The Tantalizing Desserts Clevelanders Should be Saving Room for This Year 

click to enlarge Diet buster: Annabella Andricks and her salted-caramel cheesecake.

Photo by Karin McKenna

Diet buster: Annabella Andricks and her salted-caramel cheesecake.

When the beloved Diner on Clifton was reborn as Dinerbar on Clifton a few hundred feet down the road, the owner set aside some prime interior real estate for sweets. Located by the register, sunk into the horseshoe bar, is an illuminated display case that shines a light on some of Cleveland's most delectable desserts. Inside are the tantalizing treats of pastry chef Annabella Andricks, who has a knack for twisting every day into a cheat day.

The glass-fronted display case taunts guests with giant swirled Ho-Hos, rainbow-colored "funfetti" cakes, and caramel cookie crunch cakes, but it's the mile-high salted caramel cheesecakes that make mincemeat of good intentions. As if a fat slice of creamy cheesecake wasn't enough to send one running for the stretchy pants, these wedges come topped with cheesecake snowballs.

"It starts off with making a crust out of vanilla cookies instead of your typical graham crackers," Andricks says of the confection. "It adds a bit more sweetness to the dessert, which is needed because the cheesecake itself is a combination of mascarpone and cream cheese only slightly sweetened. It's finished off with a heavy pour of salted caramel."

But what about those BIG BALLS OF CHEESECAKE?!

"Because, well, why not?" of course.

Pie fans have a new best friend thanks to Rood Food and Pie, which finally opened its doors in the West Madison district of Lakewood. In addition to sitting down to enjoy a slice of sage- scented pumpkin pie with a hot cup of coffee, dessert lovers can take home the whole damn pie as long as you call 48 hours ahead of time. And when you do, consider ditching the pumpkin pie in favor of the Salt and Honey.

"We start with an all-butter crust that gets filled with a wild-flower custard made with brown butter," says pastry chef Katie Ruthsatz, with little regard for the appetite on the other end of the line. "After it's baked, we top it with large crystals of Maldon sea salt, which adds a slight textural crunch, but also a nice fresh, salty finish."

At the table, guests are presented with a small vial of bee pollen to sprinkle on top of the pie before eating.

"It adds a nice earthy, nutty flavor that helps cut some of the sweetness," she notes.

Folks who manage to not eat everything on chef Jill Vedaa's small-plate menu at Salt in Lakewood are in luck because Ange Lupica has been waiting for them. Her thoughtful, seasonal, highly composed creations are the flawless finial to a magical meal. For bitter-sweet chocolate fans, there's only one way to go: Chocolate Crush.

"I wanted to make something that was decadent, dark and rich," Lupica says of the artfully arranged plate. "I like the idea of a tea party: petite fours that are basically little bites of cake and truffle. You'll get a nice sweet, salty and nutty flavor from the hazelnut brittle that cuts through the bitter chocolate. The cocoa toile is a crispy shard people have said reminds them of the dark baked edges of a brownie."

The dark and delicate squares are set against a cocoa and olive oil emulsion that is fruity, punchy and bright, and a Vietnamese chicory coffee-flavored custard.

"You can't beat the classic of chocolate and coffee," she says. "Mine is just a few twists and a slightly darker side of chocolate."

As nostalgically delicious as apple pie might be, the homespun words don't exactly jump off the page. On a menu, the classic American meal-capper is often sidestepped in favor of chocolate anything. But the way pastry chef Abby Stout describes the version served at Flour Italian Restaurant, you'd likely push your granny out of the way to grab a slice.

"The crust is a classic flaky, home-style crust," says Stout, easing a diner into it. "The crust is built around chopped Granny Smith and Honey Crisp apples that are dry-rubbed in a combination of fall spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. The entire pie is then coated in a slightly salted orange-caramel sauce that essentially candies the flaky crust in the baking process."

Sorry, we stopped listening after "candy crust."

The candy-crusted (!) pie is served warm in a cast iron skillet, topped with miso-caramel ice cream, and garnished with chopped candied pecans.

"The salty yet sweet balance of the miso-honey caramel ice cream both accents and complements the natural sweetness of the apples and orange caramel," adds Stout. "The candied pecan acts as a nice conclusion to the salty-meets-sweet theme of this dessert."

Andrew Hoch was going for a "true taste of fall" when he devised his pear and fig frangipane tart for this season's menu at Spice Kitchen and Bar. The inspiration, says the pastry chef, was a bumper crop of delicious Ohio pears, an underrated fruit if ever there was one.

"The tart shell is basically a sable cookie, a rich vanilla, crumbly cookie crust," he explains. "The filling is an almond frangipane, a slightly dense almond cake, and there's a bottom layer of black mission figs pureed with red wine and orange juice."

But the highlight, he says, are the pears.

"Typically the move would be to poach them in wine or honey or something like that, but I just wanted it to taste like a really good pear, so I vacuum seal them in pear juice and sous vide them. We send it out with some honey goat-creme fraiche for a bright and creamy tang, a dusting of powdered sugar, and some toasted slivered almonds along the outer edge."

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