Playful puddings: reinventing children's desserts from Hong Kong to LA

From ice cream sundaes to s'mores, the nostalgic dessert trend will bring out your inner child around the world.

By Heather Taylor
Published 8 Apr 2019, 23:42 BST, Updated 30 Jul 2021, 10:15 BST
Passion fruit marshmallow s'mores at Flesh & Buns

Passion fruit marshmallow s'mores at Flesh & Buns.

Photograph by Giulia Verdinelli

The basics

Outside London's Milk Train, customers perform a juggling act: phone in one hand, candy floss-wrapped ice cream in the other. It's a similar story at Blondies Kitchen, the capital's first milk-and-cookies bar, where snapping the gooey cookies and miniature milk bottles is all part of the experience. This new wave of American-style children's desserts is served up with a healthy dollop of nostalgia, and is social media-friendly to boot. Happy Endings, a pop-up at London food markets and festivals, makes Instagrammable ice cream sandwiches designed 'to be eaten with your hands with childish abandon'. Naked Dough's tubs of cookie dough are less photogenic, but evoke memories of licking the bowl. Even high-class establishments are getting in on the act: at Fortnum & Mason, The Parlour is a sundae bar where the pastel interiors match the handmade ice creams, while Gordon Ramsay's new restaurant, Heddon Street Kitchen, has a DIY ice cream bar. Meanwhile, at Japanese izakaya restaurant Flesh & Buns, diners can melt their own passion fruit marshmallow s'mores  — an American campfire classic.

The history

The playful dessert trend can be traced the US, which is perhaps why so many of them riff on American sweets, rather than our own childhood treats. Christina Tosi blazed a trail with her Milk Bar bakery and dessert restaurants — the first of which opened in New York in 2008. Her funfetti-flecked truffles and cereal milk soft-serve ice cream are the stuff of confectionary legend. But it's not just the US we're looking to; Japanese desserts have found their way to the UK, too, as have versions of Hong Kong's bubble waffle, and Thai rolled ice cream.

Find out more

Baker and blogger Edd Kimber's YouTube series Cookie Chronicles is a guide to the all-American biscuit, while Stella Parks' recipe book, Bravetart: Iconic American Desserts, includes recipes for s'mores and peanut butter cups.

Four top dessert destinations around the world

1. Lee Keung Kee, Hong Kong
Serves up some of the city's best bubble-shaped waffles.

2. Dandelion Chocolate, San Francisco
Pick up s'mores for grown-ups at this small-batch chocolate producer.

3. Totti Candy Factory, Tokyo
Find huge, fluffy rainbows of candy floss in Harajuku.

4. Milk Bar, Los Angeles
The new LA branch is the holy grail for the sweet-toothed. Make the pilgrimage for birthday cake truffles and crack pie.

Published in Issue 3 of National Geographic Traveller Food


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