Dessert has long been a menu category that adopts trends more slowly than the rest of the menu, offering guests an end-of-meal safe zone with familiar flavors and formats.
Today, dessert is a social media darling—the more creative and craveable, the higher the social currency. Many restaurant brands want that traction, so they approach recipe development with an eye toward social status.
And even if they’re not actively trying to win over Instagram, that cultural phenomenon is affecting flavor preferences and influencing trends. As a result, we see more whimsical, imaginative elements infused into classic formats, still ensuring that all-important, sweet familiarity.
Kakigori is a great example. At its heart, kakigori is shaved ice—a format that is both nostalgic and familiar. A Japanese specialty, kakigori involves stacks of fine flakes of shaved ice covered in flavored syrup, fruit and/or meringue.
Intersect by Lexus, a high-concept restaurant in New York, featured Champagne Brûlée Kakigori on its summer pop-up menu. It stars Champagne syrup, yuzu-shiso syrup, Champagne meringue and a berry compote.
“The most interesting thing about this flavor is the Champagne meringue,” says Kazuo Fujimura, pastry chef at Intersect. “We brûlée it to create a contrast between the hot topping and the cold interior.”
Sure, we’ve always had rum raisin ice cream and flambés, but today, the wonderful world of inventive cocktails is spilling over into dessert development. Check out these fun takes on boozy desserts:
- The Celebration: Birthday cake macaroon perched atop a coffee-infused tequila back
- Mango Mojito Ice Cream: Mango, mint and lime with a splash of Cuban rum
—Humphry Slocombe, based in San Francisco
- Raisin & Rum Bread Pudding
- Tiger’s Blood Snow Cone with Cimmarón tequila
—Eastside Social, Dallas
- Carajillo King: Borghetti Espresso liqueur, Licor 43, vanilla ice cream
—Péché, Austin, Texas
IN CRUST WE TRUST
A number of restaurants are paying close attention to dessert crusts, taking a modern approach, where surprising elements and creative textural components are a priority. The Peanut Butter Pie at Barrio in Chicago leverages the salty-sweet combination of chocolate and pretzel with a chocolate-covered pretzel crust.
In Los Angeles, Winston Pies features the Chocolate Cowgirl pie. Made with organic, free-trade Ecuadorian chocolate and infused with housemade caramel, it sits within a crunchy, slightly salty oatmeal crust.
At Candor by Giuseppe, a European-American bistro in La Jolla, Calif., the Peanut Butter Mousse Chocolate Cake is a lush dessert layered with Swiss buttercream and peanut butter mousse, and topped with blistered marshmallow, Kahlúa crème anglaise and toffee brittle—all on a peanut crumble crust.
“The cake has a unique texture. Cutting through its delicate, rich layers to meet the peanut crumble crust at the bottom is a pleasant surprise,” says Giuseppe Ciuffa, executive chef.
“The Kahlúa crème anglaise softens up the crust at the bottom, which works perfectly with the layers of moist chocolate cake.” The crust stars peanut butter, white chocolate and feuilletine. “It’s a crispy confection that adds a nice crunch to the crust,” he says.
“It tastes like crispy, thin little shards of sugar cone, almost the texture of a Butterfinger.”
GIVE ME CHOCOLATE
Chocolate desserts are a menu must-have. According to Datassential, consumers favor the classics, with chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake and chocolate milkshakes holding top spots in the “most-loved” category.
As evidence, look to the success of the classic chocolate cake served at Dos Urban Cantina in Chicago. This generous slab of rich chocolate cake, topped with sour cream chocolate frosting, has become a signature for the restaurant—simply by delivering on the promise of a beloved classic.
SWEET ON TOAST
At Kumiko, a cocktail bar in Chicago, the Japanese Milk Bread dessert is topped with fermented honey ice cream and Périgord truffle. It is a study in a thoroughly modern dessert that features unexpected ingredients, demonstrating a clever and surprising flavor combination in the dessert space.
“Our Japanese Milk Bread is a dish that tastes both sweet and savory, a combination similar to dipping french fries in a chocolate shake,” says Mariya Russell, chef de cuisine.
“The milk bread is soft and pillowy, like brioche, and subtly sweet. We toast the bread in butter, coat the top in sugar, and torch it like a crème brûlée. The toast is topped with fermented honey ice cream, which is slightly acidic yet sweet. We also add umami to the ice cream with a garnish of shaved truffle on top.”