By Terry Trucco
Whenever a holiday rolls around, we head to Jumeriah Essex House in the hope of seeing a grand-scale edible work of art. Last Christmas a 10-foot-tall tree constructed from 500 lbs. of white chocolate commanded a corner of the lobby. The year before, a minutely detailed rendering of the hotel in gingerbread doubled as a mouth-watering photo op.
And with Easter nearly upon us? The lobby and adjoining South Gate restaurant are showcasing Faberge eggs rendered in chocolate. Two of the eggs are three feet tall and weigh 35 lbs. All are gorgeous. And yes, they’re edible, but really, it’s much more fun to look at them. (And the signs say Do Not Touch.)
We asked Deden Putra, executive pastry chef at the hotel, all about eggs, crafting art out of chocolate and whether those creations ever get eaten.
How did the chocolate Faberge eggs come about?
I create a special project at every holiday for my team to get them excited and help them to
work together as a team. I like to give them something to do that they’ve never done before so they’re not just making eclairs on a day-to-day basis.
Easter eggs are a natural choice, but how did you come up with the designs? They’re really intricate and fanciful.
I recently visited the Jumeirah hotels in Dubai. They’re amazing architecturally with many details on the buildings – lots of colors with gold and silver everywhere. When I came back I thought I could use what I saw on the buildings as inspiration for Easter eggs, and then I thought about Faberge eggs and came up with the design.
How do you make a three-foot-tall chocolate egg?
The big eggs took five days to make. We have to melt the chocolate, temper the chocolate, then brush it onto a mold. We do it layer by layer, and each layer uses about a pound of chocolate. Once a layer is brushed on, it has to dry completely so it can crystallize. It took six layers to get the thickness we wanted. Then the egg had to set for 24 hours before we could decorate it. Everyone on the team got a turn working it.
Is the chocolate really edible?
We use the same kind of chocolate we use in desserts, but when we use it for decoration we have to temper it. Tempering is a method of heating and cooling chocolate so the fat particles stabilize. Chocolate that’s tempered becomes shiny and strong. But it’s still edible.
Will the chocolate eggs get eaten when they’re no longer displayed?
No. We’ll wrap each egg and save it for next year. We can scrape off the design or change the color. We used some of the white chocolate from the Christmas tree to make these eggs. They have a white chocolate base, but we sprayed them with food coloring. The gold I used is 14 karat confectioner’s gold.
Tell us about the smaller eggs in the glass case. They’re charming.
They were designed so we could practice. I worked on them with two other people. After we finished them we knew we were ready to make the big ones.
You’ve been a pastry chef for 14 years and worked at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire
before coming here 17 months ago. What drew you to the profession?
Pastry is a combination of art and science, which is why I like it more than savory cooking. With pastry when you put ingredients together you can make them into so many different forms. You can try anything you want to do. And I love sweets.
What is your favorite dessert when you’re off duty?
Personally, I’m happy with warm chocolate chip cookies with vanilla ice cream. If I get that at the end of a day I’m in heaven. We can create some fancy things, but at the end of the day people still want to go back to comfort desserts.
Desserts by Deden Putra’s pastry team are featured at the hotel’s Easter Sunday brunch along with a mezze station, quiche station, leg of lamb carving station, crepes and more. $75 for adults includes a mimosa, bellini or Bloody Mary; $35 children under 12.
Jumeirah Essex House, 160 Central Park South; 212 247 0300.