Francis Mallmann’s Case for Burning Your Dessert

The Argentinian missionary of live-fire cooking has some tips for your summer dessert menu. To start: add heat

Francis Mallmann
Mallmann playing with fire.Matt Taylor-Gross

Desserts made with fire may seem a little outdated—think the flambé craze of the ’80s—but Francis Mallmann wants us to set aside our doubts.

"There's this idea that fire is too brutal for desserts, but you can deliciously burn high sugar content fruits that are very ripe," Mallmann says. He's obsessed with scorching peaches, plums, bananas, and pineapples on coals or a griddle, and he regularly uses the tenderness of the fire's ashes to roast a whole watermelon or a bundle of red summer berries. He's also known for grilling a cake after baking it and burning dulce de leche-stuffed pancakes dipped in orange marmalade over a pile of coals.

Francis Mallmann
The grill concentrates and intensifies fruit flavors.Matt Taylor-Gross

Before we get to the end, so to speak, we must start at the beginning.

“If I stand up to my thoughts that the true and only reason to eat and drink is to have better conversations, then I should say dessert is very important,” Mallmann tells me. “Dessert brings a childhood joy to the table; when courting a lady, dessert brings intimacy; and when signing a contract, desserts bring the last chance of slightly bending with humor the rigid words of the accord.”

7 hour Pineapple
Whole pineapples on the grill. Mallmann cooks these low and slow for hours to caramelize the fruits' sugars while keeping their flavors bright.Matt Taylor-Gross

After fussing with haute French cuisine for two decades, the now 60-year-old firestarter with a passion for open-air cooking stopped the charade at age 40. He reverted to his childhood in the wilds of Patagonia where every basic need in life was met by flame. His career began to revolve around the essence of what was once Argentina's most remote region; the open-fire gospel he learned there became the core of his ethos.

Francis Mallmann
Mallmann adds a dose of dulce de leche to his giant panqueque.Matt Taylor-Gross

Mallmann sets the scene: “It should be a place outdoors in the comfort of a beautiful shade, with desserts served family-style so guests can go back once again as they please.”

I asked Mallmann if he thought applying so much heat to normally light summer desserts was compatible with the sweltering haze of the weather right now. He sees no contradiction, particularly if you have your grill going already. And to cool you off, there’s always a dollop of crème fraîche or a scoop of mascarpone.

Banana Split Gratin
A pancake bordered with charred bananas.Matt Taylor-Gross

Here’s how Mallmann scorches his dessert.

7 hour Pineapple
Slow-cooking pineapple whole on the grill concentrates and enriches its flavors while keeping the fruit tasting bright. “The pineapple must be very ripe,” Mallmann says. “If not, it’s useless. The slower you do it, the better.” Get the recipe for Four-Hour Pineapple »Matt Taylor-Gross
Peaches and Strawberries Mascarpone
At once rustic and refined, this technique amplifies the inherent sweetness of the fruit. The mascarpone-mint leaf combo brings a rich yet uplifting twist. The more ripe your fruit, the better it will caramelize. Look for freestone peaches that will let you remove the pits easily. Mallmann says: “Let them burn a bit without touching them. Don’t flip and flop.” Get the recipe for Burnt Peaches and Plums with Mascarpone and Hazelnuts »Matt Taylor-Gross
Banana Split Gratin

Grilled Banana-Pear Pancake

A thick yet fluffy pancake full of creamy bananas, smooth hints of pear, and crunchy pine nuts over a heap of cool crème fraîche. “This is good with any ripe banana,” Mallmann says, so if you have extra-sweet varieties besides the ubiquitous Cavendish available, use them. Get the recipe for Banana-Pear Pancake »Matt Taylor-Gross
Panqueque of granny smith apples with dulce de leche

Giant Apple Pancake With Dulce de Leche

Soft apples with a hint of tartness balance a bittersweet caramelized crust, spurred on by rich dulce de leche. Get the recipe for Giant Apple and Dulce de Leche Pancake »Matt Taylor-Gross