Chefs put a contemporary spin on their favorite cakes and pies.
Classic is back. When it comes to desserts, chefs are hearkening back to childhood memories, updating desserts of bygone days with modern twists. Forget extravagant, edgy desserts. Now that the spotlight is on nostalgia, from devil’s food cake to retro snoballs, the trend to traditional favorites has hit pastry kitchens nationwide.
Nothing says nostalgia more than a rich chocolate cake or moist sponge cake. While these classic cakes require specific recipes, chefs are playing around with some of the ingredients, fillers, and toppings to put their own spin on tradition.
Executive Chef Michael Lomonaco has had devil’s food cake on his menu at New York City’s Porter House for years as a personal favorite from his childhood growing up in Brooklyn. Inspired by the chocolate Blackout Cake that was made famous by the Brooklyn bakery Ebinger’s, which had a lengthy run as one of the city’s leading bakeries from its opening in 1898 until it closed in 1972, the Porter House rendition uses Valrhona cocoa powder and single-estate chocolate so the icing will “go the extra distance,” Chef Lomonaco says.
Doug Psaltis, chef/partner of Bub City in Chicago also took a nostalgic route when developing his recipe for coconut cream pie. “Pies always require a little extra TLC,” Chef Psaltis says. “My grandmother made them all the time. Growing up in Queens, New York, we went to a lot of diners where pies were a staple. It’s this sense of hominess that I aim for with my desserts at the restaurant.”
In keeping with the everything-made-from-scratch trend, Chef Psaltis uses fresh coconut, shaving off the meat himself rather than buying a pre-shredded, sweetened version. “We find the long ribbons add a nice texture to the final dish,” he says.
For Cathy Whims, chef/owner of Nostrana in Portland, upside-down cakes remind her of yesteryears. Focused on seasonal cooking, Chef Whims works with the produce she can get locally, especially during the holiday season, and takes a departure from the traditional pineapple version, opting for local pear instead.
“The pear upside-down cake has been a seasonal favorite on our menu since we opened nearly nine years ago,” she says. “Pears are my favorite fall fruit; I love each variety for different reasons. Comice are rich and lush, but Boscs are the kings for baking.” Upside-down cake is just the base, using whatever fruit is in season creates the very modern approach.
Ed Moro, chef/owner of Moro’s Table in Auburn, New York, is riding the classics bandwagon as well. “Chocolate cake, well-made pies, strawberry shortcake—these are the types of desserts people crave, and we’re seeing a comeback on menus across the country.”
At his restaurant, Chef Moro enhances a traditional holiday spice cake with extra virgin olive oil and a fresh strawberry and Grand Marnier sauce for a savory-sweet addition. Nutmeg, cinnamon, buttermilk, and applesauce flavor the traditional base.