This holiday favorite at Jillian's is a spin on English sticky pudding.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MOLLIE KIMBERLING
Close your eyes and imagine it: The rich smell of an apple tart baking in your grandma’s kitchen. The sticky-fingered fun of crisp churros at a fair. The char of a marshmallow that got a little too toasted over an open flame. Good desserts sate a sweet tooth. Great desserts stir up sweet nostalgia.
With all that home cooking during the holidays, we’re treating ourselves to a fancy finishing touch on the town. In these kitchens, dessert is no afterthought but rather an occasion in itself, pairing premium ingredients with the culinary exactitude required of a perfect meal cap.
Jillian’s, Palm Desert
“My sous-chef, Jorge Barajas, is a date farmer,” says Jillian’s chef and owner Jay Trubee, who’s worked alongside Barajas for over three decades — 28 years at this fine dining destination, named after Trubee’s eldest daughter, and even before that at another restaurant in La Quinta. “He grows all of the dates we use. They’re as local as they can be.” This holiday favorite is a spin on English sticky pudding, made with Medjool dates and basted for the last 20 minutes with whiskey-spiked butterscotch sauce, then dished up with vanilla gelato. “It’s so stinkin’ good, it’ll make you cry,” Trubee promises. jilliansfinedining.com
Croissant Bread Pudding
Sweet Basil, Palm Desert
Chef and owner Sally Hill developed her take on the English dessert while working as a sous-chef in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “My chef there asked me to come up with a dessert for 400 guests attending a black-tie event. However, the event was to be held in the pasture, on a ranch, so it would need to be elegant and easy to transport and serve,” she recalls. “After many days of research and test-runs, I came up with warm croissant bread pudding with salted caramel sauce.” Hill prepares it at her El Paseo eatery with cranberries, pistachios, and a whisper of vanilla. sweetbasilpd.com
Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge, Palm Springs
“I call my desserts ‘glorified homemade desserts,’ ” says Eight4Nine co-owner and pastry director Albert Gonzalez. This deconstructed take on the campfire classic spotlights brûléed housemade marshmallows, topped with locally sourced Brandini Toffee and served with chocolate ganache, ground graham cracker, and mixed berries tossed in honey. “You pick up the marshmallow with a fondue pick, dip it in the chocolate, and roll it in the graham crackers,” Gonzalez says. “It’s rustic but elevated.” eight4nine.com
Lavender Bistro, La Quinta
“Our homemade apple tart is one of our most requested desserts on the menu,” says Lavender Bistro marketing manager Renee Woodward. It’s baked to order with paper-thin slices of organic apples tossed in cinnamon and served with velvety frangipane (an almond cream laced with vanilla). A swirl of gooey caramel sauce adorns the plate, and a scoop of rum raisin ice cream goes right on top, adding a creamy component as it melts into the fresh-baked tart. “It is a serious delight of sweet and savory,” Woodward gushes. “Everything you could ever want in a dessert.” lavenderbistro.com
Secret Menu Soufflé
Wally’s Desert Turtle, Rancho Mirage
If you can’t decide between the eight decadent soufflé flavors on offer at Wally’s, owner Madalyn Botello suggests ordering off the “secret menu”: Select any two varieties, and pastry chef Darcy Mass will split yours in half. Thanks to the fluffy structure of the egg whites, two flavors can bake side by side in the same dish yet remain totally separate for optimal taste-tasting and enjoyment. Botello recommends chocolate and Grand Marnier, the restaurant’s original and most popular options. The former gets a tableside ganache drizzle and the latter crème anglaise; order it half-and-half, and you’ll get both. wallysdesertturtle.com
Café des Beaux-Arts, Palm Desert
“The Tarte Tatin was a little bit of an accident,” Café des Beaux-Arts owner Didier Bloch explains of the classic French recipe that dates back to the 1880s. The Tatin sisters, who owned a hotel in the French countryside, attempted to bake an apple pie for their guests but forgot the crust. In a pinch, they topped it with puff pastry and inverted the pan. “It’s absolutely delicious because the sugar caramelizes on the apples,” Bloch says. At his Parisian-influenced café on El Paseo, generous slices of the buttery tart are presented à la mode with vanilla bean ice cream. cafedesbeauxarts.com
Tu Madres Cantina, Indio
These aren’t your typical county fair confections. “Our churros are filled with cajeta, which is basically a delicious Mexican caramel made from goat milk. [They’re] rolled in cinnamon and sugar and served with fresh berries and a rich chocolate ganache,” says chef and owner Andie Hubka. “The combination of caramel and chocolate together make these so special. When I think of Mexican street food, I always think about some of the best churros I’ve ever had, and these are about as close as you can get. You can’t eat just one!” tumadrescantina.com
Lulu California Bistro, Palm Springs
Restaurateur Jerry Keller and his late wife, Barbara, traveled often to New York. “Several times a year,” Keller reminisces. “We had dinner at the Four Seasons off Park Avenue, and my wife noticed they were walking around with cotton candy for dessert.” That sparked the idea to bring the playful sweet to their downtown Palm Springs hot spot. “It’s a fun, upbeat, and light dessert,” Keller says. “It brings people back to their youth.” lulupalmsprings.com
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