The Retro Dessert Style Michael Voltaggio Wants To Bring Back - Exclusive

Hardcore "Top Chef" fans will remember when, in 2009, Michael Voltaggio impressed judges with a deconstructed Ceasar salad. Thank the culinary gods he wasn't tasked with deconstructing dessert, or he might not have won the season. Suffice it to say, it's doubtful he'd go after a deconstructed sweet on a restaurant menu if given a choice. "It's a lot harder to get the perfect bite [for these kinds of desserts]," he recently reflected to Tasting Table in an exclusive interview. But, give Voltaggio an elevated pudding or dirt cup, on the other hand, and you're speaking his language. 

"Build[ing] something in a container ... it's a dessert hack that people are getting away from ... [but] one that shouldn't necessarily go away," he advocated. As proof of passion, he and his older brother, Bryan Voltaggio, created a high-end version of the dirt cup for their most recent venture, "Retro," in Los Vegas. There, he told us, they "make a really rich chocolate pudding — which was the day of the J pudding cup — then, they freeze a "cookie butter [made] out of ground-up Oreos," break that into a layer and top it with a sweetened shot of crême fraiche frozen with liquid nitrogen, "making sort of a frozen, rocky sorbet."  Voltaggio says old-school layered desserts like that will give you the "perfect bite" — and you don't need liquid nitrogen to make one at home.

Michael Voltaggio's DIY tiramisu in a cup

Not a born-again pastry chef? Not to worry; the next time you want to wow friends and family, leave the cake-baking tools put away in favor of single-serve cups for a simple but impressive layered dessert. "You can still get the same wow factor of baking an individual cake ... by using softer ingredients and building them in layers inside your favorite vessel," the chef assured us.

Don't sweat the small stuff. You can create a decadent, layered dessert without crafting each ingredient by hand. Take, for example, Voltaggio's hack for a quick tiramisu. You shouldn't make a chocolate pudding from scratch, Voltaggio says. And just between us, this recipe would work with a great store-bought chocolate pudding too. Chill that in individual coffee cups in your fridge, and top it with a "sweetened, whipped mascarpone." Then, finish the cups with store-bought ladyfingers "that you soak in a coffee syrup." They look extra elegant in a clear glass, and each bite has the full range of flavors and textures one would want from a full-scale tiramisu, with half the effort.