Kids’ Desserts Gone Gourmet

Updated renditions of childhood treats that’ll satisfy the gastronomic cravings of your inner child.

Kids’ Desserts Gone Gourment


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Updated renditions of childhood treats that’ll satisfy the gastronomic cravings of your inner child.


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Kids’ Desserts All Grown Up


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A twist on Twinkies, a Sendup of S’mores, a Parody of PB&J—Well, You Get The Sweet Idea.


By Julia Bonar


Let’s face it—our inner child is spoiled rotten. We’re
a generation  that drops big bucks on eBay for vintage Barbies and G.I. Joes, we surf TV Land for the Brady Bunch re-runs, and we even re-collect the lunch boxes that our mothers forced on us as kids (forgetting in our nostalgic haze that the thermoses always smelled of sour milk). It’s a zeitgeist thing, the phenomenon that marketers call “buying your youth.”


Nowhere is this more evident than at dessert, where yesterday’s trend toward comfort food has meandered into the real soul-stirring stuff—grown-up takes on kiddie treats.


Now we’re eating the stuff of our youth, though in a winking, decidedly upscale way. Grownups who once guzzled Fanta Orange are now sipping yuzu-ginger “adult sodas.” Ten-dollar pink- and baby-blue cupcakes are the dessert craze of the moment. And serious chefs are rethinking the oeuvre of Drake’s. That’s right—as in Ring Dings.

And while panna cotta with tiny fraise des bois is all very fine, sometimes what you really want is a back-of-the-box Rice Krispie treat—served in the finest setting, of course.


Is your inner five-year-old throwing a tantrum? Well, give the little beggar what he needs. What follows are Westchester’s best grown-up places to spoil your inner child.


The Dish:  The Tavern S’Mores Kit: a brown bag containing a Hershey bar, graham crackers, and marshmallows (complete with a pointed stick), to take to any of Tavern’s three massive fireplaces (or the outdoor firepit).

The Inspiration:  Cub Scout S’mores 

The Chef:  Peter Kielec

The Restaurant:  Tavern at Highlands Country Club, 955 Route 9D, Garrison (845) 424-3254,

The Reason:  “I was in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts growing up, and I just love them. It’s actually easier to cook the marshmallows in the fireplace, because you can really control the perfect marshmallow doneness—you don’t have the wind blowing or the fire going out. The marshmallows have to be just right for it all to work.”


The Dish:  Tre Americano, a trio of “airs” (or, for the less romantic, foams): peanut butter and lingonberry jelly, milk-and-pistachio/chocolate-chip biscotti, and fresh strawberries and cream.

The Inspiration:  Childhood Favorite Afterschool  Snacks

The Chef:  David DiBari

The Restaurant:  Zuppa,

59 Main St., Yonkers

(914) 376-6500,

The Reason:  According to Chef DiBari, “We wanted to call the dish ‘Dolce di Bambini,’ until someone who spoke Italian told us the phrase didn’t make any sense. We really wanted to give people a taste of their childhood.”


The Dish:  The Giant Ring Ding: Valrhona chocolate cake with whipped-cream filling

The Inspiration:  Drake’s Ring Ding

The Chef:  Matthew Karp

The Restaurant:  Plates,

121 Myrtle Blvd.

, Larchmont (914) 834-1244, 

The Reason:  A veteran of serious kitchens like Bouley and Restaurant Daniel, Chef Karp hasn’t had a Ring Ding since his days in short pants, but he’s pleased when his customers tell him that his version is close to the original. “That dish is almost classical—the cake is moist and chocolaty, and the whipped cream works as the counterpoint. The icing is snappably crisp—it gives you the textural contrast.” Indeed. Crack open the hard chocolate shell (snack trainspotters will note that the icing is closer to the squiggled disc on a Hostess Cup Cake), and the dense cake parts to reveal a stark white center of whipped cream.  It’s the perfect foil for the nearly black Valrhona chocolate cake. The dish’s black-white, yin-yang perfection has not gone unnoticed by Chef Karp’s regulars. “We could never take it off the menu,” he sighs. “There’d be riots.” Or maybe not—Chef Karp recently fixed the Hostess Twinkie in his sights.


The Dish:  RK’s Banana Split: a tower of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream with caramelized banana, banana-walnut bread, caramelized walnuts, and Valrhona chocolate sauce.

The Inspiration:  The Ice Cream Parlor Banana Split

The Chef:  Pastry Chef Briana Pennell 

The Restaurant:  RK an American Brasserie,

22 Elm Place, Rye


The Reason: “It’s an elegant, contemporary take on a classic banana split,” says Pennell. While RK’s high-style modern design might be intimidating to the casual diner, its menu couldn’t be more egalitarian—potato chips, onion rings, shared plates—and at the end of the meal, not petits-fours but cookies.  In fact, tony RK even offers a kids’ menu.


The Dish:  Malted Milk Ball and Brownie Sundae: Crème Cremaillere malt ball ice cream, brownies, whipped cream, caramel, and chocolate sauces.

The Inspiration:  Whoppers Malted Milk Balls

The Chef:  Chef Craig Cupani

The Restaurant:  Lia’s,

202 E. Hartsdale Ave.

, Hartsdale (914) 725-8400

The Reason:  Chef Cupani, who opened Lia’s with his wife Imre (Lia is their daughter’s name), cooked at both Patroon and Tabla before moving to Westchester. Confident in his chefly position, he makes no bones about his inspiration: “I loved Whoppers as a kid. I still do!”


The Dish:  Chocolate Fudge Bar with Rice Krispie Treat and Rum Raisin Gelato

The Inspiration:  Back-of-the-Box Rice Krispie Treats

The Chef:  Executive Pastry Chef James Distefano

The Restaurant:  Harvest-on-Hudson,

1 River St., Hastings

-on Hudson, (914) 478-2800,

The Reason:  While Chef Distefano’s desserts are certainly playful, none of them are back- of-the-box material. His C.V. is peppered with gigs at top Manhattan restaurants, including Park Avenue Café and davidburke & donatella, where he was the restaurant’s opening Executive Pastry Chef. When asked why he uses a back-of-the-box Rice Krispie Treat in his incredible chocolate fudge bar/rum-raisin ice cream dessert, Chef Distefano responds, “Well, I’ve been working with cereal for a while—Coco Puffs, Corn Pops, Rice Krispies.” And it’s true, he’s become known for it—his cereal desserts have been featured in David Hoffman’s book, The Breakfast Cereal Gourmet, along with such luminaries as Rick Bayless and Caprial Pence, and he’s been profiled on the Food Network’s Unwrapped. His recipe for the book? The “Cereal Killer”—a Kellogg’s Corn Pops “treat” with caramelized peaches, Corn Pop nougat, crème anglaise, and blueberry sorbet. 


The Dish:  Victory Root Beer Float with house-made caramel ice cream and caramel sauce

The Inspiration:  Diner Egg Creams and Root Beer Floats

The Chef:  Executive Chef Dan Petrilli

The Restaurant:  Frodo’s,

472 Bedford Rd.

, Pleasantville (914) 747-4646,

The Reason:  “We wanted to do something accessible to Baby Boomers like me. When I was at Gramercy Tavern, we had Victory root beer on tap.  When I opened up out here, I put in a Victory tap—it was just a natural decision. It’s really popular with adults.”  Why Victory? “It has a nice spicy-sweet flavor; it’s a lot more complex than other root beers. We tried Saranac, we liked Abita—but it doesn’t come in kegs. We really liked the Victory, and we wanted it on tap.”


The Dish:  Zeph’s “Flying Saucer,” house-made black peppermint ice cream between chocolate wafers

The Inspiration:  Carvel Flying Saucer

The Chef:  Vicky Zeph

The Restaurant:  Zeph’s,

638 Central Ave., Peekskill


The Reason:  When Chef Vicky Zeph was cooking in France (she’s cooked at several Michelin three-star restaurants under Michel Guérard—yes, that Michel Guérard), they called the phenomenon “grandmother food.”  She recalls, “A chef would come in with some humble dish, some stew with big chunks of potatoes or something, and everyone in the kitchen would come around and rave about it. Then they’d rework the dish to make it appropriate for the restaurant, give it a fancy presentation, but taking the original idea from their grandmothers.” She’s doing the same thing at Zeph’s, although in a distinctly American way. “We always used to get ice cream sandwiches at Carvel,” she remembers. “They were good! This was way before it became packed with transfats and God knows what. At one point, it was really ice cream.”

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