by ANN M. COLFORD & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen we tackled the subject of comfort food recently, virtually every restaurant we visited offered some kind of seasonally inspired dessert. Which got me thinking: Just what are the characteristics of a comfort-food dessert, anyway? (Plus, here's a great excuse to eat more dessert!)
For me, a comforting fall dessert begins with seasonal flavors: pumpkin, apple, pear and spices like ginger and cinnamon. Of course, like any good rule, this one has a few notable exceptions -- mostly involving warm chocolate. The best desserts are served warm, often contrasted with a cool topping. They're rich, with the kind of satisfying mouth-feel that only comes from copious quantities of fat -- an evolutionary craving as we head into winter. They have a marvelous aroma. And they tweak the nostalgic center of happy memories.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & t the top of the list for me is the PUMPKIN BREAD PUDDING at Latah Bistro. This isn't like your standard French-toast-in-a-casserole bread pudding. No. David Blaine's creation is more like a cr & egrave;me brulee with chunks of bread mixed in. The bread soaks up the pumpkin custard, and it all merges together into a warm, sweet dish with an indescribably delightful moist texture and the flavors of fresh-baked pumpkin pie. A light sprinkling of sugar caramelizes on top, lending that familiar brulee-style crunch, and it's crowned with cinnamon whipped cream and a drizzle of Yukon Jack.
Yow, baby. That's my idea of comfort.
At Wild Sage, it's an individual GINGERBREAD BUNDT CAKE, served with ginger-vanilla bean ice cream and garnished with bits of candied ginger and pineapple in a light syrup. The cake is dense and not super-sweet, and the bits of ginger in the ice cream and on the plate give it a spicy zing.
While technically not a dessert, the PUMPKIN GINGERBREAD FRENCH TOAST at Chaps combines two great fall flavors and textures to deliver a blast of comfort. Squares of pumpkin gingerbread are dipped in an eggy French toast batter, grilled up and served with maple syrup and a sweet confectionary butter topping. It makes a substantial breakfast or a decadent dessert.
Sticking with the theme of bread and fruit, Luna's APPLE WALNUT CINNAMON BREAD PUDDING is more traditional than its cousin down the hill, but it's still delicious. Two chunks -- perfect for splitting -- are served warm with a dollop of whipped cream. Luna always has a bread pudding on the dessert menu, but the flavors vary with availability.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & peaking of fall tree fruits, the flavors of apple and pear tap into those fall memories of crisp air with a tinge of wood smoke. The APPLE CRISP at the Palm Court Grill is a classic take on the theme, especially when served at one of the fireside tables in the Davenport's lobby. Slices of apple are piled into a ramekin along with brown sugar, flour, butter and a touch of oatmeal, then served warm with vanilla ice cream. The plate is garnished with more soft apple slices and a swirl of caramel -- all the flavors of a caramel apple in an easy-to-eat form.
At Caf & eacute; Marron in Browne's Addition, Chef Jeff Busch and company have been playing with apple desserts this fall, and they've hit upon an APPLE CRUMBLE recipe that's a hit. Slices of tart apples blend with raisins and a crunchy brown sugar mix that comes topped with a petite scoop of vanilla ice cream. "We like to have something rich without filling you up," Busch says.
Peaches may not be a fall fruit, but the Southern-style PEACH COBBLER at Vin Rouge delivers a powerful (and filling) dose of comfort on a chilly evening. Served warm in a soup bowl, the peach slices merge with a simple but satisfying blend of flour, butter and brown sugar, and a contrasting scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Another flavor that's good for fall is peanut butter -- and if you can combine it with chocolate, you've got a hit. One great version is the PEANUT BUTTER PIE at Picabu Bistro. Creamy peanut butter custard comes in a graham cracker-crumb crust, then it's spread with a layer of chocolate ganache and a sprinkle of chopped peanuts. This dessert is on the menu all year long, but the creamy richness is just right for fall.
Of course, chocolate is always a comfort, regardless of season -- and warm chocolate can deliver visions of heaven. Case in point: the IRON SKILLET CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE at Catacombs. You may know about their S'mores dessert, which comes with a firepot for marshmallow toasting, but the cookies are a staff favorite. An individual chocolate chip cookie gets baked to order in a personal-sized cast iron skillet and comes warm to the table with a scoop of vanilla on top. The chocolate chips melt into the dark, soft cookie dough until it conjures up memories of coming home from grade school to a plate of fresh-baked cookies -- and a safe sanctuary away from the world. If only for a moment, it's a great place to go back to.