The dessert menu at the Joshua Wilton House changes some every day, and changes completely with each season—with one exception: the crème brulèe ($7). This classic dessert is basically steamed French custard with a thin layer of caramelized sugar on top, and yet it’s consistently the Wilton’s most popular option. “Anything chocolate will sell well, and we usually have several options based on the fruit in season, but the crème brulèe is our signature dish,” according to Wilton Pastry Chef Shawn Richard (a.k.a. “Shawn the Baker”). Shawn’s crème brulèe was applauded in Southern Living magazine a few years ago, and more recently Bon Appétit called it “so ethereal it could steal a Frenchman’s allegiance.” So what’s the secret?
“The eggs,” Shawn says. “It’s really that simple.” He uses only Polyface Farms eggs, which come from free range chickens pastured in nearby Swoope, Va. According to Shawn, you can identify a high quality egg several ways:
- The membrane is thick, making the egg harder to break.
- The yolk will be bright orange rather than pale yellow.
- The taste is stronger. He recommends testing them in a simple dish like scrambled eggs, which should taste more like eggs than water.
- The consistency of the final product will be more smooth and creamy.
This principle holds true for desserts beyond crème brulèe, Shawn says. Choose a recipe showcasing in-season, local food, and then use the highest quality version you can find. For example, this fall Shawn has featured Showalter’s Orchard apples in his apple cider sorbet and Glen Eco Farm pears in Spice Poached Pears (with lemon verbena flan, raspberry consommé and pound cake for $7). Assuming “local” means “Harrisonburg,” you can get lots of ideas from Shawn’s Flickr stream throughout the year.
No time to seek out local produce and matching recipes? During the holiday season, Shawn offers a Gourmet Bakery service. Here are this year’s Thanksgiving options:
Gingerbread Pear Tart 9” ($18)
Cranberry Apple Crisp Pie 9” ($18)
Pumpkin Cheesecake 10” ($20)
Chocolate Pecan Pie 9” ($25)
Olive Foccacia ($7)
Pecan Raisin ($9)
Cheese Straws ($5/dz)
Manchego Popovers ($9/dz)
Orders must be placed by 3pm on Saturday, Nov. 20 for pick up on Wednesday, Nov. 24 after 11am. Call the Joshua Wilton House at 540-434-4464.
Jamie Marsh joined the Joshua Wilton House’s marketing & inn staff this fall. She’s been part of the downtown revitalization effort for five years.