When I was growing up, there was no item more loathed in my household than bananas. My brothers insisted that even the smell of them made them ill, my dad expressed no interest in consuming one unless pureed into a frozen daiquiri (that contained alcohol), and my mom, the only one who tolerated their presence, would only eat one if it was refrigerated and still partially green.
Considering the anti-banana stance that dominated the Hossfeld home during my early years, it seems rather shocking that three of my top ten favorite dessert bites of the year include the potassium-rich fruit. Even more shocking is that, like last year, most of my selections don’t contain chocolate, the substance that I consider most lethal to my self-control.
Aside from wine.
Regardless of their contents, these ten desserts are the sweets that tasted the sweetest to me this year and are the ones I would happily order and consume again – ideally without the assistance of any other forks or mouths. Sharing is not an option with these tasty treats, but I will happily share them with you here today.
I had no idea what I was getting into when I was invited to attend a “Cookie Party” at Pastry Chef Kristin Feuer’s Bakelab kitchen in Inglewood last May. I imagined that I’d come, take a few pictures, sample some cookies, do the whole schmoozing and awkward hugging thing, and then move on with my life as usual (eating, running, Bar Methoding, writing). I didn’t realize that I was about to taste the best cookies I’ve ever had during a lifetime spent having cookie and tea dates with my mom, baking cookies from every book I could get my hands on, and conducting extensive research to find the best chocolate chip cookie in the Southern California area. I was completely blown away upon tasting Feuer’s thoughtful creations – particularly her peanut butter sandwich cookie, lemon sugar cookie, iced oatmeal cookie, and, of course, her flawless chocolate chip. Aside from being the perfect texture – never dry, always a bit chewy in the center and satisfyingly crisp around the edges, when I eat her cookies, I don’t seem to feel the same guilt that I do when I’m consuming others. Feuer treats her baked goods with respect – like she is lovingly tending to a crop of sugar, butter and flour rather than just beating some ingredients into submission. That care shines through with every bite. Bakelab’s cookies aren’t just cookies – they are sweet presents for the mouth.
Banana Apple Pie Ice Cream from Scoops Westside
There was a time when I could easily eat half a dozen cookies in a sitting – a time when I’d eat fistfuls of gummy bears in much the same manner that people consume tubs of popcorn. Even in college, I would think nothing of manhandling an entire row of brownies or ordering the largest scoop of chocolate ice cream with mint Oreos in a cone that had also been dipped in chocolate. In recent years, however, I’ve learned how to tame my sweet tooth. I sip tea instead of gorging on half a box of See’s chocolates. I eat fruit instead of a cookie the size of my head. And I avoid temptation when possible. That said, my carefully curated sense of moderation went flying out the window when I tasted Scoops Westside’s banana apple pie ice cream earlier this month. The subtly banana-scented base mixed with the cinnamon sugar-kissed chunks of real apple pie were unlike anything I’d ever tasted before. It was so good, in fact, that I went back three hours later to get more, and have requested immediate notification when the flavor is back in Scoops’ ever-changing rotation of daily flavors. Rumor has it that it will be in stock tomorrow. And you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be paying Owner Matthew Kang a visit for a big scoop of it.
Nakkara’s Mango Sticky Rice
Fruit and rice aren’t inherently dessert-like at all. In fact, they are more likely to be categorized at the other end of the spectrum – as “health foods.” At Nakkara on Beverly, however, these two rather basic commodities are transformed into something so deliciously decadent – warm, buttery and sweetly perfumed with coconut milk – that I would happily accept it in place of a chocolate molton cake any day of the week.
Tar Pit’s Bananas Foster Sundae
Regardless of my opinions about the sordid happenings and drama surrounding the Tar Pit earlier in the year, there is no denying that Mark Peel’s classy “Mad Men” style lounge and restaurant makes a Bananas Foster Sundae that is actually worth talking about months later. The towering parfait of vanilla ice cream, cold slices of banana (just like my mom likes ‘em), candied pecans, whipped cream, and a lofty meringue topping is soul-crushing good. It’s a grown-up sundae that manages to be both sophisticated and playful at the same time. I imagine even a child would like it – should one happen to be present in the bar.
Corkbar’s Breakfast Bread Pudding
I was admittedly a little disappointed when Matt from Dig Lounge hinted that he was hoping that Chef Albert Aviles at Corkbar would send out their signature breakfast bread pudding during a media dinner at the wine bar and restaurant this past November. I was so disappointed in fact that I may have been shooting mental daggers at his heart – especially when not one, but two of the souffle-like specimens appeared at our table. My heart was set on the restaurant’s other bread pudding – the banana bread pudding that I’d enjoyed so much on a previous visit. Or at least it was until I took my first bite of “breakfast.” The delicate poof of cinnamon roll brioche bread topped with crème fraiche, caramel sauce, and bits of well-rendered bacon completely eradicated my previous lust for the banana bread version. I fought Matt tooth and nail for the last bite. And in the end, I won.
Marché Moderne's Macaron Dessert
Not only was Pastry Chef’s Ameliz Marneau’s deconstructed macaron the prettiest dessert I ate this year, it was also one of the most distinct and memorable. The delicate macaron cookies combined with the cassis berry sorbet, fresh strawberries, and vanilla ganache was the perfect way to end my mom’s celebratory birthday lunch at the Orange County restaurant. Refined, modern, yet still true to the essence of a traditional macaron, the dessert is more than worth the trek south on the 405.
Magnolia Bakery’s Banana Pudding
When I first heard that Magnolia Bakery was opening on West Third Street – a mere half mile from my apartment – I was most excited about finally getting to sample their famous cupcakes that are often credited for starting the whole cupcake trend. It didn’t even occur to me that I would be interested in anything else – especially not plain, old, boring banana pudding. But Magnolia’s banana pudding isn’t boring it all. It’s life-changing. The fluffy, sweet folds of whipped vanilla pudding are thickly stacked with vanilla wafers and cool bananas to form a mind-blowing hybrid of pie, cake, pudding, and sundae. This is the dessert I think about every time I walk by Magnolia on my way to and from Bar Method across the street.
BLD's Blueberry Ricotta Pancake
My friend Sook calls it “cake.” I try to pretend that it’s not – that BLD’s epic plate-size buttermilk pancakes that are studded with chunks of dried ricotta and plump blueberries barely contained by their skins are merely an oversized version of toast. But it’s a lie. These pancakes are cake. Delicious cake. Cake that I would gladly frost with BLD’s real maple syrup and consume for brunch every single day. With the requisite mimosa on the side, of course.
Pizzeria Ortica’s Babà al rhum
Simply put, I wanted what she was having. As soon as I tasted my friend Anna’s choice for dessert at Pizzeria Ortica – the Babà al rhum – I knew I had to replicate her order. The rum-soaked brioche with pistachio gelato and candied orange peel, essentially bread pudding with a little extra pizaaz, was everything I look for in a dessert. The warm, sweet brioche was majestically paired with the bitter tang of orange peel and the nutty hit of cool pistachio ice cream. Sally would definitely (vocally) approve.
Sweet Lady Jane’s Triple Berry Cake
There is no dessert sweeter than a cake that your dear friends got you for the birthday that you didn’t want to have and didn’t want to remember and didn’t want to celebrate at all. Served with Bastide’s vanilla rum ice cream, the vanilla sponge cake, dressed with tufts of whipped frosting and whole fresh berries, was memorable not just because I inhaled my slice and half of my friend Lauren’s, but because someone had cared enough to get it for me.