24 dream-worthy desserts in Madison

Save room for the grand finale this Valentine's...
24 dream-worthy desserts in Madison
Osteria Papavero.

$ < $10 $$ $11-$15
$$$ $16-$25 $$$$ $26+
(price indicates cost of a dinner entree)
BOM Best of Madison 2015 winner

Sweet dreams are made of Madison’s desserts. This roundup is for those who’d rather take home a portion of the entree to save room for the grand finale. It’s for the shameless hedonist who skips dinner and goes straight for the dessert menu. This list contains confections of the rich and deliciously decadent, along with the fluffy and light. There are gluten-free and vegan options with big flavors and silky textures. So many divine offerings from which to choose, and all dream-worthy.

Baklava, Layla’s Persian Restaurant
141 S. Butler St., 216-4511
Laila Borokhim does not make your mother’s baklava. This Middle Eastern dessert, which means “many leaves” in Farsi, is traditionally served drenched in syrup. At Layla’s, you won’t find it soaked in sweetness. Why overpower the taste of butter, almonds and pistachios dusted in sugar and spices and enclosed in a brittle phyllo pastry? “It just tastes better this way,” Borokhim reasons. Her recipe is more Persian than the traditional Greek version, she says. It’s fitting for the little downstairs restaurant serving up hot dishes of Persian favorites. $

Budino di Caramello, Osteria Papavero
128 E. Wilson St., 255-8376
Owner and chef Francesco Mangano and pastry chef Susan Cesnik have outdone themselves with this one. This butterscotch pudding topped with whipped cream and cocoa powder is simply fantastic. It’s creamy, rich and comforting with the warmth of caramel and cinnamon. If it’s too much after one of Mangano’s hearty meals, ask your server to wrap up this dessert. You’ll thank yourself later. $$

Carrot Cake, Mickey’s Tavern
1524 Williamson St., 251-9964
You don’t typically think of dessert when you take a peek at the local tavern menu. That’s why it’s such a pleasant surprise to find carrot cake at Mickey’s Tavern. It’s worth sticking around for a slice and a cup of joe (or another round). This traditional carrot cake has been a staple for years at Mickey’s. No frills, bangs or whistles–the way it should be, a serious carrot cake lover would tell you. That’s why it’s so good here. The cream cheese frosting doesn’t overwhelm with sweetness; the cinnamon is there as well as the carrots and nuts, together in perfect harmony. $

Chocolate Mousse Infused with Orange Blossom, Chez Nanou
805 Williamson St., 283-4266
If we had to pick a sexiest dessert, this would probably be it. Smooth, rich chocolate is served in a martini glass adorned with a slice of orange and a sprig of mint. This is the long-legged, high-heeled indulgence of the dessert world–the perfect ending to an already lovely night in the intimate French bistro atmosphere of Chez Nanou. $

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake, Rosie’s Coffee Bar & Bakery
4604 Monona Dr., 441-7673
Rosie’s head baker Kara Ardery has created a downright sinful dessert. Upon a bed of cookie crumble sits a thick layer of peanut butter, then a creamy, rich layer of chocolate topped with a luxurious swath of ganache. Please, people, grab a spoon and dig in. This is the kind of dessert that makes your eyes close with the first mouthful. Declare it a “me” day upon treating yourself to one of these after a light lunch. $

Coconut Cream Pie, Green Owl Cafe
1970 Atwood Ave., 285-5290
I don’t have much experience with vegan food, so I’ll admit I was a bit nervous to try the coconut cream pie. What sort of voodoo would be used to make it creamy without the dairy? Cara Moseley, bakery manager, tells me what you’ll find in this little slice of heaven is coconut milk (thickened with a little cornstarch), almond and vanilla extracts and lots and lots of coconut–a snowfall of toasted coconut on top. Voodoo aside, it’s delicious. Wholesome and pure (even for this dairy lover), it tastes like a Good Humor toasted almond ice cream bar. $

Concha, La Concha Bakery & Deli
3054 Fish Hatchery Rd., 276-9263
Who says you can’t have dessert for breakfast once in a while? Grab a pizza-sized metal tray and a pair of tongs and get ready to set your inner child loose among rows of pastries at La Concha. Be sure to select the impressively large clam-shaped concha sweet bread doused in colorful powdered sugar. Bite into this soft, fresh bun that tastes good even the next day dunked in your morning coffee or tea. The menu at La Concha is written in Spanish, but friendly staff is there to help, even if their answer to “What’s the popular item here?” is “Everything!” Because they might be right. $

Doughnuts, a pig in a fur coat
940 Williamson St., 316-3300
Chef Dan Bonanno of a pig in a fur coat pays homage to his Sicilian roots by offering sfingi, orange zest-flecked, ricotta cream-filled doughnuts that he fries in duck fat. They’re served warm, glazed in rich chocolate. Typical of Bonanno’s desserts, these pastry puffs are slightly sweet but also savory thanks to the duck fat. These bites have been on the menu since a pig first opened its doors on Williamson Street in 2012 and are a favorite among guests. $

Gianduja Crunch, Sardine
617 Williamson St., 441-1600
Hazelnut and a bit of crunch and cream–these are the qualities that turn chocolate into an experience at Sardine. The gianduja crunch ganache achieves decadence with a yin and yang of flavors. Push your spoon into the luxurious dark chocolate hazelnut ganache, which will give way to a crunchy feuilletine crust, and then pull it through the caramel sauce. Finish with a crisp bite of hazelnut brittle tuille. Repeat. $ BOM

Godiva Mocha Fudge Fantasy, Quivey’s Grove
6261 Nesbitt Rd., 273-4900
You know how at some places, kids’ menu entrees come with a sundae? Well, at Quivey’s Grove Stable Grill, finish your adult entree and treat yourself to this grown-up ice cream sundae made with coffee ice cream, Godiva chocolate liqueur, hot fudge, nuts and whipped cream. Who says kids have all the fun? Seriously, skip the coffee and have one of these instead. $

Ice Cream, Sujeo
10 N. Livingston St., 630-9400
You know what goes with late-night noodle bowls? Soft-serve ice cream. Well, maybe not everywhere you find those two things, but it certainly works at Tory Miller’s Sujeo. The refreshing finish is the perfect topper to a night of richer indulgences–Miller gets this. That’s why he’s come up with a light, silky dessert in interesting flavors that change weekly, like hickory nut bourbon, chocolate coffee and black sesame. Get a scoop or two in a dish or cone, with the option to twist a couple flavors. $

Macau Egg Custard, Asian Sweet Bakery
1017 S. Park St., 665-3988
Petite pale-yellow pastries etched with light broil markings sit in neat rows under the glass case at this corner bakery on Park Street. This confection is a Portuguese import with an English twist, made famous by Andrew Stow of Lord Stow’s Bakery on the island of Coloane of the Macau Special Administrative Region in China. The custard is only mildly sweet, encased in crust that crumbles beneath your spoon. It’s a nice complement to a dumpling lunch. $

Passion Fruit Parfait, 43 North
108 King St., 255-4343
Wouldn’t you rather be bathing in the island sun right now? Owner Shinji Muramoto gets you there with this tropical dessert. Cubes of tamarind curd–bright yellow and buttery soft–sit upon swirls of bright green sauce. The whole plate is sprinkled with coconut powder. It’s juicy and floral, pleasantly tart and at the same time sweet, so each bite leaves you wanting another. A hint of green citrus comes through at the end–remnants of the cilantro coulis three bites ago! $

Seasonal Cheesecake, Bunky’s Cafe
2425 Atwood Ave., 204-7004
Bunky’s cheesecake delights after a great meal at this Mediterranean-Italian-inspired Atwood Avenue cafe. Pat yourself on the back for leaving room for dessert this time! Pastry chefs Rachid Ouabel and Susie Feest use mascarpone cheese to make the cheesecake’s filling incredibly silky and sweet (not to mention light and fluffy). Cheesecake flavors change with the seasons, but chances are you’ll find the chocolate caramel toffee variety on the menu, made with Belgian chocolate, or perhaps the divine Door County cherry iteration. $ BOM

Seasonal Macarons, MSCo Patisserie
916 Williamson St., 442-8009
This is what you should give your sweetheart. Forget the chocolates, and unless the flowers are candied and edible, forget those, too. Let the professionals at Willy Street’s patisserie fill a box with sugary bliss in flavor combinations like honey lavender, milk chocolate Baileys, chestnut, passion fruit, blood orange or whatever is at the market and whim of pastry chef Arlena Lemley. Anyone who receives a dozen of these colorful, chewy confections will surely be in the mood for celebrating the season of love. $ BOM

Sticky Ginger Cake, Grampa’s Pizzeria
1374 Williamson St., 283-9580
You might expect a dessert with a name that begins with “sticky” to be a bit of a mess. Not the case. This is a little cake, perfect to share, with a golden crust. Inside is a tender crumb with a respectable amount of stickiness, indicating there is sweetness to be lingered over. A generous dollop of fresh lemon cream and candied pieces of pistachio make for quite the masterpiece. $

Tarte au poire Bourdaloue, La Baguette
7424 Mineral Point Rd., 827-6775
This pear tart in almond cream is a classic French patisserie treat dating back to the early twentieth century. According to Carine Vigy–co-owner of the little French cafe on Mineral Point Road with husband and boulanger Olivier–this dessert was named for a famous French Jesuit. As if delivered from a French pulpit, this heavenly tart will make you a believer in the glory that is poached peaches and almond cream baked into a shortbread-like shell. $