Nico Norena's Ultimate Tips For The Most Flavorful Desserts - Exclusive Interview

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If you're the kind of person who craves dessert before the main meal, then you can't go wrong taking inspiration from Nico Norena. Also known as "The Succulent Bite" on social media, Norena is the person to go to for treat tips — and that's exactly what we did. In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, the "Forbes 30 Under 30" qualifier revealed the easiest dessert to make with just a few ingredients, how to upgrade a standard chocolate lava cake, and his thoughts on the most underrated dessert in the United States (ever heard of profiteroles?).

Norena is headed to the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami to bring his popular online recipes to a live audience. The food bloggers' fans at the festival can expect an extra large cheesecake — which already has us drooling — along with a creative spray painting collaboration. While we await those epic pictures, Norena disclosed his best homemade cheesecake advice and the biggest baking mistake you are currently making with the dessert — one that may be giving your cheesecake a weird texture.

A giant cheesecake is coming to the festival

Let's talk about the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. I understand that you're going to be offering a culinary demo or some type of immersive experience. What will you be cooking?

For South Beach Wine & Food Fest, we're going to be doing a super extra large cheesecake, and the idea is that we're going to be ... Cheesecakes are one of the things I love, so we said, "Let's bring to life something that people have never seen before — a massive cheesecake." I'm talking like 26 by 13 — a big, big pan.

Then, I'm collaborating with Rob [Lucas] from The Sweet Impact, where we're going to be spray painting it together and doing a decoration on that big white canvas of cheesecake.

What are the difficulties translating something like a regular cheesecake to a giant version?

A, transportation; [I'm] a content creator that bakes out of my house. Granted, this is going to be a no-bake cheesecake, because conventional house ovens don't fit a cheesecake that big. A is transportation; B is scalability. [It's] understanding how to scale that recipe to make sure that it yields the cheesecake at the consistency we need it. Those are the two biggest ones — and the mixers. For a big cheesecake, we probably need bigger mixers, but at home, we'll do several batches of the filling.

Do you have any tips for beginners at home looking to make no-bake cheesecake? What would your first tips be?

My first tip would be to make sure to mix the mix correctly. What I mean by that is to make sure you whip that cream cheese first. Oftentimes, people mix everything together in the bowl. I do that on videos because I know what the end consistency has to look like, but I always recommend making sure to whip your cream cheese first with your sugar and your vanilla extract to get that creamy base, then add in your heavy cream. If not, you can get a clumpy mix, and you have little pieces of cream cheese that are not fully mixed.

Miami has some epic drink spots

Would you say that's also the biggest mistake that people make with homemade cheesecake?

Absolutely. It definitely comes down to mixing. If you're baking it — let's say you add eggs to it and you're making a more traditional cheesecake where you bake — another very common mistake is overbaking it. Cheesecakes bake for about 45 minutes — if it's a bath-style cheesecake, at a high temperature, at a 400-degree Fahrenheit temperature. When you take it out of the oven, it's usually very jiggly. It has to set and it has to refrigerate. People often confuse that for it being underbaked, so they leave it until it's solid — how they see it when they go buy the slice at the restaurant. Then it's all crumbly inside because they overbaked it.

That makes perfect sense. Let's switch gears — I know you're based in Miami. What are your favorite food and drink spots to go to? Can you share what you normally do?

We have so many. Here in Miami, I'm a huge fan of rooftops. My fiancée, Ariana, is a huge fan of rooftops too. There's a couple spots that we visit for drinks. For example, right here in Brickell, we have Sugar and Tea Room, which are on the 50th floor. I'm not exactly sure what floor it is, but it's very high up with unobstructed views of the city. Absolutely beautiful, good vibes, good drinks ... Level 6 in Coconut Grove also has an awesome rooftop. Amara at Paraiso, a little north of Midtown, has awesome gin and tonics.

Then, I personally am a huge fan of espresso martinis. Gekko by David Grutman and Bad Bunny, who opened right here in Brickell — they have an espresso martini. It's called the Cafecito Con Leche, and it's basically an espresso martini, but instead of using a traditional Baileys or a Kahlua to sweeten them, they use Coquito, which is a typical holiday drink based out of coconut cream. It's very, very good. It's delicious.

Upgrade your Valentine's Day cocktail

Nico Norena (continued): We hit up different places for dinner. Here at Level 6, which I mentioned before, on the first floor — five floors down — you have Amal, which is Mediterranean food. It's a casual, upscale vibe going on; very, very good food. It's delicious. We are fans of Mediterranean food, so we also like to visit Mandolin, which is another spot that is a little more casual. It's hard to get a reservation. If you walk up on any random day — ask any local Miami person — there's always an hour-and-a-half wait unless it's a very random day of the week. If not, it's usually packed. Then, for dinner parties, we love Bagatelle or Marion. Those are our two.

Because you're talking about cocktails, what do you recommend for a Valentine's Day cocktail? Do you have any go-tos?

Yes, I do. Actually, what I had in mind from before — that would be an awesome Valentine's cocktail. On that martini note, it ... would be like a chocolate espresso martini, if you will, where we [put] a chocolate liqueur into that traditional martini. [For] my twist, not only is it the chocolate liqueur, but I also love to add tequila to it instead of vodka.

Try it before you judge it. Trust me, it's delicious. It does not taste like tequila at all. It's not like you're having a shot of tequila with [it] ... No. It's super smooth and absolutely delicious. I was impressed.

What kind of tequila would you grab for it? Which brand?

Let's see ... I'd say use a tequila blanco or maybe añejo, which has a sweeter taste. I personally am a fan of Orgullo 7 or Casamigos Blanco. [Either] of those are my go-tos, usually.

Add some ice cream to your lava cake

The premise of your cookbook, "The Succulent Bite: 60+ Easy Recipes for Over-the-Top Desserts," is to elevate go-to desserts. Because we're on the topic of Valentine's Day, what's an easy dessert to make with only a few ingredients?

A lava cake, and here's why: Lava cakes are fun. I actually have a [dulce de leche lava cake] recipe. What's fun about it is that it takes literally [...] 10 minutes in the oven to bake, and the preparation is super simple. It's like five, six ingredients, and you have this decadent, impressive dessert that not everybody knows how to [make].

You can serve it in the ramekin and have a petit gateaux situation, or you can flip it upside down and sprinkle some powdered sugar on top and have a very nice presentation to that as well. That's one of the ones that I love. Lava cakes are best served with ice cream, but here's a twist: Use an ice cream bar, like a Magnum brand ice cream bar that you buy at the store.

That ice cream bar is covered in chocolate — stick it right in the middle, and you'll have that oozing effect. You'll still get that ice cream. [It's] super fun to eat and amazing presentations. That's actually what I'm doing in the video, and I love it. It was very good.

How would you upgrade a standard chocolate lava cake? You mentioned the ice cream bar — anything else?

Yes. I'm going to bring my childhood into play here. When I was little, my nanny at home used to make this ... In Spanish, it translates into a blackberry reduction sauce, if you will. It's almost like a jam but more liquid-y. What's nice about it is that it pairs deliciously with chocolate and ice cream. I actually used to pour that all over my ice cream for dessert. She used to make it once a week for dinner. I used to love to bathe my vanilla ice cream scoop with that. If you add that to that already existing lava cake — money.

That sounds good. That was a reduction-type thing?

It's kind of a blackberry sauce. It's basically sugar, blackberries, maybe a little bit of lime juice, and a touch of water. They mash it all up and let it simmer and reduce and strain it. You get that beautiful syrup out of it — or a sauce, more than a syrup.

You can make Twix bars at home

You tend to make a lot of desserts that include cookies or candy. What would your first steps be for making a candy bar — Twix, for example — into a high-end treat? How do you go about doing that?

Okay, I love Twix. Twix and I are best friends in all of its varieties — the dark one, the milk one, the one that's everything.

The left side, the right side.

Oh, yeah, the king-size — I do all of it, so I love that you mentioned Twix. For me, it's all about the quality of the ingredients. For example, the Twix bar is composed of what? It's a shortbread cookie [with] chocolate layered on top. We have that caramel filling, which could be dulce de leche if you're recreating it at home, for the consistency. The key is going to be to have a solid shortbread cookie. If I'm doing it for a video, I can make it easy by picking a very nice shortbread cookie. One of my personal favorites is the Walkers brand that people can easily find at the supermarket, because the idea is also that people can simply purchase it and try it out at home.

But if we want to take it to the next level, we can also make our own shortbread cookies at home using very nice and tasty unsalted butter and upscale that shortbread cookie. Then for the chocolate, I wouldn't just use any chocolate. If you want to make it an amazing bite, I'd say use a Callebaut chocolate where we have that semi-sweet that you can melt and pour right on top. That's going to give you good-quality chocolate with a delicious final taste.

You also have several brownie recipes. What would you say is the key to the perfect brownie?

I love it to be fudgy and gooey, but that's just me. There's a cakey brownie people, and there's a fudgy brownie people. I'm fudgy all the way — hence, why we love lava cakes, probably.

For me to be able to achieve that, I try to steer away from leavening agents such as baking powder or baking soda, and I try to add more of the fatty content — more of that butter. That's how I like to achieve the fudgy texture. Nevertheless, I have brownie recipes where I have used leavening agents simply because I want a different texture, because I want to pair them with a scoop of ice cream that contrasts a little bit more — a little drier brownie with a more smooth and creamy ice cream on top. It's more of a balanced bite. But that's how I like to do it.

The U.S. needs more profiteroles

When you offset the leavening agents with butter or something, do you double that recipe? How does that change the texture of it?

No, not necessarily. Here's the deal — what makes the brownie a little more cakey will be the leavening agents and the cocoa powder, so if you take those out and you use more [smoothing ingredients] ... Instead of using [the leavening agents and cocoa powder], you simply take out those two and use a good-quality melted chocolate to give it that smoother consistency. You use butter and your regular sugar; you can use milk. It doesn't really affect the quantities of the recipe. I might tweak here and there to yield a brownie that actually bakes through and bakes evenly. That's what I would do.

Your cookbook includes Date Night Boozy Brownies, which is actually in tune with Valentine's Day as well. What kind of alcohol does that entail, and how does it elevate the flavor profile from, say, regular brownies?

Correct. For the Boozy Brownies, I use caramel liqueur. I like how it brings out the notes of the chocolate in the brownie and that alcohol content, which eventually evaporates. You can always drip a little more on top for a nice kick. That elevates the flavor profile overall because of how the alcohol reacts with the overall mix, but also because of the caramel notes that are subtly mixed into the chocolate.

That's really creative. What do you think is the most underrated dessert in the U.S. and why?

I grew up in Madrid, but a big portion of my family is from France. Therefore, I grew up traveling to France throughout my childhood. Profiteroles were one of the most delicious desserts I remember having as a kid over there. Here's why I think it's slightly underrated compared to other ones in the U.S.: The [U.S.] tends to fill them with cream rather than ice cream. They tend to use average chocolate syrup instead of a nice high-end chocolate fudge that they could be using instead.

I've seen one spot in Miami that does it just like I had it in France and in Paris. It's called Le Zoo, which is a French restaurant in Bal Harbour. They do the profiteroles — they serve four or five; it's like a little strip. They have the four little profiteroles split in half [with] little ice cream scoops in the middle and a thin layer of chocolate on top, like hardened chocolate. Then they pour that chocolate sauce on top, and everything melts and comes together.

Nostalgia is this year's social media food trend

What do you think is the next social media food trend of 2023?

There's a couple that could come up. One of them is going to be — and this is something I just started doing — recreating dishes from movies that you've seen throughout your childhood, bringing that nostalgia.

I saw your "Matilda" cake.

The "Matilda" cake, yes — that's exactly the example I was going to give. I want to do more things like that. I've seen other creators starting to do things like that at the end of 2022, beginning of '23. It's something that people relate to. It's something that's fun to watch. It adds value, but also, it has that emotional approach connected to it, which helps with engagement [...] If you look at the comments at the "Matilda" cake, oh man — everybody was like, "Bruce, Bruce, Bruce!"

Commenting in the video, I was like, "There you have it." It worked. That's exactly the feeling that I was trying to convey to my audience.

Do you have any other upcoming projects or anything else going on that you could share?

Absolutely. I'm working with my fiancée — I'm launching a new company. It's going to be this year. I can't give too many details about it because it's still in the works — in the process of launch — but it's going to be a consumer good product. We're aiming to have national recognition and adoption, and it's something that you'll be able to find in supermarkets eventually. We're going to start with e-commerce, but it's going to be something you're going to be able to find in the supermarkets. Personally, it's a dream I've always had, to launch something like this. More is coming soon, but it's on the map for 2023.

Do you have a timeline at all, or will it be this year in general?

Yes — most likely the holiday season.

Learn more about the South Beach Wine & Food Festival on their website. Keep up with Nico Norena's latest recipes on his TikTok page.

This interview has been edited for clarity.