How to Plate a Dessert


One of the things that separates professionals from home cooks is plate presentation. Even a relatively casual restaurant understands that customers want their food to look good as well as taste good. Although plating may be mysterious to the layperson, it relies on a relatively small handful of aesthetic principles, techniques and ingredients. A plated dessert is an easy starting point for novices.

Things You'll Need

  • 1 portion of cake, pie or other dessert that does not require a bowl
  • Dessert plate
  • 2 or more dessert sauces, such as chocolate, caramel, vanilla or raspberry
  • Spoon or small ladle
  • Flexible squeeze bottle
  • Pastry bag of whipped cream
  • Fruit garnish, such as a strawberry or Cape gooseberry
  • Leaves of fresh mint, or other herbs as appropriate
  • Chocolate curls, rolled "cigarette" cookies or other garnishes


  • Decide in advance which side of your dessert looks most attractive, and how you want your diner to view it. In the case of an attractive cake or torte, for example, you may decide to have the tip facing toward the diner and to the left, at about the 7 o'clock position.

  • Place most desserts slightly off-center on the plate. Symmetry is less pleasing to the eye than a flow of shapes and colors across the plate, and this leaves room for your sauces and garnishes to show to advantage.

  • Keep your dessert away from the edges of your plate. The rim of the plate is your frame, and the curve where the rim meets the plate is your matting. Keep your dessert inside that curve for the best appearance.


  • Choose a sauce that complements your dessert. Place the dessert on the plate, and spoon enough sauce alongside it to make a semicircular pool.

  • Make a smaller, perfectly round pool of sauce on the plate where the tip of your dessert will go. Orient it so that when you place your dessert, the tip will cover about 1/3 of the pool of sauce.

  • Use a second sauce in a contrasting color to make dots or lines inside the pool. Drag a toothpick through the lines or dots, to create hearts and other patterns. Draw concentric lines and drag the toothpick from the middle to the edge, to create spiderweb pattern.

  • Make a more dynamic appearance by making zigzag lines of sauce back and forth over your dessert and across the plate. Alternately, drizzle the sauce in swirling, random patterns over the plate and the dessert.


  • Spoon or pipe a garnish of whipped cream onto the dessert, or on the plate alongside the dessert or the sauce. Use a pastry bag with a star tip to make rosettes, or simply place a well-rounded spoonful on the plate.

  • Top the whipped cream or the dessert itself with a fruit garnish, such as a strawberry or Cape gooseberry. Cut a strawberry into four or five vertical slices, leaving the leafy stem end intact to hold the berry together. Fan out the berry, and place it on top of the dessert or the whipped cream. To use a Cape gooseberry, open the papery husk and fold it back, making a flower-shaped tail behind the berry. Place it on the plate or the dessert.

  • Use a fresh herb garnish to provide a striking color contrast with the rest of the plate. Mint leaves are the most traditional choice, but basil, rosemary and lavender can be appropriate with more adventurous desserts.

  • Angle long garnishes like chocolate curls or rolled "cigarette" cookies on the plate, or lean them up against the dessert. These provide another line for the eye to follow, and can also provide the plate with some height.

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