Andrew Coppolino's six unusual desserts you have to try

Food columnist Andrew breaks down 6 unusual post-dinner snacks, plus where you can find them in Kitchener-Waterloo.

From British 'chess' pies to chewy rice-based treats

Black sesame parfait from Waterloo's Sugar Marmalade. (Andrew Coppolino)

People love sweets. Whether it's a sugar-laden soda, a piece of candy or chocolate, or even just a creamy double-double coffee, we often do have a sweet tooth.

Following a meal at a restaurant, North Americans especially look forward to a sweet course; a rich carbohydrate finale to dinner that satisfies and completes the experience—if it doesn't send you into a hyperglycemic moment.

Enjoying sugar dessert is not a universal experience, however. Many people consider sweets at a meal's conclusion to be unnecessary and even frivolous. In fact, they are a cultural phenomenon that has been embraced in many places in the world but not all. 

Centuries ago, sugar and other sweeteners were scarce and expensive, so sweet desserts were only for the rich. Today, sugar is ubiquitous and desserts have become ingrained in Canadian dining culture. 

So, here are a few desserts, some familiar and some not, which might change your perspective on dinner's last course.

Kishk al-omaraa - Naranj Middle Eastern Cuisine

Open on Waterloo's Erb Street near Ira Needles Boulevard for only a few months now, Naranj creates this elegant and rich Syrian dessert of light and creamy milk flan and strands of cotton candy, rose water and pistachios.

Chess pie, Crumb Bakehouse - Lancaster Smokehouse

Yes, pie is a conventional comfort food dessert, but "chess pie" is a little known southern U.S. classic that is in the Lanc's barbecue wheelhouse.

The pie is British, but its name's origin is debatable: is it a mispronunciation of "cheese pie" or a corruption or linguistic hiccough related to old kitchen equipment where pies were stored, the "pie chest"?

Crumb Bakehouse operator Martha Clare says ingredients can vary but usually include milk, vanilla, sugar, butter, salt, cornmeal and eggs. 

"Not all chess pies include vinegar, but I think it's important to cut the sweetness, and cornmeal is traditional as the stabilizer," Clare says. "It has a surprising depth of flavour, and it usually surprises people, considering the simplicity of the ingredients."

Kalamansi - Langdon Hall

Kishk al-omaraa; Waterloo's Naranj makes this rich Syrian dessert out of milk flan, cotton candy, rose water and pistachios. (Andrew Coppolino)

Executive chef Jason Bangerter explores ingredients from around the world, even though the restaurant grows many of them on the hotel property.

"Winter is the season for tropical fruits and preserved Ontario gems," Bangerter says. "It's always nice to have a citrus tart or lemon meringue-style dessert this time of year, and we always try to go a little further when developing menus and ingredient research," says Bangerter. 

Bangerter says fresh cream, vanilla and toasted coconut combine well with the Philippine citrus kalamansi. "It's an aromatic citrus with more of an orange-lime flavor than your standard lemon," he adds.

Sticky buns - Café Pyrus

The unusual element here is the vegan baking process, so that means no butter or cream. The buns are organic sugar, local flour, and real vanilla.

"They've become super-popular and are made the old-fashioned way, by hand and from scratch," according to Café Pyrus owner Tyzun James.

Black sesame parfait - Sugar Marmalade

 Most of us have had parfaits but likely not with sesame ice cream. Located near the University of Waterloo, Sugar Marmalade's black sesame parfait is made with a base layer of flaked cereal on which is placed layers of whipped cream, mango sauce, vanilla ice cream, a layer of Cheerio-shaped cereal and then mango pieces. 

All of that is topped with a scoop of black sesame ice cream and a garnish of Oreo cookie crumbs along with jaunty "Pocky" biscuit sticks. It's a fun dessert and tasty too—and one befitting of the chain's claim to creating "innovative fusion desserts."

Black glutinous rice - ZenQ

Rice is not usually associated with a dessert (it also make an appearance at breakfast as congee in many eastern cultures). A small venue near University of Waterloo, part of a Taiwanese dessert chain, ZenQ features "grass jellies," and tapioca- and yam-based dishes that create chewy textures (denoted by the "Q") not usually familiar to the North American palate. 

Black glutinous rice is combined with red beans, brown sugar, some water and small lychee-like fruit in this warm dessert. It's not too, too sweet with its balance of savoury flavours.

This black glutinous rice, can be found at ZenQ near the University of Waterloo (Amdew Coppolino)


Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

CBC-KW food columnist Andrew Coppolino is author of Farm to Table (Swan Parade Press) and co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare (Greenwood Press). He is the 2022 Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence at the Stratford Chefs School. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewcoppolino.