Worldwide icon-chevron-right North America icon-chevron-right United States icon-chevron-right Illinois icon-chevron-right Chicago icon-chevron-right 100 best things we ate (and drank) in 2011 | Desserts and sweets

100 best things we ate (and drank) in 2011 | Desserts and sweets

Basque cake at the BristolThankfully, this warm cake with a golden crust and soft middle is the only dessert pastry chef Amanda Rockman keeps on her menu...

 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsBasque cake at the Bristol
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsRau cau at Ba Le
 (Photograph: Grant Kessler)
Photograph: Grant KesslerSalted-caramel marshmallows from Katherine Anne Confections
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsCh�vre fritters at Perennial Virant
 (Photograph: Jason Little)
Photograph: Jason LittleFrozen cucumber mousse at Blackbird
 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
Photograph: Erica GannettPineapple upside-down cake at Floriole
Ice-cream sundae at the Office
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsAlfajoresfrom Lucila's Homemade
 (Photograph: Jason Adrian)
Photograph: Jason AdrianOatmeal-chocolate bread at Real Kitchen
 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
Photograph: Erica GannettChocolate bouchon at Girl & the Goat
 (Photograph: Jason Adrian)
Photograph: Jason AdrianCinnamon bomb at Fra�che
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsBlack Dog Gelato (Gianduja)
 (Photograph: Erica Gannett)
Photograph: Erica GannettSweet potato pie at Jimmy Jamm
 (Martha Williams)
Martha WilliamsLillie's Q
 (Photograph: Martha Williams)
Photograph: Martha WilliamsDoughnut Vault chestnut doughnut
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Basque cake at the Bristol
Thankfully, this warm cake with a golden crust and soft middle is the only dessert pastry chef Amanda Rockman keeps on her menu year-round.

Irish bread pudding at Poag Mahone’s
If these thick slices of moist bread pudding were microwaved, this dish still would be pretty good. But the fact is the slices are griddled, giving the pudding crispy, caramelized edges—and giving you a reason to skip the rest of the workday and go take a nap.

Rau câu at Ba Le
What’s that little rock in the cooler? That, my friends, is rau câu: stiff coconut custard flavored with grassy pandan leaf and poured into a skinned coconut shell to set. The first bite is odd, the second bite is awesome and the third bite competes with a muffled “thank you.” You’re welcome.

Salted-caramel marshmallows from Katherine Anne Confections
Katherine Duncan takes her masterful caramel and folds it into her light marshmallows sweetened with wildflower honey. You’ll never look at Jet-Puffed the same way again.

Chèvre fritters at Perennial Virant
Thanks to pastry chef Elissa Narrow, who joined the PV team this summer, now every time we bite into a fritter, we expect it to ooze gloriously with liquefied Prairie Fruits Farm goat cheese.

Frozen cucumber mousse at Blackbird
Executive pastry chef Bryce Caron has been at Blackbird only a few months, but he’s already proving why he belongs by turning items like the humble cucumber into this creamsicle-like dessert, which is both unexpectedly rich and surprisingly refreshing

Pineapple upside-down cake at Floriole
How do you turn a dessert most associated with the Midwest, the ’70s and canned pineapple rings into something lovely and sophisticated? Step one: Become Sandra Holl, the chef-owner of this bakery.

Ice-cream sundae at the Office
Grant Achatz + whipped cream + Oreos + gummy bears + peanuts + unreal ice cream + maraschino cherries + a carafe of chocolate sauce = believe it.

Salted English toffee from BarnHouse Handcrafted
Just when we thought Great Lake couldn’t get any better, former Julius Meinl pastry chef Nicole Stemler’s toffee—made with high-quality butter and cream and a generous amount of sea salt—lands on the pizzeria’s shelves.

Alfajores from Lucila’s Homemade
The Italians have biscotti, we have doughnuts, and in South America, coffee’s companion is the alfajore, thick dulce de leche smeared between two shortbread cookies. And when it comes to alfajores, no one makes them better than Lucila Giagrande, which is why we follow her to cafés, farmers’ markets and anywhere there’s word of her specialty being sold.

Oatmeal-chocolate bread at Real Kitchen
This quick bread was a signature of Real’s opening pastry chef Andrea Correa, who has since left the high-end takeout spot. Correa was perhaps best known for helping with the desserts section of the el Bulli cookbook, but there was nothing molecular or fancy about these thick slices of homey, chocolate-studded cake. There was, though, something special about them.

Chocolate bouchon at Girl & the Goat
Few restaurants approach desserts and pig face with equal amounts of ambition. Stephanie Izard proves the exception to the rule, successfully incorporating foie gras as a decadent marshmallow “fluff” alongside a moist chocolate cake.

Cinnamon bomb at Fraîche
Why call this (admittedly tame-looking) pastry a “bomb”? Because this moist, cinnamon-dusted cake is unexpectedly addictive. And that’s dangerous.

Gianduja gelato at Black Dog Gelato
Every flavor, every time, Jessie Oloroso kills it. But when her shop is out of this knee-bucklingly rich chocolate-hazelnut flavor, it very nearly kills us.

Sweet-potato pie at Jimmy Jamm
The sweet spud shape-shifts plenty at this beloved Beverly bakery—as cheesecake, cobbler, cake topped with Marshmallow Fluff–like honey cream cheese frosting, even as soft serve. But it’s the most obvious treatment of all that wins us over: straight-up sweet-potato pie, as ideal as it is simple.

Fruit shortcake at Lillie’s Q
It may be half the price of most desserts around town, but this sweet-as-pie biscuit-and-fruit concoction (the fruit varies with the season) is good enough to go toe-to-toe with any of the fancier takes.

Chestnut doughnut at Doughnut Vault
This is the doughnut all the pitiful doughnuts want to be. This is the doughnut all the good doughnuts hate. Because they all know, as we do, that it doesn’t get any better, any fresher, any more flavorful, any airier than this.