The 10 Greatest Desserts of All Time Unveiled
We’ve tickled our appetites with the starters, we’ve enjoyed our main courses so much that we pocketed the cutlery, and now it’s time to bring the house down. To trot onstage for a final bow, to incite the ovation, to finally break a leg. The desserts are in, and below you’ll find them listed from tenth best, to the greatest of all time.
Shout outs to the ones that missed by a whisker: churros, rice pudding, sorbet, jelly, crème brulee, treacle tart, Wall’s Viennetta, fruit salad, Jamaican Ginger Cake, and, seriously, a jenga pile of Snickers ice creams.
10. Apple Pie – some would argue that Mr Kipling got this bang on with the small ones. Couple of those in the microwave, scoop or two of disturbingly yellow ice cream. But if you want to enjoy a slightly hoitier-toitier experience, you can go for all manner of strudels (Austria), cobblers (America), or tarte tatins (La France). Or if it’s an even cheaper version you’re after, there’s always our old pal the crumble, which became the hot ticket during the dastardly Hitler years on account of no one having the patience nor cash to fork out on expensive pastry anymore. Interestingly, in parts of Kipling’s native Yorkshire they’re known to put a slice of cheese on top of their apple pies. Those absolute maniacs.
9. Yoghurt – it’s rarely an option on household menus, but if you could get a Ski yogurt from the 1980s, preferably the one with the orange bits in it, that’d be a delightful way to end a meal. Nowadays, you’re probably wiser to go for one of the modern brands like Activia. Perhaps the peach one, that’s nice.
8. Baklava – as anyone with a serviceable knowledge of the Ottoman Empire knows, these were a huge deal in Constantinople. Was it the layered filo pastry, was it the nuts, the honey? Was it because the Sultan made everyone eat them at his outrageous dinner parties? Doesn’t matter because like a fine wine, they’re still with us. Word has it that the Greek version is made up of exactly 33 layers of pastry to represent each year of Christ’s life, which feels like a very strange thing to do with a dessert. You just want a bite of honey, they’re pushing Jesus on you.
7. Knickerbocker Glory – this elaborate treat needed to cross the pond to find its audience. Because it wasn’t the socialites at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Manhattan wolfing these down by the glassful, it was pot-bellied Brits on their way back from some end-of-pier entertainment – couple of laughs from a racist comic, spot of ballroom dancing, a drunk rendition of Dinah, Dinah, Show us Your Leg – looking for some affordable decadence. Enter ice cream, squirty cream, chocolate/strawberry sauce, and a cherry on top. Plus, of course, there’s the comically long spoon for added banter.
6. Lemon Meringue Pie – the history books will tell you that these hit the mainstream in 1869. The same year that witnessed two more notable births – that of the legendary Russian mystic Rasputin, and also of Sainsbury’s, the popular supermarket, which opened its first outlet on Drury Lane. And now look at us, walking into Sainsbury’s sporting huge Rasputin beards to pick up lemon meringue pies. What a life.
5. Syrup Sponge and Custard – a Concerto in Egg Major, with a cluster of eggs used in the sponge, then a bundle more for the custard. Again, we’re not appealing to a gourmand’s palate here, the sponge can be boiled in a tin then doused in cold custard for all we care. Because wherever it is on the spectrum of sophistication, a sponge and custard never fails.
4. Tiramisu – the band Jefferson Airplane were a huge part of the counterculture movement of the 1960s, but it was only when they morphed into Starship in the 1980s that they went truly stratospheric, and you could argue a similar trajectory for tiramisu – it also made its first public appearance in the mid-60s, it also didn’t hit global status until the 80s. Question is, like Starship, had it lost its edge by then, changed formation, donned shoulder pads, let its hair get really really stupid? No it had not, it’d stayed completely true to its roots as a coffee-flavoured dessert with drenched ladyfingers (stop it). To be honest, the comparison is a flimsy one.
3. Sticky Toffee Pudding – dried fruit, generous spicing, this appears to be cut from the same cheese cloth as that traditional consensus-splitter, the Christmas Pudding (this one featuring dates, that one featuring figs), though it’s far less likely to divide the room. It’s not as sickly, there’s no talk of medieval ingredients like suet, and your insane granddad isn’t dousing the fucker in brandy and bursting it into flames. Just have it off a pub menu with a scoop of vanilla, then get yourself outside for a nice fag. You’ve earned it.
2. Black Forest Gateau – German food gets a bad rap, but perhaps that’s because people haven’t tried a great finkenwerder speckscholle lately, or tucked into a nice big plate of käsespätzle for a while. One thing you can’t argue with though, is the big-hitting nature of the Black Forest Gateau, which takes chocolate, whipped cream, and cherries and fashions them into a pudding fit for Ludwig II of Bavaria. And frankly, if it’s good enough for Ludwig, we’ll all take a slice, thanks.
1. Cheesecake – the first ever cheesecake recipe can be found in Forme of Cury, a cookery book from the 1300s (kind of The Return of the Naked Chef for the Late Middle Ages). In that recipe it’s all curds and whey, dried elderflowers and rosewater, but we’re not after any of that. We want something modern and artsy that incorporates sweet cream cheese, a buttery digestive biscuit as the base, and something fruity on top. Done correctly (not baked, definitely not baked), this is the greatest dessert in the history of the universe. To the point where even those shitty frozen ones from the freezer at Londis have their place.