This is Party Time, a column featuring Young Gun-approved approaches for acing a dinner party.
As pastry chef at Senia, one of Hawaii’s most celebrated modern restaurants, Eater Young Gun Mimi Mendoza (’17) uses local fruit to craft beautiful yet unfussy desserts. When she’s entertaining guests at home, she does the same. “My move is always to pick your favorite seasonal fruit and make a dessert that highlights the fruit,” says Mendoza.
When Mendoza still lived stateside, the California native would bake seasonal fruit crostatas for family dinners. Her mom was hooked on the tradition, so when Mendoza moved to Hawaii, she learned to make pie dough herself. But Mendoza’s mom soon tired of the exhaustive process and turned to Trader Joe’s for relief. Now, she buys pie dough at the grocery store whenever she has a hankering for a crostata, a practice Mendoza endorses. “I’m all for whatever makes it the least stressful and the easiest for home cooks, but I encourage people not to be scared because dinner guests are always so appreciative of dessert made just for them,” she says.
Mendoza recommends combining store-bought pie dough and seasonal fruit from the farmers market for an easy dinner party dessert that guests will enjoy. “If the produce is ripe, you don’t need much else other than that,” she explains. Concord grapes are her current fruit of choice. “They’re such magical grapes,” she says. “They taste like what you expect grapes to taste like.” Though she prefers fruit that’s in its prime, Mendoza also likes to bake with Fuji apples, which are the most consistent year-round and don’t get mushy in the oven. Underneath the fruit, Mendoza adds a layer of homemade almond cream. “It’s not that hard,” she insists. “It consists of eggs, flour, sugar, almond flour, and a little butter, which you mix all together until it’s homogenous.”
To punch up the dough, Mendoza suggests rolling it out with sugar so that it caramelizes when it bakes. She also brushes the crust with egg wash and sprinkles sugar on top before it goes in the oven. When it’s finished, she adds citrus zest. “It’s not going to be as buttery and good as homemade, but it’s a really good substitute if you dress it up nicely,” she says.
Homemade streusel is another worthy addition to the crostatas. “When I used to bake at home, I always kept raw streusel in my freezer and I would put a little bit of that on top of the crostata before baking,” Mendoza says. “It bakes the same time as the fruit and the crust and it’s a nice texture and adds more flavor — that cinnamon-y, buttery thing that you want.” She notes that instant English custard heated on the stove makes for a creme anglaise-like topping.
The final flourish: dessert wine. “I definitely recommend people drink wine with their dessert, especially if you’re going to have a fruit dessert,” she says. “[At Senia] we often pair fruitier desserts with a Brachetto d’Asti or a Moscato d’Asti. They’re nice and light, not super sweet. I’m a texture person, so I like a little bit of the bubbles and both of those have that.” With seasonal fruit and dessert wine, guests won’t even notice the dough is store-bought.