Photo credit: Getty/Rachel Tepper
Put carrot cake on a dessert menu and no one bats an eye. But try a celery root panna cotta or an eggplant tiramisu, and most diners will think you’ve been brainwashed by a vegan cult.
That may change soon, if we’re to believe pastry chef Dominique Ansel. “I think vegetables will make a big play in the dessert world” in 2014, he told Today.com. “There’s always been a fascination mixing sweet and savory, but I think this time around, it’ll be done to harness the sweetness of vegetables rather than slabbing bacon on some chocolate.” The inventor of the “cronut” surely knows his dessert trends, yes?
Yes. Plenty of restaurants are already doing veggie desserts right, actually. Here are six brilliant examples.
1. Satsuma “Creamsicle” at August in New Orleans
Photo credit: August
Carrot cake doesn’t have to be slathered in dense cream cheese frosting. At John Besh’s New Orleans eatery, pastry chef Kelly Fields pairs a delicate satsuma custard with sprinklings of carrot cake and a neon-orange carrot sorbet.
2. Avocado Sundae at Coppelia in New York City
Photo credit: Coppelia
Chef Pichet Ong makes more vegetable-based desserts than he can recall, he told us. Among them, a coconut and shallot cake, a zucchini breakfast cake, and corn ice cream. But we were most struck by the avocado sundae he dreamed up for Coppelia, a modern Latin diner in Manhattan: a few scoops of avocado ice cream, avocado slices, olive oil, lime zest, whipped cream, sea salt, and, for good measure, caramelized white chocolate.
3. Celery Root Panna Cotta at Thally in Washington, D.C.
Photo credit: Ron Tanaka
After working in some of the best kitchens in D.C.—CityZen, Cork Wine Bar, Palena, and the late Citronelle—Ron Tanaka struck out on his own in August with Thally, where he’s impressed local scribes with his peeky toe crab roulette. Also impressive: his smooth celery root panna cotta topped with an apple gelée, red wine reduction, streusel, and hazelnut gelato.
4. Melanzane e Cioccolato (Eggplant and Chocolate) at Del Posto in New York City
Photo credit: Del Posto
"We’re not trying to be avant-garde or weird or kooky,” executive pastry chef Brooks Headley told to us. ”When we have desserts with vegetables in them, they’re there for a reason.” He pointed to the restaurant’s melanzane e cioccolato, a riff on a classic dessert from Italy’s Amalfi coast. Del Posto’s version is a bit lighter: a delicate sliver of fried eggplant dressed in chocolate sauce and powdered sugar, then topped with a sheep’s milk ricotta stracciatella.
"Most desserts are outrageously over-sweet," Headley said. "Using things that aren’t sweet allows you to create a balance, so that it makes sense with the rest of the meal.”
5. Poached Sunchokes at Bondir in Concord, MA
Jason Bond, the chef and owner of Bondir, told us that his poached sunchoke dessert was a fluke. On opening night three years ago, the restaurant planned to make a simple tart tatin: ”The apples didn’t show up from the farm, but the sunchokes did,” Bond said. “So we wound up cooking the sunchokes like the apples. They soaked up the caramel, and they got almost the texture of dates.” Today, Bondir serves Chambord and caramel-poached sunchokes in its coeur a la creme dessert with gingerbread, lemon curd, and pumpkin seed lace
6. Ice Cream Nanaimo Bar at Dirt Candy in New York City
Photo credit: Dirt Candy
Any list of veg-inspired desserts would be incomplete without a nod to Dirt Candy, an all-vegetarian spot in lower Manhattan. Among the several it offers is a riff on the Canadian nanaimo bar, with layers of sweet pea, mint, and chocolate.