How do you make a decision when you’re reading a dessert menu? Perhaps you start by scanning through the of-the-moment options that include green tea infusions, matcha sprinkles, pomegranate reductions and molasses foams. But then, as your eye moves down the page, you spot it—the dessert your mom always made for your birthday, the one you still long for today. It might be chocolate cake or apple pie or even Jell-O parfait, but you know it’s the dessert you really want to be eating, no matter how fancy all those trendier choices seem to be.
Just as comfort food is taking over the savory category, diners are unapologetically gobbling up the desserts they loved best in third grade. Sweet and simple, the one-plate-four forks orders arrive, coated with an invisible sprinkling of cozy nostalgia.
Spoon and Stable (and Monkey Bread)
Whether diners are reliving their smile-inducing desserts of years ago, or making up for a family that insisted on fresh fruit after dinner (as if), they’re increasingly choosing old favorites as meal enders. One chef who can speak to the retro dessert phenomenon is Diane Yang. She’s Executive Pastry Chef for Gavin Kaysen’s growing Minneapolis empire, which includes Spoon and Stable, and the newly opened French-casual Bellecour, which includes its own standalone bakery.
At the bakery, one of the top sellers is Monkey Bread, Yang says. “I grew up in a Hmong household, and we didn’t really have baked desserts—we had gluten-free things like rice cakes and tapioca. But a lot of my colleagues grew up on Monkey Bread, and they’re really glad it’s on the menu.”
While most people remember home-made Monkey Bread as the ultimate Bundt-pan-sized and shareable dish, the Bellecour bakery creates individual portions, served in parchment paper cups. “We proof the dough right in the paper cups,” Yang says. “It’s made with croissant dough, so it’s slightly sweet and very buttery. We add pecans and raisins and toss in brown sugar. I have seven children at home, and I always bring the leftovers to them.”
Well-executed, highest quality
“I think simple is good,” she says. “Once in a while, I’ll go all out and do something gorgeous, but I mostly like to stick with the well-executed simple items that comfort people and entice them to come back for more.” When you’re focusing on keeping things simple, you must use only top-quality ingredients. In her signature chocolate cake with chocolate mousse filling, for example, she uses Valrhona 72 percent chocolate and a “secret ingredient” to keep it moist: buttermilk.
When she’s at home with her brood, Yang has found a retro dessert her family can call its own. “I buy Ghirardelli brownie mix at Costco, and that’s what I bake,” she says. “No nuts, no mix-ins—and they disappear before I have a chance to frost them.”
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