Nostalgia has been a major driver in food trends for several years, according to Melissa Trimmer, corporate chef and senior manager at Otis Spunkmeyer, via a 2019 story in Food Business News. However, 2020’s unique circumstances really put the quest for nostalgic foods beyond the tipping point. Take, for example, these old-school foods that have made a comeback during the pandemic. "Following a year dominated by COVID-19, it’s no surprise 2021 tastes are trending toward traditional comforting flavors," food industry consultant and influencer, Kerry, stated in its preface to its 2021 Taste Charts report.
That’s why we weren’t exactly surprised to learn that all of these previously discontinued foods are suddenly back on store shelves. Nor were we surprised to observe that all but one of those re-continued foods is sweet, as opposed to savory. When times are tough, we, as a culture, tend to add sugar (via Food Navigator). We’re not complaining. In fact, we’re kinda psyched because as much as we’ve loved obsessing over sourdough, the fact is, it doesn’t really make a great dessert. Unless, of course, you use it to upgrade your bread pudding, as we discovered the Pioneer Woman does.
Of course, that discovery led us to this recipe for ridiculously delicious bread pudding that makes genius use of cherries and pecans, which in turn led to our quest to discover all the best desserts we’d never heard of. Read on to see what you’ve been missing.
Cherry pecan bread pudding
Bread pudding has been turning leftover bread into hearty comfort food since the middle ages (via Schenectady Daily Gazette). Today, bread pudding — as a theme with endless possible variations — has become so ubiquitous, it’s remarkable we never came across this particular recipe. Fortunately, our paths crossed with recipe developer Kate Shungu, who has a passion for creating novel variations on vintage recipes. Her recipe for cherry pecan bread pudding with a caramel sauce is surprisingly easy to prepare, goes incredibly with vanilla ice cream, and transitions to brunch with nary a thought — although for brunch, you might consider skipping the ice cream (notice we said might).
Black Forest cake
Black Forest cake is a traditional German dessert that was named, presumably, for Germany’s Black Forest region, where cherries and cherry brandy frequently make their appearance in the local cuisine (via What’s Cooking America). If you’re fortunate enough to have had a taste of American diner culture between the 1960s and the 1980s, then you actually may already be familiar with Black Forest Cake, which often appeared beside mile-high cream pies in the diner dessert display case. If not, take it from us: you need to discover this whipped-cream-frosted cake-version of the chocolate-covered cherry. Consider this recipe your gateway.
As an ice cream flavor, strawberry has always lagged behind chocolate and vanilla in terms of popularity (via YouGov). As a pie flavor, it’s almost never seen without rhubarb or other berries. As a cake, it’s almost never seen … at all. One notable exception, however, is the fresh strawberries-and-sour-cream cake that this incredible recipe yields. It’s a natural for summer’s fresh strawberry abundance, but it works equally well with frozen strawberries (as long as the strawberries were super-ripe when frozen).
No- bake banana pudding
Banana pudding is a Southern classic whose name offers little to no information about what it actually is. It’s got bananas, but also so much more. The "pudding" is classically custard and then there are the Nilla wafers, which don’t even earn a mention, possibly owing to the fact that they are, if we’re being frank, one of lamest cookies you can buy in the grocery store. But when you put those Nillas together with sweetened condensed milk, cream cheese, and banana-flavored pudding mix as this brilliant recipe for no-bake banana pudding does, it all finally starts to make sense.
Why are bananas always in such a hurry to grow up? One minute they’re green, the next, they’re too ripe for even banana bread. But you know what a banana is never too ripe for? This moist and tender, deeply banana-flavored cream cheese-frosting-topped banana cake. If you’ve got four ripe or even over-ripe bananas, including that bunch that you peeled and then squirreled away in your freezer for a moment just like this, you could be just an hour away from a dessert you never knew existed and which you never knew you needed … until now.
3-ingredient Nutella brownies
One of the untold truths about Nutella (besides the fact that it’s pronounced NOO-tella) is that, odds are, if you don’t find a way to bake with it, you’re just going to end up eating it anyway … right out of the jar with a big ole spoon. In that sense, couldn’t it be said that baking with Nutella is the healthy choice? And even more so when you’re combining it with a rich source of protein such as eggs, as you do when putting together this nothing-short-of-miraculous 3-ingredient brownie recipe?
3-ingredient Nutella cookies
These three-ingredient Nutella cookies are a perfect example of what a difference a single egg can make when it comes to baking. Our 3-ingredient Nutella brownies are a wonder consisting of Nutella, flour, and two eggs. These cookies use just one egg, and that’s pretty much the whole difference — except for the fact that the cookies take only half as long as the brownies to bake. With the extra 12 or so minutes that you save, feel free to prep small scoops of vanilla ice cream for smooshing between the cookies after they cool.
Nutella and cookie butter are among the more well-known dessert "spreads." There’s also cinnamon bun spread, which Trader Joe’s debuted in the fall of 2020. But there is another dessert spread that we think everyone should be talking about: lemon curd. It’s creamy and smooth like a dessert spread should be, but instead of relying on non-stop sweetness, it boasts the tang of lemon. And this recipe for lemon curd is not only truly spectacular, it’s also unexpectedly easy.
No-bake peppermint pie
No-bake desserts are a revelation, especially in summer when, honestly, who really wants to be inside baking? Maybe that’s why so many no-bake desserts have a summery vibe (think ice cream cake, strawberry shortcake, and smoothies). But what about those times when you’re craving a Christmas-y, wintery dessert but just "can’t" with the baking? That’s where this no-bake peppermint pie comes in. Wonderfully simple, it will make you look like a baking star, but you’ll know you only used seven ingredients and never opened the oven, and that will make it so much sweeter.
Anna Pavlova was the first ballerina to tour ballet around the world, according to Biography. And it is she who the light and airy merengue-based dessert, Pavlova, is named for. Baked in a barely-hot oven (250 degrees Fahrenheit) and allowed to cool in place for at least as long, Pavlova is lightly toasted on the outside and incomparably tender below the surface. It’s traditionally topped with fruit and cream, but you can feel free to get as creative as you want (for example, top with a layer of lemon curd for a novel version of lemon merengue pie).
Ambrosia may have come into being as the food of the mythical Greek gods, but it is now equally synonymous with classic Southern comfort-cooking. In fact, if you’re from the South, you may actually have heard of ambrosia. You just might not have understood exactly what it is, which we’re here to tell you is a creamy, tangy take on fruit salad that traditionally includes tropical fruits such as pineapple, mandarin oranges, and shredded coconut. The tang comes from sour cream, as you’ll see in this ridiculously easy and entirely flexible recipe.
You might actually have heard of sopapillas if you’re from the state of New Mexico, whose Department of Cultural Affairs says that it is the place of origin for this kruller-like dessert that many incorrectly assume is Mexican. If you haven’t, it’s high time you tried these fluffy, deep-fried pastries that are meant to be dusted with cinnamon and sugar. This recipe for sopapillas can be served at any temperature, but we’re not gonna lie: we can’t imagine a better way to serve the Southwest’s answer to the same-ole doughnut than fresh out of the deep fryer and topped with drizzle of honey or pure maple syrup.
Sure, you could look at nachos as a crunchy, savory, jalapeno-studded melted-cheese tortilla-chip delivery vehicle. But there’s absolutely no reason, whether culinary or cultural (seeing as they’re not traditional to any one country and were basically invented for the sole purpose of allowing Americans to stuff their faces, via Fox News), that you can’t rejigger them into a decadent homemade dessert. In this recipe for dessert nachos, we outline how to turn them into a sundae-like concoction, but you can also feel free to use your imagination to come up with other combinations.
A little-known dessert with Middle Eastern origins, Maamoul is a semolina-based shortbread cookie with a hint of a floral note (thanks to the addition of rosewater or orange blossom water) and which is stuffed with some combination of dried fruit (especially dates) and nuts (especially walnuts and/or pistachios). Jewish people tend to eat maamoul at Purim, Muslims, at Ramadan, and Christians during Lent (via NPR). "The secret to a great maamoul is a good recipe," according to Sawsan Abu Farha, a Palestinian-Jordanian food blogger known as "Chef in Disguise" (via NPR). Here’s the recipe she prefers.