Not Too Sweet: Rethinking Your Dessert Menu

Gone are the days of traditional cheesecakes and cookies. It’s time to spice up that after-dinner treat in your restaurant.
fancy dessert on a black plate
With new flavor trends on the scene, it's probably time to up the ante on your dessert menu. (Photo: uzhursky/Shutterstock)

The New York-style cheesecakes and banana splits of the traditional dessert menu have had their day. The coveted after-dinner treat is undergoing a makeover of sorts, a reflection of consumers’ increasingly daring and globally influenced tastes. More and more, restaurants are adding unconventional ingredients to their desserts, tending toward salty, sour and savory flavors and away from strictly sweet.

“In recent years there has been a real turn towards adding new dimensions of flavor,” said Evelyn McLean, co-owner of Chocolate Chip of the Month, a Los Angeles-based online cookie subscription business.

“Just look at the popularity of ‘umami’ – roughly translated as ‘earthy’ from Japanese. I think one of the big drivers of that change is that people’s palates are coming into contact with foods from different regional cuisines, foods with combinations of tastes we’re not used to. Global influence has done a lot to change food culture in the U.S., and that is certainly true for desserts; hence, olive oil cake and pink peppercorn ice cream.”

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Pink pepper – what? Indeed, the boundaries have been broadened when it comes to desserts, and for you, the restaurant owner, that means it might be time to update your dessert menu. Here are some creative ways others have climbed aboard the trend.

Chocolate tahini tiramisu at Le Pigeon.

Chocolate tahini tiramisu at Le Pigeon. (Photo: Le Pigeon)

Chocolate tahini tiramisu

DESCRIPTION: Layered with chicory cake, sesame-based spread, blackberry jam and cookies and cream granité
WHERE: Le Pigeon, Portland, Oregon
CHEF: Nora Antene

Peanut butter dream

DESCRIPTION: Goat cheese mousse and peanut butter combined with chocolate cake topped with feulletine, warm chocolate sauce and dulce de leche pearls, served with toasted marshmallow ice cream.
WHERE: Sable Kitchen & Bar, Chicago, Illinois
CHEF: Amber Lancaster

Bacon-glazed doughnuts at Sable Kitchen & Bar.

Bacon-glazed doughnuts at Sable Kitchen & Bar. (Photo: Sable Kitchen & Bar)

Bacon-glazed doughnuts

DESCRIPTION: A doughnut topped with bacon. No description needed.
WHERE: Sable Kitchen & Bar, Chicago, Illinois
CHEF: Amber Lancaster

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Chocolate zucchini cake at Dessert’D.

Chocolate zucchini cake at Dessert’D. (Photo: Dessert’D Organic Bake Shop)

Chocolate zucchini cake

DESCRIPTION: Rich cake with zucchini, dark chocolate buttercream frosting, chocolate ganache and walnuts.
WHERE: Dessert’D Organic Bake Shop, Mammoth Lakes, California
CHEF: Mimi Council

Cauliflower and white chocolate mousse

DESCRIPTION: Smooth, sweet-and-savory mousse with schrencki caviar.
WHERE: Écriture, Hong Kong
CHEF: Maxime Gilbert

Sweet potato ice cream with torched marshmallows at Jeni’s.

Sweet potato ice cream with torched marshmallows at Jeni’s. (Photo: Jeni’s Ice Cream)

Sweet potato ice cream with torched marshmallows

DESCRIPTION: Roasted sweet potatoes scented with nutmeg and cinnamon. Studded with handmade, hand-torched marshmallows.
WHERE: Jeni’s Ice Cream, various locations
CHEF: Jeni Britton Bauer

Ingredients for candies at Bon Bon Bon in Michigan include Mac ‘N’ Cheese, black truffle and cacao.

Ingredients for candies at Bon Bon Bon in Michigan include Mac ‘N’ Cheese, black truffle and cacao. (Photo: Bon Bon Bon)

Caprese bon

DESCRIPTION: A chocolate shell filled with tomato jam, basil-ricotta ganache and balsamic glaze.
WHERE: Bon Bon Bon, Hamtramck, Michigan
CHEF: Alexandra Clark

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