Dessert Trends in Chicago: Sweet Changes Come to the Windy City

Dessert trends in Chicago include delicate macarons, puffy beignets, craft cupcakes and more.

Chicago is known for its culinary delights and delicious desserts are definitely a part of that reputation.

In fact, the windy city boasts the only pastry school in the country: the French Pastry School located in the City Colleges of Chicago. Headed by co-founder and chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, the French Pastry school has become world-renowned for all things pastry.

According to Pfeiffer, if you want to eat like a local in Chicago beignets—puffs of dough and powdered sugar—and doughnuts are among the latest trends. Also, according to Pfeiffer, dessert carts are back.

“At The French Pastry School, we teach a sold out three-day, hands-on course that is solely dedicated to these fried breakfast delicacies; beignets, fritters, Mexican churros and the like,” said Pfeiffer.

 He also says the most sophisticated plated desserts at the top hotels and restaurants throughout the city offer twists on traditions such as s’mores and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Chefs also are Introducing and combining traditions and elements from other countries (fusion pastry desserts), particularly Japanese and Asian flavors.

Fusion dessert at the French Pastry School

Pfeiffer knows his subject. In 1995 Pfeiffer and Sébastien Canonne founded The French Pastry School, an institution devoted to superior education and imparting excellence. By mentoring and inspiring students, the school shapes those who are passionate about their pastry.

Sophie Evanoff is a graduate of the French Pastry School and an award winning pastry chef in her own right. Since 2002, Vanille Patisserie specialize in authentic French pastries such as delicate macaroons, whimsical Cubs cupcakes, elaborate wedding cakes and tasty tea cakes. Owned and operated by Evanoff, Vanille is one of the places to be in Chicago for sheer artistry and taste in pastries.

“Chicagoans like high quality ingredients—an array of different flavors and textures, and of course beautiful, since we all eat with our eyes first,” said Evanoff.

Staffed with a team of classically trained pastry chefs, Vanille Patisserie offers its entire line of artisanal desserts and pastries, including delicious entremets (mousse cakes), luscious tarts, handmade chocolates and candies, the ever-popular French macarons and freshly baked croissants in its Patisseries (French Pastry) shops and through retailers. Although the patisserie can be located anywhere, Evanoff says she always chooses Chicago.

“Chicago is by far the best city in the states,” said Evanoff.  “We have the Midwestern values, and it is such a melting pot of cultures that all appreciate quality pastries. It is one of the top foodie towns!”

Vanille also offers highly acclaimed French-style macarons, as well as carefully crafted handmade chocolates and French candies through the online boutique and design custom wedding cakes, favors and other cakes and dessert creations in the three Chicago stores.

Cupcakes arranged in a to-go box

Molly’s Cupcakes started out with a bang in Chicago, even garnering a win on Cupcake Wars the Food Network during the show's first season.

“We like to think we create more trends than we follow,” said manager Gina Kirberg.

Indeed, Molly’s offers a Crème Brulee cupcake with a cracked sugar topping and a center filled cupcake with chocolate and peanut butter in the center. The company bakes its cupcakes from scratch in small batches every day and throughout the day. You can create-your-own cupcakes or visit the Sprinkle Station to decorate your own. Molly’s has two locations in Chicago as well as franchises.

At Bar Toma, visitors will find their desserts set beautifully inside 14-16 ounce mason jars packed with delicacies like the banana crème nutter butter crunch.

“It’s a fun vehicle and part of the casualness of our concept,” said Tony Bisciglia, operating partner.

Indeed, when not providing delicious desserts, Bar Toma also features award-winning wood-fired pizzas, specialty cocktails and a craft beer selection from James Beard award-winning Chef, Tony Mantuano.  The menu is authentic and familiar, making it unique with fresh ingredients and perfectly fired pizzas.

Not to be outdone,  iconic Eli’s Cheesecake is more delicious than ever, offering bite size chocolate enrobed cheesecakes named “cuties,” gift boxed for party hostesses. Founder Eli Schulman believed baking was an art. So when he created the very first Eli’s Cheesecake as the signature dessert for his award-winning restaurant, Eli’s the Place for Steak, a legend for 39 years, his customers proclaimed it Chicago’s finest.

Eli's cheesecake on a plate

Jane Bokun
About the author