World's Best Desserts

I recently shared with you a list of the most expensive desserts in the world. While impressive, we all know that taste is much more valuable than price. Below is the list of the very best desserts Liat, Dick and I ever had, in no particular order. The rest of my family will happily settle for some vanilla ice cream

Crème schnitten by Zauner (bad ishcl, Austria)
Crème Schnitten, or Napoleons, can be found in countless bakeries in the US and world-wide. None, however, holds a candle to Zauner's, a 200 year old bakery in a small town in Austria. People flock from miles away for these delicate and intensely flavorful pastries, and despite feverish baking pace the bakery is typically all out of them by 2pm. What makes the pastries so good is the following: 1. Only two layers of puff pastry (some have three, one in the middle, which is totally unnecessary). 2. The puff pastry is beautifully crunchy. 3. The cream filling has perfect flavor (very vanilla, not too acidic) and texture (creamy but not watery).

Meringue balls filled with lemon cream and whipped cream by Jacques Torres, NY
Jacques' take on the traditional lemon meringue pie is inspiring. He creates a hollow balls made from two meringue halves, then fills one half with lightened lemon curd, the other with whipping cream, and then glues the two halves together. You get crunch, tartness and a beautifully complimentary mellowness from the whipped cream.

Coffee and doughnuts by Thomas Keller, Yountville, CA
I've extolled Keller's virtues enough. The doughnuts are airy, totally non-greasy (thanks to the hot Canola oil), very cinnamony, and the ice-cold coffee semifreddo that accompanies them is perfect foil to the piping hot doughnuts. My favorite part - the doughnut hole!

Pariz Schpitz by Zauner
Imagine a conehead cone made of outstanding, non-acidic dark chocolate thick enough to give you a crunch as you bite through it into a non-buttery, not-t-dense chocolate mousse, and you've got Pariz Schpitz. Need I say more?

Cheese dumplings by Villa Schratt, Bad Ischl, Austria
Villa Schratt is an excellent, traditional Austrian restaurant where my kids love the boiled beef dish Tafelspitz. My favorite, however, is those feather-light quark cheese dumplings napped with home made plum jam sauce. It's an acquired taste, I know, but I consume three orders of these delicacies at every visit.

Dick's variation on this theme is found at Korso restaurant in Vienna, where he's in love with the Powidl dumplings (Powidl is prune plum jam). I like that one, but still go for the cheese dumplings any way. Last, Drei Hussaren, another venerable Viennese establishment, has cheese dumplings filled with poppy seed filling. These are a close second to Villa Schratt's dumplings.

Chocolate Cake by Camilo, Florence, Italy
Camilo is a solid but not stellar Florentine restaurant one block off Ponte Vecchio in Florence across the Arno. Their chocolate cake, however, is something to behold. Moist yet not dense, flavorful but not overwhelming, it stands on its own without whipped cream or other embellishments. Liat and I ate the restaurant out of this cake on several occasions, and, for the food pilgrimage, I ordered an entire cake to prevent such a calamity. We did it justice!

Chocolate ice cream by Giolitti I told you about Giolitti before, so I won't get into it again. Suffice it to say that if you're looking for real ice cream, sans guar gum and other additives, full of good Equitorial chocolate and milk, non polluted by eggs and cream, Giolitti's is it. In my book, it represents the apex of ice cream.

Greenbriar peaches by the Greenbriar, West Virginia
The Greenbriar is an American institution, since its days as the summer White House two centuries ago. Among its many redeeming qualities are its bread pudding (superb), coconut pound-cake (most edible) but foremost on my list are its unique peaches. They have the most peachy flavor I've ever tasted, and come with plentiful gobs of fabulously light whipped cream. It's among the finest fruit desserts I know. Simple and perfect.

Bread pudding soufflé by Commander's Palace, New Orleans
I love bread pudding in its purest form, unencumbered by bananas and other foreign objects. The Greenbriar's version is stellar, but nothing comes even close to Commander's soufflé, which combines the best of the bread pudding, which is the flavor, with the lightness of the soufflé. It's one of a kind.

Rice pudding by Bistro Jeanty, Yountville, CA
Call me pedestrian, but I like rice pudding. Not the watery kind, though. The kind where the rice is perfectly cooked, not overly chewy, the flavor very vanilla (preferably Tahitian vanilla), and the texture creamy but not solid either. This defines Jeanty's rice pudding, into which he tosses a few brandied morello cherries for a tart contrast.

Floating islands by Beurheisel Restaurant, Strasbourg, FR
Floating Islands (or eggs in snow, as it is sometimes called), is a simple and traditional French dessert. Egg white meringue is shaped into "eggs" and gently cooked over simmering milk, then placed on a bed of vanilla sauce (crème Anglaise) and drizzled with caramelized sugar to adda crunch to the dish. There are countless versions of this old fashioned dessert, but none reaches the heights of Beurheisel's offering. Liat, who dislikes mushy food, adores this dessert, and we have been known to eat all the portions the restaurant had to offer at one night or another. I think it's the vanilla sauce that makes it so very special, since it's perfect texture and smooth vanilla flavor are outstanding.

Plum pancakes by Auberge de l'll, Lyon, France
This three Michelin star restaurant didn't deliver on our expectations where food was concerned, but it's plum pancake was to die for, so much so that I had to have three of those. The fluffly and delicate pancake was stuffed full with firmly poached tart plums smothered in creamy, sweet vanilla sauce for a symphony of flavors. Aux Armes Des Frances in Requewier, France also has a great version of this dessert, but the Auberge's pancake is the best.

Tiramisu by La Campana, Rome, Italy
Tiramisu is one of the most over-offered desserts ever. Every Tom, Dick and Harry restaurant includes it in its dessert menu, and the results are often hideous. Not so at La Campana, an ancient (the building dates back to the 15th century) restaurant that offers great home-made, basic Roman food. Their version perfectly balances the mascarpone cream with the espresso flavor, its Savoiardi (the coffee-soaked biscuits that make up the "cake" part) are not mushy, and the crème not overly cheesy. An Italian grandmother makes it daily in a huge stainless steel tray, and portions are doled out throughout the day. Come early and eat a lot!

Dark chocolate fudge cake, Grand Lux Café, Chicago, IL
This is Mitch Feiger's entry into my hall-of-fame list. Mitch isn't just a gifted banker and CEO of MB Financial. He is also a connoisseur of chocolate cake, and his recommendation for this chocolate cake was spot on. I'm generally skeptical of fudge cakes. Many are too dense, too buttery of have too much baking soda, which imparts a metallic after-taste. This one, however, was admittedly perfect, and didn't even need the bowl of whipped cream and hot fudge sauce I poured on top of it!