Since the opening of her eponymous pastry shop last summer, Lyons-born master pâtissiere Nadège Nourian has turned legions of Torontonians into macaron and guimauve fiends. Nourian, who previously worked for a handful of Michelin-starred restaurants in London, has become a citywide sensation thanks to her delicate, meticulously prepared desserts. At the same time, Nourian says, virtually no technical skill is required to throw a great dessert party at home, especially if you opt for a simple, interactive dessert, such as chocolate fondue. "If you do something a little unusual with the food, you give people something fun to talk about. It's a conversation starter," she says. Fondue parties can work as either formal evening functions or casual afternoon affairs. "But no matter what," she says, "the food always has to be good."
The guest list
For Nourian, creating the right guest list is a numbers game. "For a sit-down party with eight to 12 people, you can have a really good atmosphere. For a buffet, you need at least 20," she says. Another factor, Nourian adds, is your guests' palettes: "When you throw a party around food like this, you have to invite people who are interested. For a chocolate fondue party, invite friends who you know are chocolate lovers."
For fondue, there are few essentials: plates, napkins, a fondue pot and forks. "But definitely not knives," Nourian says. If the party is a sit-down affair, round tables that enable each guest to reach the pot easily are ideal. If you have a longer rectangular table, set several pots down the length of it. To maximize socializing at a fondue buffet, Nourian says, "put the food in the middle of the room. Coming to get food is a great excuse to talk."
A dessert party needn't feel like a stodgy tea-and-crumpets-style affair: "You can give the party whatever atmosphere you want. A dessert party can be really fun," says Nourian. "If you've got the right crowd, you can dim the lights, put on some dance music and serve drinks. Guests get into it right away."
"People only think about fruit for [dipping into]fondue, but you can use anything," Nourian says. One way of organizing your party, for instance, is to serve dipping ingredients as you might a three-course meal, starting with fruit, moving on to cheese and ending with sweets.
For the starter course, the fruit should be fresh - and original: "Everybody puts strawberries and chocolate together, but I don't think that's very interesting," says Nourian, who recommends raspberries, blackberries and assorted cooked fruits. "Roast pear or apple in the oven," she says, "with some butter and a little sugar." And for ambitious chefs: fruits flambé. "Throw some pineapple or banana in a frying pan with a little bit of brown sugar and butter, add some rum and light it! Then serve it with what you'll be dipping."
For the cheese course, blue cheese with dark chocolate is a classic pairing; up the ante by making it sumptuous Roquefort wedges and including homemade croutons. Other good bets are soft goat's cheese and Camembert. Along with the cheese, Nourian advises, serve a few bowls of mixed nuts, such as pistachios, hazelnuts and almonds.
For the final sweets portion, Nourian says, homemade is optional: Pick up some macarons, amaretti or other bite-sized sweets. If you have the time, baking mini madeleines or even guimauves (marshmallows) is straightforward - and mightily impressive.
Even though it's dessert, wine is still essential. Nourian recommends starting with some Champagne to accompany the first course. For the cheese course, red wine is wise, although some Sandeman port can elevate the experience. And finally, with the sweets, Nourian recommends some XL cognac. If this all seems too boozy for you, Nourian suggests, "a spicy tea, like Chai, [works well] And bergamot is nice, because you get orange and chocolate."
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Cold fondue is just cold chocolate, so keep your chocolate warm and liquidy with a trustworthy pot. This enameled cast-iron number from Le Creuset, says Nourian, "is top-quality. It's strong and durable - a piece you will own for life." Le Creuset Traditional Fondue, $175 at retailers across the country (visit www.lecreuset.ca to find a store near you).