America's 25 Best Desserts You Have to Try

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Why save the best for last? These desserts are so impressive, they deserve a spot at the top of the menu—and the top of your personal 'must eats' list. Savor 25 essential sweet eats from around the country.

1. EDIBLE HELIUM BALLOON, ALINEA // CHICAGO

Balloon dessert Alinea
Basheer Tome, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The fare at this three-Michelin-starred restaurant gives "light meal" a new meaning. Along with a tasting menu filled with savory works of molecular gastronomy, chef Grant Achatz serves up edible helium balloons in a variety of flavors, including grape and banana. Of course, a seat at one of these tables doesn't come easy or cheap. Reservations—which start at $175 a person—are released two months in advance and fill up quickly after the release date on the 15th of each month.

2. KOUING AMAN BREAD PUDDING, LES MADELEINES // SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH

Les Madeleines Kouign Amann
Simon Gibson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Once featured on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, the French-inspired pastries from Les Madeleines reign supreme. The sweet-and-salty treats are flaky as well as crunchy and are finished with a salted caramel topping. According to the menu, "If you love salted caramel, this is the pastry for you."

3. SEASONAL DOUGHNUT, HOLE DOUGHNUTS // ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA

Asheville
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Asheville, North Carolina's Hole Doughnuts shop keeps it simple with one yeast doughnut recipe in four varieties: vanilla glazed, toasted almond sesame, cocoa rub, and an ever-changing seasonal flavor. But that doesn't mean the flavors aren't complex. Light and airy, the handmade treats are a must-try.

4. CHILTON COUNTRY PEACH UPSIDE DOWN CAKE, HIGHLANDS BAR AND GRILL // BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

Highlands Bar
coast2coastmove, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Dolester Miles, an award-winning pastry chef, dreamed up this creative dessert just for the Alabama eatery. Topped with chantilly cream, the fruity dish is an unconventional twist on a classic.

5. ICE CREAM SUNDAE, ABC KITCHEN // NEW YORK CITY

ABC Kitchen Sundae
Erin McCarthy

The inside scoop on ABC Kitchen's indulgent sundae: The dessert is a balance of popcorn, salted caramel ice cream, hot fudge, candied peanuts, and whipped cream.

6. TRIPLE COCONUT CREAM PIE, DAHLIA'S BAKERY // SEATTLE

Dahlia's Bakery Seattle
javacolleen, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0  

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This sweet eat from Dahlia's Bakery is POTUS-approved. President Obama is such a fan of the dessert that he's returned to it a number of times, according to Seattle Weekly. Sample the famous pie—a coconut crust filled with shredded coconut cream and topped with toasted coconut, fresh whipped cream, and shaved white chocolate—as a whole pie (either a "baby" 6 inch or a 9 inch), by the slice, or as an "individual bite."

7. STICKY BUN, FLOUR BAKERY + CAFE // BOSTON

Flour Bakery and Cafe Sticky Bun
Arnold Gatilao, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It's not hard to track down a sticky bun in any city, but the gooey caramel pastry from this award-winning brand—in eight locations across Massachusetts—is a real winner. In fact, the sticky bun once defeated one of Bobby Flay's creations. (Another honorable mention: The bakery's famous meringue clouds have also earned rave reviews.)

8. BREAD PUDDING SOUFFLÉ, COMMANDER'S PALACE // NEW ORLEANS

Commander's Place Bread Pudding Soufflé
City Foodsters, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Commander's Palace is an award-winning institution in New Orleans. While you can't go wrong with any item on the menu at this restaurant, located in a Victorian-era mansion, the bread pudding soufflé—a creole bread pudding served with a warm whiskey sauce—is a standout among diners.

9. WHOOPIE PIE, LABADIE’S BAKERY // LEWISTON, MAINE

In Maine, you’re often just steps away from a fresh whoopie pie. (There's a reason the delicacy was declared "the official state treat" in 2011.) But Labadie's Bakery claims to sell "the original Maine whoopie." And their treats don't get points just for originality. The bakery sells a variety of flavors of the creamy staple. Can't decide? Spring for the sampler of a dozen.

10. CHURROS, 180 XURROS // PORTLAND, OREGON

Portland
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Vegan and dairy-free, these made-to-order churros are delicious in any form, whether they are "lightly dusted in cinnamon and sugar" or packed with Nutella. Mix things up with the bakery's dipping sauces, like lemon curd or marshmallow swirl.

11. SEASONAL PIES, SISTER PIE // DETROIT

Sister Pie Detroit
City of Detroit, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

At this bakery, patrons can choose from a rotating menu of pies (Think Coffee Chess Pie and Apple, Sage, Gouda Pie), all made from natural, local ingredients. The Salted Maple is a favorite among fans of the so-called "piebrary." Feeling generous? Customers are encouraged to "Pie it forward" and purchase a slice for a future customer.

12. TRIPLE BERRY CAKE, SWEET LADY JANE'S // LOS ANGELES

Sweet Lady Jane's Los Angeles
kara brugman, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

There's a reason Sweet Lady Jane's popular treat has inspired dozens of copycat recipes and earned a spot on Oprah's favorite things. Three layers of fresh blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries are heaped onto this whipped cream-frosted yellow butter cake. Can't make it to La La Land to snag a piece in person? The bakery also ships the cake frozen.

13. LEMON ICEBOX PIE, THE SILVER SKILLET // ATLANTA

The ultimate southern comfort when you're in the Peach State: homemade pie from a neighborhood mainstay. And The Silver Skillet in Atlanta delivers with the popular lemon icebox pie. Featured on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the restaurant is known for the dessert, a lemon-based mixture on top of a graham cracker and vanilla wafer crust.

14. STATE FAIR FRY, YARDBIRD SOUTHERN TABLE AND BAR // MIAMI

Batter up: Fried twinkies, fried freshly-baked oreos, and vanilla ice cream come together to make up this decadent dish. "Who doesn’t love our deep fried Oreos?" the restaurant asked followers in 2016. The answer: not many. The restaurant even earned a shout-out from The Food Network.

15. CHOCOLATE BOMBE, PISTACIA VERA // COLUMBUS, OHIO

PISTACIA VERA chocolate bombe
Not for the faint of heart, this rich dessert features chocolate in three different textures: "thin layers of chocolate buttermilk cake, marsala chocolate mousse & semi-sweet chocolate ganache," according to the menu. And if cake isn't your thing, go for the also-popular Parisan macarons, available in a dozen flavors.

16. PB&J ICE CREAM PIE, TARTINE COOKIES AND CREAM // SAN FRANCISCO

Tartine Cookies and Cream San Francisco
Yuichi Sakuraba, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

A modern take on a childhood favorite, the PB&J ice cream pie from Tartine Cookies and Cream is a blend of sorbet, soft-serve, and fresh fruit on a cookie crust and garnished with candied peanuts—and Bon Appetit's best dessert of 2017.

17. FRUIT TARTS, PASTICHE // PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND

PASTICHE fruit tart
David Z., Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Locals take pride in the freshly baked fruit tarts from this small café. Cozy up to the warm fireplace in the winter and pair your pastry with Pastiche's teas or hot chocolates.

18. THE ULTIMATE COCONUT CAKE, PENINSULA GRILL // CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA

Get your sugar high from Peninsula Grill's towering 12-layer delicacy of fresh coconut, cream cheese frosting, and vanilla cake. Since its debut in 1997, the famous treat has earned praises from Bobby Flay and The New York Times, among others—and continues to top itself, literally. Today, each coconut cake stands at five inches.

19. BOURBON AFFECIONADO, 610 MAGNOLIA // LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY

610 Magnolia
Mike Lutz, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

This dessert from 610 Magnolia has a lot of spirit. Namely, bourbon. As executive chef Kevin Ashworth told The Whiskey Reviewer, the dish involves "bourbon soaked banana cake, there's bourbon in the butterscotch, the maple syrup is aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels, we use bourbon staves for the smoke. If we can put bourbon in it, we put bourbon in it."

20. FRIED MILK, UCHIKO // TEXAS

fried milk uchi

This Sushi spot—with locations throughout Texas and an upcoming restaurant in Denver—offers up a famous take on dairy: fried milk. Conceptualized by Top Chef winner and pastry chef Paul Qui, the dish is a combination of ice milk sherbet, toasted milk, cornflake crumble, and chocolate powder.

21. APPLE PIE, BLUE DUCK TAVERN // WASHINGTON, D.C.

Blue Tavern
albedo20, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Climbing up the ranks of D.C.'s hottest restaurants was as easy as pie for this establishment. Applesauce and filling are combined to form the middle of this famous pie, all baked in a thick, buttery crust. Add a scoop of the restaurant's homemade ice cream to really complete the dish.

22. BROWNIE ROYALE, BAILEYS' CHOCOLATE BAR // SAINT LOUIS, MISSOURI

Bailey's Chocolate Bar
Lee Davenpost, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Chocolate lovers won't know what to sample first at this Missouri restaurant, which boasts a variety of chocolate creations. One popular choice: the Brownie Royal, a fudgy brownie with hot fudge, bananas, and a cherry.

23. POI GLAZED DONUT, KAMEHAMEHA BAKERY // HONOLULU, HAWAII

KAMEHAMEHA BAKERY poi donut
Capsun Poe, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Kamehameha Bakery is known for putting a local spin on traditional desserts, like adding the tarot root poi to Portuguese malasada. The purple, glazed donuts are a favorite among locals and tourists alike. In the words of the bakery’s website, "There's nothing quite like a donut, warm, fluffy, and a little bit gooey."

24. CUPCAKES, CARYTOWN CUPCAKES // RICHMOND, VIRGINIA

CARYTOWN CUPCAKES
Giselle Leung, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The gourmet cupcake shop keeps customers guessing with rotating themed flavors, like "Polyjuice Potion" and "Butterbeer" from the "Cary Potter" menu, as well as nearly a dozen other varieties.

25. DUCK FAT DONUT & ICE CREAM, THE GREY PLUME // OMAHA, NEBRASKA

THE GREY PLUME duck fat donut
Shelby L. Bell, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Eco-friendly restaurant The Grey Plume offers up this unique treat. The name says it all: Each brioche creation is fried in duck fat before being paired with vanilla and brown butter ice cream.

fun

See Which Ingredients Cooks From Around the World Love Most

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iStock

Food is incredibly regionally specific, and cuisines have been refined over millennia based on what ingredients have been available and what local cooks have come up with. Even though global trade has made the same spices and other flavor staples available virtually anywhere in the world, Mexican food still tastes radically different from Chinese food, and Italian food from Irish food. We know this intuitively—few of us pick up a bottle of soy sauce thinking we’ll use it in a traditional Italian pasta dish—but it’s still fascinating to see a breakdown of just which ingredients certain cuisines have cornered the market on, as you can in these charts.

Nathan Yau of FlowingData visualized the most-used ingredients in 20 different cuisines, using data on ingredients from Yummly to figure out what distinct flavors and ingredients country-specific cuisines gravitate towards.

Across the world, salt is king. It’s the most-used ingredient in 75 percent of the cuisines Yau looked at, and the only cuisine in which it doesn’t appear in the top five most-used ingredients is Korean food—but, like in other Asian cuisines, Korean recipes use soy sauce more than any other ingredient, and that in itself is very salty.

Because so many cuisines rely heavily on the same ingredients, like soy sauce and salt, Yau also calculated the ingredients most specific to each cuisine: the ones disproportionately used in one country’s traditional cuisine. This is where you start to get a picture of the kind of ingredients we associate heavily with particular regionally specific dishes. Mexican food relies on tortillas; Greek food, feta cheese; Korean, kimchi; Thai, lemongrass; Russian, beets; and Cajun, andouille sausage. Some ingredients may come as a bit of a surprise, though. Southern cooking in the U.S. uses vanilla extract more than other cuisines do, and the French love shallots. Cajun cooks are big fans of celery ribs, and somehow, though numerous cuisines use onions heavily, Brazilian cooks use them slightly more than anyone else.

The data relies on Yummly recipes, so the results are limited to what the recipe recommendation site has available. It's possible that home cooks working in each cuisine do something slightly different that might move the data in another direction. But, since Yummly currently has more than 2 million recipes available, it seems like a relatively large snapshot of cooking options.

Explore the interactive graphic and learn more at FlowingData.

15 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of The Great British Baking Show

Netflix
Netflix

by Sarah Dobbs

If you’re an American fan of The Great British Bake Off you probably know it better as The Great British Baking Show (though its most devoted fans simply call it GBBO, which saves a lot of time). While its ninth season just kicked off on England’s Channel 4, American audiences are only now just getting caught up on season eight via Netflix. And with new hosts Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig taking over for Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, plus Prue Leith taking over for Mary Berry as host, the latest incarnation of the show looks a lot different.

A bona fide global sensation, the baking competition has the power to cause otherwise rational human beings to immediately run to their nearest supermarket in search of obscure ingredients like psyllium or Amarula cream liqueur. It’s a charming, retro, warming hug of a TV show. But how much do you know about what goes on behind the scenes? Without destroying any of your illusions, here are some secrets about how the producers whip up one of the world's most beloved cooking shows.

1. THE REASON WHY IT HAS TWO DIFFERENT NAMES IS SIMPLE.

A scene from The Great British Bake Off
Netflix

If you’ve ever wondered why the series is called The Great British Bake Off in England and The Great British Baking Show in America, the answer is simple: Pillsbury. The Pillsbury Bake Off, which kicked off in 1949, is probably America’s most famous baking contest. And the company didn’t want there to be any confusion among viewers, hence The Great British Baking Show.

2. THE OVENS ALL HAVE TO BE TESTED EVERY DAY.

It’s difficult enough to make a cake that Paul Hollywood won’t declare either under- or over-baked without having to worry about whether your oven is working properly. So for every day of filming, every oven has to be tested. And because this is a baking show, they’re tested with cakes. Yes, every day every oven has a Victoria sponge cake cooked in it, to make sure everything’s working exactly as it should be.

3. EVERY TIME SOMEONE OPENS AN OVEN DOOR, THERE'S A CAMERA WATCHING THEM.

To make sure they catch all the drama, GBBO producers insist that every time a bake is put into or taken out of an oven, the moment must be caught on camera. So whenever a baker wants to put their goodies into an oven, or check if they’re ready to come out, they need to grab someone to make sure the moment gets captured on film. (Which must be a hassle for the first couple of weeks, when there are more than 10 bakers all trying their best to produce a perfect bake at once.)

4. THE CONTESTANTS HAVE TO WEAR THE SAME CLOTHES ALL WEEKEND.

It’s a minor thing, but have you ever noticed that the bakers wear the same clothes for an entire episode, even though it’s shot over two days? For continuity purposes, the contestants are asked to wear the same outfits for the entire weekend. If you’re the kind of baker who ends up with flour all over your shirt whenever you bake up a loaf of bread, the second day of filming could be a bit of a nightmare.

"Luckily they change the aprons so we don't look like a Jackson Pollock painting by the end of it," 2013 champion Frances Quinn told Cosmopolitan. "I think layers [is the answer], but even then you still have to wear what you had on, on top. Difficult."

5. THE CONTESTANTS DON’T HAVE A LOT OF DOWNTIME.

Having any time to spare is not something that season seven contestant Jane Beedle remembers happening regularly for the contestants. "Maybe once or twice, and when they did we would just sit and have a cup of tea and chat with the people around us,” she told the Mirror. "They don't like it if you have nothing to do, so they try and make the challenges as difficult as possible to keep you busy."

6. THE TEMPERATURE IN THE TENT CAN MAKE OR BREAK A BAKE.

Sue Perkins, Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, and Frances Quinn in 'The Great British Bake Off'
BBC

Forget setting the oven to the correct temperature—the temperature inside the tent is just as important to a bake. "It's completely alien to your own kitchen at home,” Quinn told Cosmopolitan. “The temperature fluctuates—you'd be making a meringue and it would start raining, or we'd try and make pastry and it would be 27 degrees outside. The technical challenges and lack of time and lack of fridge and work space are the enemy on that show."

7. THE ILLUSTRATIONS ARE CREATED BY TOM HOVEY, AFTER THE EPISODE HAS FILMED.

You know those fun illustrations of the confections that pop up when each baker explains what they’re going to make that day? Those are all drawn by illustrator Tom Hovey. He was working as a video editor on the first season of GBBO when the producers realized they needed an extra visual element—so he offered his illustration skills. And while we see the illustrations on screen before the bakers attempt to make them a reality, Hovey told the BBC he draws them “a pack of photos of the finished bakes from the set after each episode has been filmed … I sketch out all the bakes quickly in pencil to get the details, form and shape I am after. I then work these up by hand drawing them all in ink, then they’re scanned and colored digitally, and then I add the titles and ingredient arrows. It's a fairly well streamlined process now.”

Even if a bake goes horribly wrong, Hovey said his “illustrations are a representation of what the bakers hope to create. Even if the bakers don't produce what they’ve intended to I have a degree of artistic license to make them look good.”

8. THE CONTESTANTS DON’T INTERACT WITH THE JUDGES VERY MUCH.

“They very much tried to keep it unbiased,” Quinn said about how the bakers don’t spend much time interacting with the judges. “We saw a lot more of Mel and Sue. Mary and Paul would purely come in to do what we called the royal tour—where they'd come in and find out what you were making, and then they'd come back in for judging. You're not in the same hotel having sleepovers! You form more of a relationship after the show when you see them at things like BBC Good Food or whatever—but they need to keep their distance [on the show]. They're there as judges."

9. MAKING SURE THAT THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGE IS ACTUALLY POSSIBLE IS ONE PERSON'S JOB.

Sandi Toksvig in 'The Great British Bake Off'
Netflix

Another vital behind-the-scenes role is that of the food researcher. It’s down to them to make sure that the elaborate concoction the judges have decided the bakers have to whip up is actually possible, given the ingredients, instructions, and time the bakers will be allowed.

The tent presents its own challenges, too, because it could be hot or cold, depending on the weather, and it tends to have quite a wobbly floor, which can make delicate decorating work trickier than it might otherwise seem. “The tent is just mocked up, so the floor is really bumpy and bouncy because you’d got so many camera guys running around,” Quinn told the Irish Examiner.

10. THE SHOW GOT INTO SOME TROUBLE FOR ITS PARTNERSHIP WITH SMEG.

Part of GBBO’s homey charm has to do with the setup of the tent where the bakers do their cooking, and few appliances spell “retro” as well as a colorful Smeg refrigerator. A viewer fed up with what they described as “blatant product promotion” wrote to the Radio Times to complain, and an investigation was launched into the series’ agreement with Smeg. As BBC guidelines state that a series may "not accept free or reduced cost products" in return for "on-air or online credits, links or off-air marketing,” the broadcaster ended up having to write the company a check for all the times their product got some screen time.

11. THERE ARE NEVER ANY LEFTOVERS.

The judges only take a mouthful of every bake, which seems to leave an awful lot of leftover pastries, cakes, and ridiculously complicated bread sculptures. But don’t worry—none of it goes to waste. “The crew eats all the leftovers," Beedle told The Mirror. "We get some brought to us in the green room so we can taste each other's bakes, but it's only slithers."

12. HUNDREDS OF SEASON FIVE VIEWERS WROTE IN TO COMPLAIN ABOUT “SABOTAGE.”

Midway through season five, contestant Iain Watters had a bit of an issue with his Baked Alaska. Realizing that his ice cream had not yet set, he threw the entire dish into the trash rather than serve the judges a subpar dessert and was sent home as a result. Footage from the episode made is seem as if fellow contestant Diana Beard had removed his ice cream from the freezer. Beard left the show at just about the same time due to health issues, but some viewers (811, to be exact) smelled sabotage—and wrote in to the show’s producers to complain. Media watchdog group Ofcom looked into the matter, but said that they had assessed viewers’ complaints and “they do not raise issues warranting further investigation under Ofcom’s rules.”

Paul Hollywood took to Twitter to clear up what became known as “bingate,” tweeting: “Ice cream being left out of fridge last night for 40 seconds did not destroy Iain’s chances in the bake off, what did was his decision BIN.”

13. MARY BERRY WATCHED BREAKING BAD BACKSTAGE.

Although it looks pretty nonstop on screen, there’s quite a bit of downtime during the show’s filming days. Especially for the show’s judges and hosts. Former judge Mary Berry had one unique way of passing the time: binge-watching Breaking Bad. “It’s shocking,” Berry told The Telegraph. “Then you get into it and you think: ‘Have I seen episode four or five?’ You get hooked. It’s better than motor racing, which [my husband] Paul watches—though I’d prefer Downton Abbey.” She’d apparently rope former hosts Mel and Sue into watching it with her on occasion. What better way to relax during a long day of baking than by watching Walter White, umm, baking?

14. THE APPLICATION FORM IS NO JOKE.

Fancy your chances in the Bake Off tent? If you’ve been inspired by the show and reckon you could nab a couple of Star Baker titles, brace yourself: The application form is a whopping eight pages long, and it’s full of probing questions. As well as giving details of your hobbies, lifestyle, and level of experience with various types of baked goods, it also asks applicants to describe their baking style, and answer a couple of existential-sounding questions.

"It's a long application form. I think it's designed to put some people off, essentially," fourth season contestant Beca Lyne-Pirkis said. "It asks you about everything you have done, good and bad. It's designed to get information about your character, stories, mishaps and successes."

Still fancy applying? Though submissions are not open at the moment, you can keep your eyes open for when the next batch of contestants are being accepted here.

15. THE AUDITION PROCESS IS EVEN MORE GRUELING.

If you happen to make it through the application process, the audition process is even more difficult. “Every person who makes it into the marquee has passed a rigorous series of tests,” GBBO creator and executive producer Anna Beattie told The Telegraph. In addition to the application form, The Telegraph reported that there is “a 45-minute telephone call with a researcher, bringing two bakes to an audition in London, a screen test and an interview with a producer. If they get through that, there is a second audition baking two recipes … in front of the cameras, and an interview with the show psychologist to make sure they can cope with being filmed for up to 16 hours a day.”

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