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Flamboyant as Ever, ’70s-Style Desserts Are Making a Comeback

By Ella QuittnerWhen the New York chef and restaurateur Angie Mar was developing the dessert menu for her new Manhattan restaurant, Le B — where she serves an opulent take on continental cuisine — she wasn’t interested in subtlety. “I always love excess,” says Mar, 41. “And when I think about a ’70s dinner party, I think about excess.” She decided to revive two of the decade’s most popular desserts: the soufflé and the showstopping Black Forest cake. Mar’s riff on the latter — traditionally a chocolate cake layered with kirsch-soaked cherries and whipped cream — pairs oozing, gastrique-infused Bings with fudgy chocolate, a fluffy quenelle of rum-spiked Chantilly cream and a smattering of lacy almond tuiles. Meticulously composed and a little bit weird, the dish wouldn’t look out of place in Salvador Dalí’s 1973 cookbook, “Les Dîners de Gala,” a chronicle of the Surrealist feasts he hosted with Gala Dalí, his wife and muse.

Mar isn’t the only chef revisiting desserts that were last fashionable during the Carter administration. On the opening menu at Mischa in Midtown Manhattan, the single-serving dark forest cakes were ringed with tutus of Oreo-flavored buttercream and topped with trompe l’oeil cherries made from jam with cocoa tuile stems. At New York’s Le Rock, the towering Barbie pink framboise soufflé with lemon-verbena crème anglaise can be spotted at about half of the restaurant’s tables on any given night. And at Claud in the East Village, the chef Joshua Pinsky’s pistachio Bundt is cut on the bias to reveal a pale chartreuse crumb. These dramatic throwbacks feel distinctly suited to contemporary food culture; inherently photogenic, they also satisfy a widespread longing for comfort by way of indulgence. Caroline Schiff, 38, the executive pastry chef at Brooklyn’s Gage & Tollner, says that a decade ago, abstemious diners often asked for sliced fruit in lieu of sugary creations. Today, her customers see the final course as an opportunity to treat themselves. Baked alaska, another elaborate, retro recipe typically consisting of a cake and ice cream bombe covered in blowtorched meringue, is the restaurant’s most frequently ordered dessert.

The 1907s were a time when over-the-top presentation, be it fluting or flambé, wasn’t only celebrated but expected. It was a decade during which entertaining was meant to look arduous, not effortless, and desserts were designed to appear complicated — even if the recipe started with a box of cake mix. Some of the new vintage-inspired desserts also trade on this idea. There’s “an attitude of, ‘I want to see really high-quality labor rendered visually in something I then consume.’ It’s lordly,” says Jen Monroe, 34, whose sculptural food business, Bad Taste, makes intricate gelatin creations like wiggly, translucent blue squares with milky white clouds suspended in their centers. But neither she nor the executive pastry chef Maggie Scales, 43, see this urge for time-consuming craftsmanship as a bad thing. At Herbsaint in New Orleans, Scales’s gleaming, mirror-glazed, mousse-filled version of the Black Forest cake “looks like it took all day,” she says, “and that’s part of the appeal.”

Scales first added the dessert to the menu in 2020, when the restaurant reopened after Covid-19 lockdown. The idea, she says, was to offer her customers solace in the form of a nostalgic sweet. Since then, she’s tried three times to replace the cake with a new variety, but apparently diners are still craving the taste of what seems, in hindsight, like a golden age of fancy desserts. “Within a day of me taking it off the menu, someone will be like, ‘I just loved that Black Forest,’” says Scales. “And I say, ‘OK, OK, I’ll put it back on.’”

Source: The New York Times