingredients, like boiling, preserving and drying. “In my opinion, being no-waste is potentially easier on the sweet side of cooking because once you add sugar, you have a really broad spectrum to play with,” says Barrett. “Don’t be afraid to use traditionally savoury applications, like pickling.”

On the other side of the world, Douglas McMaster, UK chef and cookbook author of Silo: The Zero Waste Blueprint, is leading the charge at Silo, which is about to relocate to London. The Silo cake, for example, follows in the tradition of a classic carrot cake, but utilises leftover vegetables, from zucchini and beetroot to pumpkin and parsnip, instead of purpose-bought carrots. “Whatever the subject, it gets dressed like royalty,” Silo's team posted on Instagram. “This glamorous wedge demonstrates that being resourceful doesn’t involve compromise.”

Another dessert on its regularly changing menu combines parsley roots, raw and poached apples (including the skins) and a sauce of elderflower and leftover whey. Incidentally, it was inspired by the Sydney Opera House.

Meanwhile, in the USA, bakeries to fine diners are embracing sweet, zero-waste principles. While researching my book, The Desserts of New York (And How To Eat Them All), I had the pleasure of dining at Cosme and trying one of the city’s most coveted desserts: burnt corn husk meringue with corn mousse.

As the name suggests, corn husk is celebrated: charred, ground to a fine powder, then swirled through a classic meringue, producing a deep, earthy flavour and ethereal shimmering colour.

Cosme is a contemporary Mexican restaurant (it has just been announced as the number one U.S. venue on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list), but at heart, celebrates traditional techniques and ingredients.

Which brings us to a key tenet of zero-waste baking: a lot of this is nothing new. As food became more accessible over time (aka industrialised and mass-produced), the need and know-how to make the most of ingredients were simply forgotten.

“In my opinion, being no-waste is potentially easier on the sweet side of cooking because once you add sugar, you have a really broad spectrum to play with."

These restaurants make an inspiring case, but what of good old home baking? I’ve made Cosme’s burnt husk meringue and it’s easier than you think! In fact, you can find the recipe in my book. But if you want to ease your way into zero-waste baking, Lindsay-Jean Hard, the author of Cooking with Scraps shares five at-home tips:

Choose reusable

Whenever possible, make the choice to use a reusable product instead of a single-use one. Think reusable wraps instead of plastic, silicone baking sheets instead of baking paper, and skipping muffin liners entirely.

Plan ahead – then adapt if necessary

Figure out what you’re making before you set off for the farmers market; but if you buy strawberries to make a tart and end up not having time to make it, simply pivot. You can freeze the fruit for later use in a pie or smoothie. Don't forget about the strawberry greens, either – they're great in pesto!

Take a minute before you toss something

Often, finding a good use for a so-called scrap just involves a bit of thinking. For example, pineapple peels can be used to make a delicious simple syrup for drinks or drizzling over baked goods and coffee grounds have more than enough flavour for whipped cream or a chocolate pie crust.

Scraps can create flavoured sugars

Spent vanilla bean pods can hang out in an airtight container of sugar, infusing their flavour over a few weeks. Thin fruit peels from peaches and plums, or extra citrus zest, can also be turned into rich sugars. Just dehydrate in a low-temperature oven, grind to a powder in a spice grinder or food processor, then mix with an equal amount of sugar.

Your freezer is your best friend

If you find yourself picking up lots of unique flours for baked goods, give yourself more time to use them by storing them in the freezer. The freezer is also a great place to collect food scraps, which can be put to good use once you have enough for a recipe, like a banana-peel cake.

 

In this column, Dessert Date, I scour bakeries, patisseries and dessert joints from around the world for the hottest sweet trends, up-and-coming ingredients and game-changing pastry techniques. 

Don’t miss the next Dessert Date. Keep in touch with me via Facebook @Yasmin Newman or Instagram @yasmin_newman.

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