The first thing I ever learned to make was whipped cream. My stepfather showed me how to take a pint of whipping cream, sugar and vanilla extract and turn them into the perfect condiment for bananas. (We averaged three dollops of cream for every bite of banana.) The whipped cream served atop the Pearl’s signature Brown Sugar Pie brought me back to those summer days in the kitchen. When a dessert can hand you childhood innocence, you should take it. It’s a gift.
Many of today’s dessert trends play on the emotions brought on by childhood, while others celebrate tastes that would have eluded many childhood palates. Here are a few of the city’s sweets that may jog memories—and some that will make new ones.
Desserts of days gone by are popping up in all forms and are usually better than the original. One bite will bring back simpler times, when eating dessert was more important than Instagramming it.
Memories of the dry, crumbly edges of Pop-Tarts will fade away with Layer Cakery’s Tartz—find them at Luck Bros’ Coffee House. Miniature versions of the classic after-school snack are filled with grown-up ingredients, like chocolate ganache with caramel and sea salt.
If you’re lucky enough to snag a dessert at Kittie’s Cakes in German Village, reach for an Oatmeal Cream Pie. Made-from-scratch, cinnamon-spiked oatmeal cookies are double-stuffed with a marshmallow-like cream.
Have daydreams about ice cream truck novelties? Jeni’s must have, as well. New to their oeuvre are J-Pops, available this summer at the German Village and Commons Scoop Shops as well as the Columbus Zoo. Creamy vanilla ice cream, caramel and several whole pecans are dipped in a substantial layer of dark chocolate and served on a stick.
Maybe we’re a little extra aware of the great flavor potentiator, being the home of Jeni’s famed Salty Caramel, but it seems like salt is spreading. Cameron Mitchell Restaurants pastry chef Summer Schott says it’s always been around, and most good dessert recipes have at least a pinch. (It brings out the sweet.)
Whatever you do, don’t call Harvest Pizzeria’s salt-spiked Butterscotch Budino a pudding. Rich and layered, this creamy Italian custard is topped with caramel sauce, creme fraiche, hazelnut and vanilla sea salt. Not only does the salt balance out the sweet, it provides a pleasing crunch to each bite.
For a subtler use of salt, check out Sugardaddy’s Nutty. This blondie showcases a different flavor with every bite. It’s gooey in the middle and topped with whole roasted pecans, cashews and almonds. On top, sea salt brings everything together without being overpowering—and that’s what makes this a dessert for grown-ups.
The sugary breakfast cereals we loved as kids are now being incorporated in hip desserts. Snag a seat at DeepWood for one of Chef Brian Pawlak’s Cereal Milk Ice Creams, inspired by Momofuku Milk Bar’s Cereal Milk Panna Cotta.
Pawlak takes name-brand cereals (such as Apple Jacks, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Fruity Pebbles) and steeps them in heavy cream and milk. He omits the sugar because, well, cereal. The result is a sum that is 10 times greater than its parts. They’re a must-try.
Or get a cereal-laden sweet delivered right to your door through Rogue Bakery. Order before the weekend at roguebakery.com, and your Cornflake Marshmallow Chip cookies will be hand-delivered on Sunday. When chocolate chip cookies meet a caramelized Corn Flakes crown, everybody wins.
These balls of fried dough take the cake as one of the most visible trendy sweets in Columbus. If New Orleans’ Cafe Du Monde is your beignet standard, hit up Delaware’s 1808 American Bistro. Served on a bed of chocolate drizzle alongside a cup of espresso with whipped cream, the mountain of beignets is as authentic as you’ll find in Central Ohio.
Each light and flaky piece—sweetened with traditional powdered sugar and nontraditional honey—can be consumed in a single bite. But don’t bother ordering any other desserts. This plate is for sharing.
If you’re in need of a quick fix, head to the King Lincoln District for Creole Kitchen’s $3 box of freshly fried dough. Served only in the morning and with a Styrofoam container packed with powdered sugar, these three-inch Bayou doughnuts are salty and dense with occasional pockets of air. Sprinkle with sugar, but not too much—these beignets are not too sweet, which is just right.
For some, gluten-free desserts are a trend. For others, they’re a necessity. While some desserts are naturally made without wheat (such as the macarons from Pistacia Vera), others need to be specially created to appease those with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. Happily for all, gluten-free desserts are breaking into the mainstream, and they taste just like the real deal.
A stop into Bexley’s Cherbourg Bakery reveals a smorgasbord of wheat-free treats displayed in front of a delightful teal backdrop. While many stand out (just try to turn down the perfectly iced sugar cookies) the bakery’s signature selection is its lemon bar—tart, smooth and bright cream atop a shortbread crust made with rice flour, tapioca flour and, of course, butter.
Color is key with Pistacia Vera’s gluten-free macarons. The meringue-based French cookies (made with almond flour) come in a rainbow of flavors. Mix and match, or ask for the seasonal selections—lime basil is perfect for summer.
The Pearl’s pride-and-joy dessert, Brown Sugar Pie, stretches the definition of the word. But as the restaurant’s pastry chef Schott sees it, as long as it has a filling and a crust or topping, it’s a pie.
These long and tart-like slices are an homage to Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar, and they’re described by servers as “pecan pie without the pecans.” With a salty-sweet oatmeal cookie crust topped with crunchy brown sugar bits that Schott calls “maple candy,” this buttery treat requires small bites and a friend with a fork.
Want something a little more traditional? Try M at Miranova’s optical illusion of a cherry pie. A perfectly round well of a pie crust filled with tart cherries is topped with ice cream, streusel and a thin, crisp and spherical hazelnut cookie.
At five inches tall, it’s a high-rise dessert in Columbus’ celebrated high-rise condo.
Jill Moorhead blogs about the culinary adventures of traveling the world at itinerantfoodies.com