The Great American Dessert Bonanza

This was written by my friend Jess of Sugadeaux. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Jess is a true connoisseur of all things sweet & sugary, & her recent travels around the USA have been a never-ending test of her taste buds. We thought it was time for her to share her discoveries with the world. Here they are.

Having spent the last 2 months in the United States (including a guest baking stint in Austin), I now consider myself somewhat of a dessert aficionado. Often, tourists tend to be better experts than locals – it’s not exactly sustainable to visit a different bakery every day in the city where you actually live!

I started on the West Coast and ate my way to the East and back again. I sat at tables with friends, a pile of cupcakes before us, critiquing the flavour, texture, moisture, adjudicating with all the seriousness of a professional wine critic.

Chatting to Gala about my sweet, gooey discoveries, it occurred to us both that it would be cruel to withhold this information from her nonpareils. So I put in the eating time, and now present to you my top 5 sweet experiences from across America (in no particular order):

Cherry Pie Bars at Sugar Mamas Bakeshop in Austin

Wow. Just when I thought I couldn’t cram any more sugary sweets into my friends’ mouths in Austin, my house-mate became addicted to these bars. It didn’t matter how much or what he had eaten prior –- he would not agree to pick me up from the bakery unless I could guarantee him at least two bars. The bars feature a gorgeous sweet crust base, glistening bright red cherries that easily qualify as food porn, criss-crosses of white glaze and crumbled streusel as a topping. They’re a super fun take on an old school pie, and obscenely good. And only $2.25 each. Ridiculous.

Red Velvet cupcakes at Buttercake Bakery in Los Angeles

I’m not kidding –- I ate more red velvet this trip than you will possibly believe. And I cannot believe how many places screw it up. Usually it’s either just red vanilla cake, or the texture is wrong. And please East Coast bakeries, red velvet cake is SUPPOSED to have cream cheese frosting. Don’t try to reinvent a classic. I was thrilled when I bit into the red velvet cupcakes at Buttercake. Creamy frosting, dense moist cake and it actually tasted like red velvet! For the uninitiated, red velvet should have a hint of buttermilk/vinegar to cut sweetness and a light cocoa flavour. If it tastes like nothing, it’s not real red velvet!

Ben & Jerry’s Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream ice cream in New York

Firstly, I’m sorry NYC. I tried a bunch of cupcakes. Some I didn’t like, most were fine. But none shook my world enough to make the list. However, in the Wholefoods I did pick up a pint of the aforementioned B&J ice cream, and couldn’t stop asking others if they had tried it. Classic vanilla ice cream swirled with caramel and dotted with chocolate covered waffle cone pieces. Plus you get Stephen Colbert on the packaging. Pundit-sexy. The bonus of this entry is that hopefully most of you will have the chance to try this one for yourselves.

Crème Brûlée at Jacques-Imos in New Orleans

Most people go to Jacques-Imos for the shrimp and alligator cheesecake (not a dessert!). And lord knows, I certainly ate my fair share of regular food here (I do recommend you check out their website and freak the hell out on their unusual creole/Cajun menu choices). Serendipitously, though I was beyond stuffed, the kitchen sent our table out a complimentary ramekin of awesomeness, including the best brûlée I have ever tasted. The bottom of the plate was practically black with vanilla bean flecks. The custard was silky, the sugary crust cracked perfectly under my spoon. Get there at 5.30pm to guarantee a seat, and do not eat anything the night before unless you want to be rolled out.

Salted Caramel Macarons at Paulette in Los Angeles

Okay, I’ve had macarons. I’ve made macarons. They’re really cute, but sometimes I feel a little “take it or leave it” about the actual flavour. Paulette’s macarons made me see the light. Rich, semi-chewy macarons which bite perfectly and don’t crumble in your hands. The caramel is luscious, thick and gooey, dangerously dark with a hint of salt to excite the palate. They also have flavours such as green tea, rose water, passionfruit and well I could go on. You can pretty much never bother to try a macaron unless you’re offered one from here (or Paris).

Bon appetit!