Los Angeles may be home to the first cupcake ATM, but our sweets scene has come a long way since Sprinkles' dispensable treats. From the rise of Filipino desserts to health-conscious ice cream, these reinvented classics are stealing our hearts—and so are the sugar-loving pastry chefs behind them.
All photos by Rozette Rago
Sweet treats from L.A.'s best pastry chefs
Pastry chef Elizabeth Belkind made a name for herself putting a fine-dining spin on classic desserts at Campanile and Grace Restaurant before joining Cake Monkey in 2007; by 2015, she had transformed the catering service into a storefront on Beverly Boulevard. "I've been very curious about how malt affects texture and flavor in baked goods, and [in 2016] I finally started experimenting with it," Belkind says about her incredible chocolate-malted cake. The dessert features malted chocolate buttercream and is topped with crunchy chocolate pearls, a playful tribute to childhood birthday cakes that adults can still get behind.
After fine-tuning his technique at Bourbon Steak, E.P. & L.P. and Spring, Baumgartner found himself in one of the most elevated kitchens in the city—literally. As pastry chef at 71Above in the US Bank Tower, he hones in on classic desserts and transforms them into spectacular dishes. His Pineapple & Passion is inspired by a treat his mother used to make—a Cool Whip-topped dessert bar made with pineapple and a cheesecake crust—that Baumgartner has crafted into a tropical beauty employing passion fruit cake and marshmallow, pineapple foam, tarragon moss, lime caviar, frozen cream and a brown butter crust.
Can dessert be good for you? Kallas-Lee thinks so. The pastry chef, who foraged in the woods with her family while growing up, specializes in sweets that are practically remedies. Case in point: her Charcoal Ice Cream Cone with Veggie Sprinkles, a dessert born from her grandmother's habit of giving Kallas-Lee activated charcoal whenever she was sick. Both the ice cream and cone feature the ingredient, while the sprinkles are made from curatives like turmeric, matcha and spirulina. Keep an eye out for more of her original creations later this year, when she'll have a stand-alone ice cream shop at the Montecito Inn in Santa Barbara.
Plucked from a culinary competition by pastry chef Sherry Yard at age 17, Marquez flew through some of California's most beloved kitchens—Bouchon, Providence, the French Laundry—before landing at Broken Spanish. The Salvadoran chef blends French technique and Mexican flavors to create desserts like the De La Rosa, which reminds him of his favorite childhood combination: peanut butter and jelly. The Instagram-worthy dessert contains peanut butter powder and Harry's Berries' strawberries, along with rosewater sabayon, Pop Rocks coated in white chocolate and cocoa butter, all encased in a white-chocolate sphere that, when broken into, revelas a spray of edible marigolds.
Last year, Fabro popularized Filipino-inspired desserts in a way that L.A. had never experienced. The Filipina pastry chef introduced imaginative mash-ups to Chinatown's Unit 120, like her malas, a Hawaiian and Filipino doughnut hybrid, and the Mango Royale, an icebox cake from the Philippines made with layers of sweet mangos and condensed milk cream between a graham cracker crust. Fabro points out that it's a simple dessert to make—and simplicity seems to be working just fine for her.