The Next Generation of Portland Dessert Classics

Portland's pastry chefs push the boundaries of sweetness—with help from surprising savory ingredients.

By Karen Brooks February 11, 2015 Published in the February 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

Le Pigeon's Whoopie Pie by pastry chef Nora Antene.

Le Pigeon's Whoopie Pie

Pastry chef Nora Antene throws a few thunderbolts at a cult Amish sweet, making us wonder: why aren’t roasted red peppers in all chocolate desserts?

Building Blocks: Instead of the usual whipped cream, Antene’s soft, super-dark chocolate cookies bracket a cloud of mascarpone cheese—Italy’s sweet thickened cream.

Crushed Hazelnut Praline

Candied Red Pepper "Twizzler": This nabs our Most Inspired Garnish award: a mock licorice stick fashioned from red peppers, charred, dehydrated, candied, then brilliantly twisted. Fooled us!

Chocolate Sauce

Romesco (Spanish red pepper and nut sauce): The improbable moment that vaults this dessert into our hall of fame: dragging a forkful of whoopie pie through chocolate sauce, then landing in a lake of sweet, savory, smoky excitement. This is the wilder side of romesco, with roasted peppers, sure, but also ground-up cinnamon bread ends, caramelized tomato, and creamed sherry. There’s no going back.

Chocolate hazelnut tuile: A crackling, paper-thin cookie hides inside—a Le Pigeon–style “Easter egg.”

Maurice's Chocolate Box

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Maurice's Chocolate Box by chef Kristen Murray.

On top: Some possibilities: toasted, bitter-nutty Woodblock cocoa nibs, or crunchy Valrhona dark chocolate pebbles

Cake: Could be either coffee-scented devil’s food or dark, toasty black sesame seed cake

Chocolate mousse: Lusciousness defined: yolk-rich, two kinds of chocolate, and a tang of crème fraîche

Banana mousse: An intense mix of ripe fruit whipped with cream

Portland’s best-dressed cake: three layers with two different looks—depending on the day, and chef Kristen Murray’s mood. The white box is pure Jay Z: all sleek, calculated cool glazed in cream-colored cocoa butter. The black box is Audrey Hepburn in a party dress, complete with chocolate pearls. 

Castagna's Potato Skin Meringue

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Castagna's Potato Skin Meringue by chef Justin Woodward.

These smoked-sugar meringues look like the last gasp of fall leaves and smell like a campfire in the snow. Crack into always-inventive chef Justin Woodward’s creation to find icy pebbles of buttermilk granita perched over a potato-skin ice cream that revels in malty tones and creamy extremes. It’s a root cellar gone luxurious, a poetic ode to winter, and, in any season, a triumph.

Three Mind-Blowing Thai Desserts at Langbaan

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Langbaan's Yok Manee dessert.

Duck-egg ice cream sundaes

This Bangkok market specialty holds glistening chunks of salted corn, peanuts, caramelized sweet potatoes, strawberries—and a moan or two of well-earned pleasure. 

Yok Manee

Earthy-sensual, coconut-shrouded clusters of herby tapioca, pounded corn, and mashed chestnuts cloaked in the heady whiff and smoke of Thai dessert candles. 

Kanom Mor Gang

Intensely concentrated cashew/pistachio/almond-paste custard tarts adorned with crispy fried shallots, like a miraculous hybrid of pecan pie and Mom’s green bean casserole. Dessert selections change monthly.

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