My sweet tooth was treated to squeal-worthy delights practically everywhere I traveled these past 365 days. From an edible winterscape in Chicago to the plushiest jelly- and cream-filled doughnuts in London, here are the 10 very best sweets that I had the pleasure of indulging in this year…
Doughnuts from St. John Bakery in London, England
Jelly doughnuts have a way of being either too sweet or too much of a good thing, but the ones filled with apple and rhubarb jam at St. John Bakery were perfectly sticky and sour and balanced. The custard-filled ones were lighter than expected, while the sugar-dusted dough was as ideal as I had hoped. What impressed me most was that even though the dough wasn’t freshly fried, it tasted like it had been—fresh and fluffy.
Choux aux Sésames from Pâtisserie Chantilly in Lomita, CA
Chef Keiko Nojima’s French pastries with a Japanese flare are nothing short of spectacular. While every dessert lining the pastry counter is impeccable, it’s the black sesame cream puff that gets all the good press. Each pâte a chou shell is filled to order with black sesame-infused whipped cream, drizzled with mesquite honey, and sprinkled with soy powder. The intense and pure flavor that Chef Nojima is able to extract from the black sesame seeds is incredible—neither too much cream nor sugar cloud the main event.
Old Fashioned Ice Box from Lark Cake Shop in Silver Lake, CA
At Lark Cake Shop, the best cake of all is barely a cake at all. The “Old Fashioned Ice Box Cake,” seven layers of chocolate wafers and fluffy whipped cream, is a tall stack of dear sweet richness. With the cream softening the cookies just so, a swift flick of the fork cuts through the layers like butter. It’s something kind of wonderful.
Cornbread from The Serving Spoon in Inglewood, CA
While everything was finger lickin’ awesome at The Serving Spoon, the ultimate highlight was the slab of cornbread served alongside every main course. Buttered, toasted, and served with a packet of honey, it was Yankee-style all the way and delicious as all get out. Can you see the caramelized edges?
Raspberry Tart from Ginette et Marcel in Avignon, France
Of all the sweets I sampled across France, this was my absolute favorite. Simple puff pastry served as the base for the tart. Next came a slathering of pitch perfect pastry cream. And finally, a heap of ripe raspberries coated in a tart glaze. It was phenomenal.
Japanese-Style Crepes from Harajuku Crepe in Beverly Hills, CA
While French crepes are mostly sit-down affairs, Japanese ones are portable creations wrapped in paper and rolled into a cone. The batter, which is available in green tea, Earl Grey, buckwheat, and original at Harajuku Crepe, is made from mochi (glutinous rice powder), which yields a crispy and elastic texture like no other crepe around. Fruits (bananas, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples), sauces (nutella, chocolate, caramel, peanut butter, jam), ice cream (vanilla, chocolate, green tea, strawberry), and homemade whipped cream add the final flourishes.
Winter in New Hampshire from Alinea in Chicago, IL
The course that made me giddiest on my second trip to Alinea was this winterscape featuring sour cherry pudding, macerated blood orange, gingerbread marshmallow, and honey gelee. While the “snow” wasn’t meant to be the star of the plate, I could not get enough of its fluffy texture and peppermint fresh flavor. The rocks, which were dunked in liquid nitrogen, kept the snow powdery for ages. On the side was a small mug of clear hot chocolate.
Toast with Jam and Cheese from Sqirl Kitchen in Silver Lake, CA
Toasted and buttered brioche from Proof Bakery swept up in a Santa Rosa plum chutney with shards of Fat Bottom Girl sheep’s cheese and coarse salt to finish. Everything about this sweet, salty, and savory creation was amazing. This was toast elevated, and then some.
Yorkshire Parkin From St. John Restaurant in London, England
A dark and spicy ginger loaf served hot with a butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream—this dessert was absolutely perfect. The cake was incredibly moist with intense gingery notes. I was expecting the butterscotch to be straightforward and sweet, but was taken aback by its complexity; its flavor was teetering on the awesomely fine line between caramelized and burnt. To top it all off: a scoop of rich, thick, and velvety vanilla ice cream.
We Be Yammin from Sunny Spot in Venice, CA
Pastry Chef Beth Kellerhals transforms a classic American Thanksgiving side dish into an irresistible dessert with the We Be Yammin’—a sweet potato tart with a delicate walnut crust and unbeatable marshmallow ice cream. Taste buds are instantly transported somewhere warm and sunny, Mang.
The Year in Delicious 2011:
The Year in Delicious 2010: