Desserts of Childhood Past

When I was a teenager, my sister and our best bud, Matty, created a aptly-named dessert, The Fun Dessert of Fun. It was a gut-busting blend of as many sweets we could find: raw Pillsbury Brownie batter mixed with chocolate pudding, chocolate sauce, ice cream, sometimes even crumbled E.L. Fudge sandwich cookies. We were blissfully unaware of adult worries like expanding waistlines and salmonella. All that mattered was the chocolate and the accompanying sugar high; we were nerdlings who didn't booze, but we'd get smashed on sucrose.

As an adult, while my savory palate is more diverse and adventurous, my sweet tooth craves the homey, simple flavors from my youth. However, on menus around town, desserts have become unrecognizable, as mirrored in Adam Gopnik's recent New Yorker article, where he laments "It was as if dessert chefs had given up on dessert and produced something else in it's place." Restaurants are serving architectural concoctions of foams, cakes, and cream that are aesthetically pleasing yet taste nothing like the ingredients of which they are made. Thankfully, a handful of pastry chefs are bringing desserts back into familiar territory, creating delectable treats with a nod to the nostalgic.

Bar Breton

Known for their galettes, savory buckwheat crepes from Brittany, it's no surprise that Bar Breton serves a phenomenal Nutella crepe. They kick it up a notch by adding cocoa powder to the batter, so that the crepe itself is chocolate-y goodness. By serving the crepe sliced in mini-roulades (pictured left), each bite is jam-packed with warm, gooey Nutella. Like an Oreo Double Stuf, an abundance of the filling proves you can't have too much of a good thing

Greenwich Village

At Lupa, Mario Batali's convivial Roman trattoria, the focus is on wonderfully executed Italian standards like Veal Saltimbocca and Pasta Carbonara. After devouring these hearty dishes, there often isn't room for dessert, but I urge you to make space for Lupa's transcendent Tartufo. A globe of luscious, hazelnut gelato is coated in hard chocolate--think Magic Shell, gourmet style--then dusted with crushed hazelnuts. A pool of bittersweet chocolate sauce brings a hot yin to the gelato's cool yang. In the center, crumbled biscotti and candied cherry give good crunch and sweet.

El Porrón
Upper East Side

In America, French toast is reserved for breakfast, yet, other cultures believe this doughy treat belongs at the end of the meal. I had my first taste in Paris, where I devoured pain perdu (lost bread) bathed in crème anglaise. At El Porrón, an authentic Spanish spot, they serve torrejas doused in red wine. While I normally object to boozy desserts--where often alcohol overpowers the dish--these Rioja-soaked beauties are sublime. Like all quality french toast, the bread has been browned to buttery caramelization and you can truly taste the grape's sugar in the syrupy sauce. It all pairs perfectly with a creamy house-made, vanilla ice cream.


At the Breslin, April Bloomfield's bustling, pubby restaurant, she revamps a classic, British dessert: syllabub. For you Yanks, syllabub is a whipped delight of cream, sugar and booze. Here, its one part of a 21-and-over, sophisticated sundae. The parfait is composed of layers of chocolate syllabub, stout, crunchy chocolate nibs, boiled caramel and whipped cream I suggest dipping your spoon to the bottom of the glass to ensure warm stout imbues each bite.