Desserts: Through a Straw

Published in FSD Update

Drinkable desserts offer convenience and sometimes a healthy post-meal option.

Overlook’s Summit Shuffle.

For operators looking to add something nutritious, portable and trendy to their menus, consider drinkable desserts. Whether you go seasonal with fresh fruit smoothies, ethnic with agua frescas or decadent with milkshakes, the options are limitless.

Take it from Richard B. Roberts, chef/manager at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., who offers smoothies and milkshakes in rotating flavors, including strawberry, mixed berry and mango. Chocolate and vanilla milkshakes are garnished with items like chocolate chips, crumbled cookies, candy and fruit. “Because Cornell has its own dairy plant, these [drinkables] get added appeal, and it gives our operation a chance to feature a high-quality, local product,” Roberts says. 

Joe Mullineaux, senior associate director for the University of Maryland’s Dining Services, can relate. Mullineaux also uses ice cream made from the on-campus dairy for his best-selling milkshakes. “We have a long tradition surrounding our ice cream,” Mullineaux says. “In most of our smoothies we use whole fruits and add in nutritional supplements, which takes the guilt away from dessert, making them very popular.” 

Michael Atanasio, manager of food and nutrition at Overlook Medical Center, in Summit, N.J., also uses the guilt-free dessert tactic. Atanasio offers many varieties of yogurt and fruit smoothies made with fresh fruit, protein and supplements. One smoothie, the Summit Shuffle, is made with a Greek yogurt base and is topped with almonds and dark chocolate. “I try and stay away from plain white sugar and use natural ingredients, like fresh fruit and vegetables, for sweetening whenever possible. Soon we’ll use our own honey,” says Atanasio, who recently added two beehives to his on-site garden. “Other bases, like yogurt or candied ginger, double as sweeteners and tie into the healthy craze.”

While milkshakes and smoothies are mainstays, don’t stop there. Take a page from Mullineaux’s book and consider snow cones: shaved ice flavored with syrup and often topped with marshmallow cream. Though it starts out solid, as the ice melts the cones becomes a fun, portable drink, says Mullineaux, who sells the dessert at special events, at the Dairy and at the campus golf course bar, where he adds liqueurs.

Made to order
Perhaps the biggest challenge of drinkable desserts is they’re typically made to order so as not to dilute or thaw. “It takes a good bit of work and skill to make a good drinkable dessert, and it can be messy,” Mullineaux says. “Training is key. And you should start small, building on new flavors after you master the basics.” Cornell’s Roberts agrees: “In building a hot or cold beverage program, keep the process simple, using [no more than] five easily replicable ingredients. If you have all the necessary ingredients in place, it is more of a systematic production.”