Cooking

The Sweets Sixteen

Tasting Table's best dessert recipes go head to head
Photo: Tasting Table
Boozy Popsicles

Welcome to March Madness, the annual celebration of sweaty, chiseled humans and random basketball betting. I've never had a bracket of my own, nor do I intend to—I once created a football fantasy team by selecting players solely based on their names—but I do feel qualified to judge desserts. So let the games begin.

First up: battle of the Bundt cakes. Our Samoas-inspired Bundt cake faced off against Nigella Lawson's five-spice cider Bundt cake. Both have a gooey, lick-the-pan-with-abandon caramel sauce, but Lawson's version won me over with its fall spices and smoked salt. Besides, I'm more of a Tagalong fan.

Next came the chocolate cakes. Sometimes basic is better, like Emily Luchetti's classic chocolate layer cake. But in a high-stakes dessert tournament such as this, peppery spices and avocado frosting took the cake.

When the two winners were pitted against each other, the Bundt cake, with its niche pan shape, emerged victorious. Lawson's alluring British accent might have also had something to do with it.

Moving on to the green/healthy desserts. We call our matcha gingerbread cookies the only cookie swap treat you'll ever need, and that's no lie. Their versatility (and Kermit-like color) gave them the W over our equally tasty green juice and pulp muffins.

Though both make an excellent breakfast, I'm not big on warm peaches—and think they should be enjoyed only in August—so our Aleppo- and sumac-spiced fruit salad came out on top for the fruity desserts.

And when it came down to fruit vs. cookies, I think you can guess how that went.

Pie was one of the tougher decisions. Even when I thought the boozy margarita curd couldn't be beat, the lemon verbena pie's puffy meringue ultimately returned the rebound with a winning three-pointer.

For the ice pops, refreshing and boozy weren't enough to land these pineapple-cilantro treats a spot in the Elite Eight. When we tested this chocolate-cherry recipe last summer, I took down no less than five just for the crunchy topping alone.

It's fun to feel dangerous eating hemp seeds, which is why frozen pops beat out the pie.

In a shocking upset for the cookie conference, Jacques Torres's giant chocolate chip cookies didn't advance to the next round. The underdog, peanut butter cookies, swept in with their lambic jam and crumbly edges to take the win.

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Maybe it was the half-Jewish part of me rearing its yarmulke, but I was all in on the sufganiyot, complete with a warm fudge dipping sauce, for the fried dough category. The opponent, cinnamon roll-stuffed doughnuts, were a bit much even for me—someone who actively eats ice cream for breakfast.

Nonetheless, the peanut butter cookies kept the momentum going over our favorite fried dough, advancing to the Final Four.

In the end, both cookies eked out the competition to make it to the championship round, which, if anything, just says something about my dessert preferences. Matcha won, though, because cookie swaps and almond flour are always relevant.

This is a great alternative activity if you're not on board the college basketball train. I tried to watch a few games last week, and my heartbeat was elevated way too high for something I cared nothing about. If I'm going to suffer from cardiac arrhythmia, I'd rather it be from eating too much whipped cream.

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