As Condé Nast Traveler’s No. 1 U.S. city four years in a row, Charleston has become a culinary capital in the South. Food is done right in Charleston, and dessert is no exception. Here are 15 Chucktown desserts that you need in your life asap.
1. Coconut Cake from Peninsula Grill
This towering twelve layer cake is only the most iconic dessert in Charleston. It alternates golden coconut milk pound cake with coconut buttercream filling. Each cake is 12 pounds, with 10 sticks of butter and 12 slices. Yes, you read that right. Almost one stick of butter per glorious one pound slice of coconut cake. This is the richest, most indulgently delicious cake you will ever eat. It will turn coconut haters into coconut worshippers. Don’t trust me? Just ask Bobby Flay, Martha Stewart, The Today Show, The New York Times, or Bon Appétit if they thought it was the bomb.com. In fact, Bobby Flay calls Peninsula Grill’s showstopper his “all-time favorite dessert.”
2. Pralines from Market Street Sweets
You know you’re guilty of snagging a million free samples since your freshman year. These things are the most addictive little southern sweet treats. And if you time it just right, you can even get ‘em hot, which just takes them into the realm of ridonculous.
3. Nutella & Toasted Marshmallow Frozen Custard from Persimmon Cafe
I think the name of this dessert speaks for itself — it’s a chocolate hazelnut frozen treat adorned with perfectly brûléed marshmallows. Stop by this little neighborhood gem attached to a laundromat for a hand-spun custard creation.
4. Tollhouse Pie from Kaminsky’s
Ah yes, Kaminsky’s. The perfect place for when you’re feeling like dessert needs to be an experience— because why pick up dessert when you can treat it like an entire meal? Try the Tollhouse pie, which the staff says is by far the most popular dessert on their menu. It’s a pecan chocolate chip filling in a pie shell, served warm with hot fudge, caramel, and whipped cream. This dessert is the best of chocolate chip cookies and pecan pie combined. Sit down for table service and enjoy your slice. And maybe a dessert cocktail or two.
5. Honey Lemon Olive Oil Chia Seed Sundae from Parlor Deluxe
Parlor Deluxe is a Charleston newcomer serving up some killer sundaes (in addition to their gourmet hot dogs and tater tots). This little sundae creation? Honey lemon olive oil ice cream with lemon chia seed curd. I highly recommend topping it with salty white chocolate bark for some crunch. The lemon, olive oil, and saltiness work perfectly together to ensure that you gain your freshman 15 right.
6. Red Velvet Cupcakes from Cupcake DownSouth
What more do you want out of life than a red velvet cupcake with a Mount Everest cream cheese swirl? These cupcakes are the real deal. I may be a loyal Baked&Wired slash Georgetown Cupcake girl, but these give Washington, D.C. cupcakes a run for their money. Plus, red velvet just tastes better in the South, right? These cupcakes are truly pure Southern decadence.
7. Brown Butter Almond Brittle Ice Cream from Jeni’s
Brown butter: the holiest of substances. Put it in ice cream? With almond brittle? Top it with some extra-bitter hot fudge sauce? And a waffle cone fortune cookie? Oh Jeni, I’ll walk all the way up King Street for you any day, even in winter. Also, Jeni’s, please please please bring back the gravel. Those cookie crumbs are necessary for full enjoyment.
8. Canelé from Christophe Artisan Chocolatier-Pâtissier
Feeling French, my fellow francophiles? Hop on over to Society Street for some French classics. If you’re in the mood to make a good life decision, get a canelé. A specialty of the Bordeaux region of France, a canelé is a small rum cake with a dark, caramelized exterior and a soft custard center. Canelés are not overly sweet, and addictively good. You can thank me later.
9. Snickers Bar from Bakehouse
Snickers candy meets bakery meets your mouth in 0.5 seconds. This baby has layers of brownie, peanut nougat, caramel, and chocolate ganache. In the words of the great Ina Garten, “How bad can that be?”
10. Crunchberry Ice Cream Sandwich from Wich Cream?
We all know the cereal milk trend à la Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar. But how do we take our cereal milk in Charleston? In ice cream sandwich form, of course. The Cap’n Crunch Crunch Berries infused ice cream is sandwiched between two chocolate wafers. You can find these Charleston-made frozen treats at the Marion Square Farmers Market, Second Sunday, Mercantile and Mash, and Caviar & Bananas.
11. Chocolate Pudding from Hominy Grill
Chocolate pudding: it sounds so simple, but Hominy Grill does it better than you’ve ever had before. It’s actually Alton Brown’s favorite thing he’s ever had with chocolate— and that food genius knows what’s up. This ain’t no Jell-O or Snack Pack puddin’. I found Hominy Grill’s pudding more reminiscent of the flavor of a ganache truffle. It’s made with high quality Callebaut dark chocolate from Belgium and bourbon-soaked vanilla beans mixed with egg yolks, sugar, and heavy cream. That’s it, and I guarantee you it’s the best chocolate pudding you’ll ever have.
12. S’mores Brownie from Brown’s Court Bakery
Graham cracker crust + rich, fudgy brownie + toasted marshmallows = happy CofC students. This local bakery is a must-visit. They also have amazing bread, breakfast pastries, and coffee, but I’ll save my enthusiasm for their baguettes for another post. Why break out your kitchen torch to make these brownies at home when you could enjoy Brown Court’s version on their piazza? Because what’s more Charleston than a piazza?
13. Cola Cake from Jestine’s Sweet Shop
Cola cake is a Southern favorite. To be honest, as a soda-hater, I was skeptical of the sheet cake at first, but now I’m a firm believer in the power of a good cola cake. Jestine’s is a rich chocolate cake with pecans and incredible chocolate frosting. You can’t really taste the cola, but it lends itself to an incredibly tender texture. This cake is probably one of the moistest I’ve ever had. Try a slice and you’ll be hooked for life. It’s dangerous stuff, y’all.
14. Sea is for Caramel Chocolate Bar from Sweeteeth Chocolate
Sweeteeth is a handmade artisanal chocolate company straight outta Charleston. Their fleur de sel sea salt caramel chocolate bars are to die for. If you’re a salty sweet and dark chocolate fan, this is for you. The liquid salty caramel oozes out after your first bite, and you even get the added punch of fleur de sel that’s sprinkled on the bottom of the bar. They’re certainly the most tempting things in Caviar & Bananas when you’re waiting in the checkout line. Pick up one (or ten) the next time you’re there.
15. Vanilla Blueberry Cupcakes from Sugar Bakeshop
Tell me those sugared bluebs don’t make you swoon. The quintessential vanilla cupcake, but improved with sugar-rolled blueberries. It’s everything you want in vanilla cake and vanilla frosting. Sugar Bakeshop is without a doubt one of the cutest bakeries in Charleston, proudly displaying the most charming cake pedestals filled with various tempting cupcake flavors. The vanilla blueberry is their most popular flavor, and for good reason. These cupcakes are even painted on the side of the bakery’s building.