World's Strangest Desserts
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.
Nitrogen Ice Cream: Manila
While NASA has long been flash-freezing meals for its astronauts, only a few daring restaurants have explored the new frontier of molecular gastronomy. One such pioneer, Zenses Neo-Shanghai Cuisine at Manila’s A. Venue Mall, serves a “Nitro” ice cream: fresh cream batter frozen in front of guests with fast-acting liquid nitrogen. The ice cream comes in unusual flavors like rose, lavender, and osmanthus as well as a simulated “bacon and eggs.” Check out our slideshow of the World’s Strangest Ice Cream for more eyebrow-raising flavors worldwide.
Dark Chocolate: Chicago
Don’t be fooled by its modest name—ordering this dessert at the restaurant Alinea treats you to a full-on performance. A server swirls spoonfuls of red lingonberry syrup and yellow butternut directly on the tabletop followed by drops of sweet stout reduction and ultimately smashes bowling-size chocolate balls like piñatas (captured in this Alinea video clip). “Chef de Cuisine Matt Chasseur came up with the concept to involve the element of surprise and sound with the ball breaking on the table,” says chef and owner Grant Achatz. The restaurant is famous for such one-of-a-kind dishes, including the Winter Scene dessert that, according to Achatz, “uses birch bark and Douglas fir as a serving piece and replicates the aesthetics of a snowy winter in New Hampshire.” It contains peppermint snow, compressed persimmon, honey gelée, cranberry pudding, and anise hyssop.
Cherpumple: Los Angeles
First came the turducken: a chicken stuffed inside a duck that is subsequently stuffed into a turkey and baked together to spruce up Thanksgiving dinner. Then, in 2009, it inspired L.A.-based humorist Charles Phoenix to create the cherpumple, which layers three classic American pies—apple, cherry, and pumpkin—using cream cheese frosting to seal each layer. The pies are then all baked inside a massive spice cake, making for an impressive-looking tower of baked goodness. A year later, Philadelphia’s Flying Monkey bakery made headlines for its own stuffed dessert: the Pumpple Cake, which layers apple and pumpkin pie, slathered in buttercream frosting, at 1,800 calories per slice.
Sultan’s Golden Cake: Istanbul
The five-star Ciragan Palace Hotel—an elaborate compound that the empire’s last sultans called home—serves an appropriately decadent dessert of figs, apricots, quince, and pear that have marinated in Jamaican rum for at least two years. It takes 72 hours to prepare this dish once requested, a process that includes the infusion of rare French Polynesian vanilla, a topping of caramelized black truffles, and a coating of 24-karat edible gold flakes. The cake, which looks more like a bar of gold by this point, is served in a sterling-silver box with a gold seal.
Deep-Fried Candy Bars: Scotland
The concept of frying candy bars is rumored to have started in Scotland with the frying of battered Mars chocolate bars back in 1995. These deep-fried candies have since become a widespread snack served at Scottish fast-food stores, often with a side of fries. If you’re interested in trying this at home, there are online recipes for pairing your preferred candy bar (Snickers? Twix? Butterfinger?) with flour-based batter and firing up the deep-fryer.
Green Dysentery: Taipei
Taipei’s cringe-inducing Modern Toilet restaurant delivers your meal in toilet-shaped bowls, and its dropping-like desserts are especially on theme. The ingredients aren’t as strange as the names, which go for the shock factor: if you can stomach it, try the “green dysentery,” a shaved ice–based dessert topped with kiwi fruit sauce, or a bloody-looking version colored red from strawberries.
English Breakfast Dessert: Dublin
Dublin-based food blogger and cook Vicky McDonald of stasty.com came up with this sugary-sweet take on the classic full English breakfast. She used caramelized peanut-butter sponge cake to represent sausages, white chocolate biscuits floating in orange-strawberry coulis to stand in for baked beans, and panna cotta with a lemon curd center for the fried eggs. McDonald spent days developing these ingenious replicas of breakfast staples, rounding out the plate with hash browns of brioche coated with panko breadcrumbs and a black pudding consisting of a simple chocolate biscuit cake rolled in removable rice paper.
Ais Kacang: Malaysia and Singapore
Shaved ice is gussied up with red beans, sweet corn, lychee fruit, green grass jelly, and evaporated milk, giving this sundae a colorful tie-dyed effect. It’s popular in Malaysia and Singapore (look for it at Maxwell Road Hawker Centre in Singapore’s Chinatown). While the base remains shaved ice and red beans, it can often be customized with ingredients as varied as palm seeds, stinky durian fruit, and a red gelatin called agar. “They also pour strawberry syrup and even condensed or evaporated milk over the top before serving,” adds David Hogan Jr. of the Malaysia Asia blog. If all this sounds a little too strange, consider starting with another local shaved-ice specialty, cendol, made with green noodles drenched in coconut milk and brown palm sugar.
Devil’s Tres Leches: Los Angeles
While spicy desserts such as chile-flavored chocolate have been around for a while, Mexican fusion restaurant Chego takes the trend to a fiery new level. To make its Devil’s Tres Leches, the restaurant soaks rich devil’s food cake in cinnamon-infused, cayenne pepper–flavored evaporated milk and adds tapioca pudding and spicy peanut brittle. Chego also sells the Sriracha Bar, a crispy chocolate-coated-rice base layered with caramel, a chili-sauce ganache, spicy candied peanuts, and dark chocolate.
Tavuk Göğsü: Turkey
Tastes like chicken? This traditional Turkish dessert is in fact made with the meat, though you’d hardly know it. Finely minced, poached chicken breast is sweetened by a mix of rice, milk, sugar, flour, and butter, then dusted with a generous serving of cinnamon and garnished with almonds. During the Ottoman Empire, the pudding-like concoction was served as a delicacy to sultans at Topkapi Palace. Look for the dessert at modern-day Istanbul joints like Özkonak.
Golden Opulence Sundae: New York City
Serependity3 earned itself a Guinness World Record for this $1,000 behemoth of a sundae that features one of the world’s most expensive chocolate syrups ornamented with edible gold–coated almonds and gold shavings, and topped with—what else?—caviar. According to Executive Chef Joe Calderone, Golden Opulence was created to celebrate Serendipity’s 50th anniversary in September 2004. For $25,000, you can upgrade to its Frozen Haute Chocolate, made with 28 cocoa flavors and 23-karat edible gold presented in a golden goblet.