October 10, 2012

Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: Ithaca’s Top 5 Desserts

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You know you’re a bit of a dessert fanatic when you rank the quality of any dining experience based on what you have for dessert. While many people would argue that the entrée should be the highlight, I’d have to politely disagree. For me, an amazing dessert can either heighten an already wonderful meal or make a mediocre one more memorable.

I have to admit, though, as a self-proclaimed dessert fanatic, I find the task of choosing the best desserts in Ithaca to be nearly impossible. This is mainly because, in general, my dessert choices constantly change based on what season it is and what I’m currently craving. If it’s the middle of July, I’m dreaming of cold, citrus-based tarts, not comforting bread puddings. If I’m having one of my rare nothing-but-chocolate cravings, I might rank a flourless chocolate torte as one of my favorites. I could make a list of favorites right now and, in a month or two, have to completely rewrite it to include different desserts.

So, here is a list of decadent treats that includes some craving-motivated desserts, some seasonal desserts or a combination of the two elements. My hope is that you’ll want to treat yourself and some friends to a nice meal out, especially with the upcoming hell week that’s about to wreak havoc on our lives.

Small Mixed Fruit Tart from Wegmans

Whenever I make a Wegmans trip, I purposely try to avoid the food court area because I know if I go there, I could spend hours drooling over the dessert on display. The fruit tarts have always caught my eye. Each tart has a different combination of fruit, so you can choose according to your cravings; I’d recommend the mandarin orange, strawberry and blueberry for fans of the citrus-berry pairing. The fruit was perfectly ripe and simply adorned with a strawberry glaze; however, the crust and the cream added a special touch. The buttery, crumbly crust melted in my mouth like Walker’s shortbread and the black vanilla bean freckles in the cream added the right amount of sweetness. This tart is more than your average store-bought dessert and now that I’ve had one, I definitely need to make sure I don’t stray into the food court area too often.

Blueberry Frangipane from Madeline’s

This dessert has a special place in my heart (and stomach) because it sparked my love for blueberry and / or almond desserts. This dessert packs both flavors into a golden almond filling studded with violet blueberry jewels, all encased in a lightly sweetened tart shell. Madeline’s likes to serve the tart warm, crowning it with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzling of blueberry and vanilla sauces. I first had this tart two years ago as one of my first Ithaca Commons dining experiences and, naturally, had to go back to Madeline’s to see if it was still as delicious as I remembered. It was.

Viennese Walnut Cake from Madeline’s

Considering that Madeline’s has been consistently voted as the best place for desserts in Ithaca, I’d hoped that more than one of their desserts would make it onto my list. This Viennese walnut cake doesn’t disappoint. This dessert is a walnut-lover’s dream: Two layers of dark brown walnut cake hugging a layer of creamy cheesecake, all topped with fresh whole strawberries. My favorite part about this dessert is the high nut-to-cake ratio because it gives the dessert substantial body and crunch. I also love that each element balances the other two elements so that no one flavor completely dominates the cake.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta from Just A Taste

Desserts that stand out the most for me are the ones that are just a bit different from your run-of-the-mill molten lava cakes and blondie bars (though both can be delicious in their own right). This panna cotta, accompanied by candied sweet potatoes, raisins and a ginger cookie, does just that. The pairing of buttermilk and vanilla bean creates a deliciously tangy flavor reminiscent of Greek yogurt that the sweetness of the candied potatoes and raisins complements. The ginger cookie is a genius addition that brings a spiced sweetness to the dessert as well as a crunchy textural element. I rarely order cream-based desserts, but I would order this again, no questions asked.

Pumpkin Cheesecake from Establishment

Finally, a standout dessert that doesn’t require a trek on a TCAT bus, but just a short walk to Statler. This cake is a deconstructed interpretation of a classic dessert: Twin rectangles of pale orange pumpkin cheesecake rest atop a shortbread cookie and are topped with a cloud of maple-flavored whipped cream (the homemade kind, not the stuff that comes out of a can). The cheesecake is also accompanied by candied squash confetti that adds another sweet surprise. I’m always looking for desserts with multiple flavor and textural elements so that I can create different combinations with each delicious bite. This dessert does just that. If you love anything pumpkin-flavored and are looking for a rich fall dessert, this cheesecake is the one for you.

Original Author: Elizabeth Young