As Instagram-fueled dessert crazes continue to invade our feeds (and mouths) with highly photogenic — and sometimes over-the-top — creations, we're taking a look back in honor of National Dessert Day (October 14) at the game-changers (and the knock-offs they inspired) that forever changed the way we think about sweets.
Cronut® from Dominique Ansel Bakery
We start our sweet stroll down memory lane with a legend, a croissant-donut hybrid developed by celebrated pastry chef Dominique Ansel in 2013 as a special item for Mother’s Day. The inaugural rose vanilla Cronut® instantly rose to fame via the food blogosphere and in the coming months hundreds would form early morning lines outside Ansel’s NYC bakery in SoHo. His creation spurred a number of copycats as well as a larger hybrid craze, including the arrival of the ramen burger in NYC.
On the subject of iconic hybrid pastries, we’d be remiss if we did not mention the cruffin, a cream-filled croissant-muffin popularized by San Francisco–based Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. The bakery’s signature neon sign and creative pastries quickly drew a loyal following and inspired many variations.
Artisanal ice cream from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
A pioneer in the artisanal ice cream trend characterized by thoughtfully sourced, high-quality ingredients and unique flavor combinations, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (which began in Columbus, Ohio) continues to churn out a seasonally changing menu of ice cream flavors made with ingredients sourced from regional producers. Other notable scoop shops contributing to this growing trend include Portland, Oregon–based Salt & Straw (co-founded by Tyler Malek, on Zagat’s 30 Under 30 National list), San Francisco’s Humphry Slocombe (known for its ever-popular secret breakfast flavor) and NYC’s Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, which makes vegan ice creams in addition to classic milk- and cream-based flavors.
Donuts from Voodoo Doughnut
Founded by longtime friends Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson and Tres Shannon, this quirky donut shop that originated in Portland, Oregon, became known for its unique (and sometimes raunchy) creations and paved the way for more gourmet and creative takes. These include modern favorites like sugar-coated “hot fresh” and glazed “fancy” donuts from Michael Solomonov’s Federal Donuts in Philly; handmade, seasonal donuts at Glazed & Confuzed in Aurora, Colorado; and a well-known A-shaped cream-filled donut and other creative takes at Atlanta’s Sublime Doughnuts.
Cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery
When Magnolia Bakery first came to NYC’s West Village in 1996, it had no intention of creating a cupcake craze. But all it took was a cameo on Sex and the City to thrust the dessert into a whole new viral phase of its existence. With the craze came cupcakes big — like those of the now-defunct Crumbs Bake Shop — and small, plus cupcake ATMs dispensing artisanal treats from Beverly Hills–based Sprinkles Cupcakes and many more.
Cereal milk soft serve from Milk Bar
Chef Christina Tosi took the humble soft serve to the next level with one of her most famous innovations, cereal milk soft serve (ice cream that tastes like the best part of your morning cereal). Imitations and more creative, elevated takes on the nostalgic treat added to the trend, including gourmet dairy dips at Mister Dips in Brooklyn and signature creations with creative toppings like the Salty Pimp and Bea Arthur at NYC favorite Big Gay Ice Cream Shop.
Crazy Shakes from Black Tap
Black Tap was a humble SoHo burger shop in NYC that quietly served up top-notch patties for years. This all changed upon opening its Meatpacking location in 2015, where it began playing around with desserts. A BuzzFeed story in early 2016 on the appropriately named, over-the-top milkshakes with frosting rims and toppings like cotton candy, lollipops and whole slices of cake brought Instagram fame and a wave of fans hungry to photograph these gravity-defying creations. The burger bar has since expanded, slinging its shakes at multiple locations around the city, and inspired spin-offs with their own unique combinations, including a Fruity Pebbles–rimmed tutti frutti shake made with locally sourced ice cream at Nashville newcomer The Mockingbird.
Macarons from Ladurée
This iconic French patisserie was influential in popularizing the modern macaron (or macaron parisien) consisting of two delicate meringue cookies sandwiching a smooth flavored filling. Since their arrival and popularization stateside, American twists on the French classic have emerged, with modern flavor combinations and designs including fruity cereal and cotton candy varieties from Dana’s Bakery at NYC’s Gansevoort Market.
Ice cream sandwiches from Coolhaus
Co-founders Natasha Case and Freya Estreller made gourmet ice cream sandwiches all the rage after selling them out of a refurbished postal van at Coachella. Soon they had trucks in NYC, Austin and LA, and Coolhaus became one of the first social media–driven food truck concepts that would later influence dozens of others. Coolhaus continues to experiment with sweet and savory flavor combinations, sandwiching seasonal flavors like avocado sea salt and campfire s’mores between a variety of cookies. Launderette in Austin serves a popular birthday cake ice cream sandwich during dinner service, and NYC’s OddFellows Ice Cream Co. has created the OddPocket: an ice cream sandwich consisting of toasted brioche, a scoop of ice cream and toppings.
Butterscotch budino from Pizzeria Mozza
James Beard Award–winning pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez’ butterscotch budino featuring chilled caramel pudding topped with warm caramel sauce, whipped cream and a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt (plus rosemary pine nut cookies on the side) is an iconic Los Angeles dessert. Others took inspiration from Narvaez’ creation, including Gjelina in Venice, which serves a butterscotch pot de crème.