Baking Hacks: Reinvent Iconic American Desserts

Let’s face it: not everyone’s a pastry chef. Not everyone knows how to construct the elegant millefeuille, the iconic french pastry with layers of airy, delicate pastry sheets.

For personal and private chefs focused on savory dishes, desserts are often an afterthought. Go to treats, like brownies, cookies, and simple sheet cakes, are well loved by many and run little risk of culinary disaster. But they also can be expected, bland, and, at worse, deter from an otherwise expertly executed and unique meal.

The good news? Not everyone has to be a pastry chef, or even go to elaborate dessert recipes to execute a memorable dessert. With these tips, chefs can elevate ordinary American classics to something elegant and worthy of an occasion.


No one really knows how brownies came to be so popular in the United States, but it’s likely that the first brownie recipe was without chocolate-what we would consider a blondie today. In any case, the chocolate brownie now reigns supreme. But boxed mixes tend to be bland, and even brownies from scratch can be less presentation worthy.

How to Transform

One way is to start with a classic recipe and add a twist. Dark chocolate ganache, matcha glaze, or salted caramel sauce add an elegant, sleek presentation and enhance the complexity of the desert. You can also opt to change something in the batter itself: cheesecake swirls, cherry cordial brownies, and layered mint brownies all are an innovative touch. On the wilder side, brownies, especially dark chocolate brownies, pair well with booze: try Bailey’s inspired, or these boozy brownies that pair a salted caramel rum sauce.

Suit it Up

Brownies, from the classic to the daring, pair well with vanilla ice cream, Boston cream frosting, fudge frosting, and a smattering of fresh, bright strawberries of raspberries, for a more organic touch.


Chocolate Chip Cookies

The average American reportedly consumes an outstanding 19,000 cookies in his or her lifetime. And while there are thousands upon thousands of cookie varieties, no recipe is quite as loved in the United States as chocolate chip cookies.

Loved as they are, most chefs probably don’t get excited at thought of them-chocolate chip cookies are hardly gourmet, and, even fresh from the oven, they are messy, and usually one note in flavor.

How to Transform

Trade milk chocolate chips for dark chocolate, or consider using multiple types of high quality chocolate in your cookies. If opting for white chocolate, avoid overly sweet cookies by pairing with a more savory flavor, like pistachios. Add unexpected fillings for a salty touch: caramel pretzel, or coconut and walnut are two options. If you want to retain the chocolate chip cookie flavor but want to offer something more presentation worthy, also consider tuxedo cookies, or a hybrid dessert, like these chocolate chip cookie bites with fudge frosting.

Suit it Up

Of course, nothing beats a tall glass of cold milk, but for a refined take, consider chocolate shavings, something fresh, like a sprig of mint, or something bright, like a raspberry coulis on the side.

Devil’s Food Cake

In some ways, it’s already elevated, at least from the basic chocolate cake most kids eat at birthday parties. Devil’s Food cake, done correctly, is rich, moist, and dark in color.

But it can also be dry, on the bland side, and, at least, a bit tired, especially paired with a basic milk chocolate frosting.

How to Transform

Go with a Filling: Subtle is better, but it also needs to pair well the chocolate and stand apart from it. Fresh raspberry, Irish Cream mousse, or a simple dolce de leche work well. For a variation on frosting, consider chocolate rum frosting, mocha icing (make sure to add espresso to the cake batter itself), or spice things up with a Mexican chocolate frosting. In the batter, add ins for a fruit-cake inspired feel include brandied fruit and nuts, as well as marchioro cherries and pistachios.

Suit it Up

Add a spiked or regular whipped cream, a side of elegantly plated ice cream, ribboned fruit glaze, or add texture by topping with crushed nuts, coconut, or mint sprigs.

Some of the most iconic desserts are iconic for a reason, but with a little innovation, personal and private chefs can also make them unforgettable.


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