Dessert doesn’t get more traditional than American pie—unless you’ve ordered cherpumple, which stacks layers of apple, cherry, and pumpkin pies within a spice cake that’s sealed in cream cheese frosting. An L.A. humorist invented it in 2009, and a year later, a Philadelphia bakery introduced the similar 1,880-calorie-per-slice Pumpple Cake.
These after-dinner sweets were no afterthought. Chefs increasingly push the boundaries of what qualifies as dessert, experimenting with savory, spicy ingredients and radical presentations. Other strange desserts draw on centuries-old, culturally specific recipes that can require days of preparation work.
The kitchen staff at Istanbul’s five-star Ciragan Palace Hotel—an elaborate compound that the last sultans called home—needs 72-hour notice to prepare the $1,000 Sultan’s Golden Cake. The process includes the infusion of rare French Polynesian vanilla, a topping of caramelized black truffles, and a coating of 24-karat edible gold flakes.
At the other end of the price scale, you’ll find ais kacang, sold in food courts across Malaysia and Singapore. Made from shaved ice mixed with red beans, lychee fruit, and green grass jelly, and topped with evaporated milk, this dessert requires an adventurous palate. David Hogan Jr., who manages the Malaysia Asia blog, is a fan: “To me, it’s awesome, but some of my foreign friends could not understand it at all,” he shares. “It’s the green jelly that would most probably scare you as it looks like green worms.”
Other strange desserts get their wow factor from chefs who take a mad-scientist approach—using liquid nitrogen, for instance—or who employ theatrical flair. Chicago-based chef Grant Achatz of the restaurant Alinea has earned a reputation for dishes that defy the ordinary. Imagine a server swirling spoonfuls of red lingonberry syrup and yellow butternut directly on your tabletop, followed by drops of sweet stout reduction, before smashing bowling-size chocolate balls like piñatas.
“The idea of plating on an entire table surface was something we thought of before Alinea opened,” he says. “We wanted to go beyond the limitations of the plate in an effort to maximize the scale of the presentation.”
Here are more desserts that go beyond the limits of the familiar, with strange and often delectable results.