Just Desserts: Sweets Chefs Crave for Easter


Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.

With Easter comes egg hunts, lamb or ham, and plenty of fresh produce. But just as important to the day of feasting is the sweet culmination. Whether they crave an English pudding that celebrates fresh fruit or classic Italian and Mexican treats, several chefs share why they’re sweet on these Easter desserts .

Giorgio Rapicavoli, Chef-Owner of Eating House, Miami

Rapicavoli looks across the pond for holiday inspiration. His favorite dish, Eton Mess, comes from Eton College in the United Kingdom. “It’s so easy and delicious,” he says. “It traditionally consists of meringue, whipped cream and strawberries. Being in Miami I like to give it a tropical feel with passion fruit, mango and lime.”

Slice of Neapolitan Pastiera tart

Hillary Sterling, Executive Chef, Vic’s, New York City

Brooklyn-born Sterling goes back to her childhood with a traditional Italian dessert that pays homage to her home borough. She adores Pastiera Napoletana. Typically made with ricotta, candied fruit, and either farro or jarred grano cotto, the cake gets nuanced updates when Sterling is in charge. “I like to make it with extra toasted barley and fresh zest to make it a little more savory and less sweet,” she says. “I equate it to the Italian Easter version of kugel.” When she doesn’t feel like making it herself, Sterling heads to Buon Italia in Chelsea Market or Little Italy’s Di Palo Fine Foods.

Kelly Fields, Co-Founder, Willa Jean, New Orleans

Recently selected as a James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist for Best Pastry Chef, Fields obviously knows her desserts, as well as the best finds on the NOLA bakery scene. For Easter she likes vibrant cassata cake, which she describes as a dense Sicilian cake with a ricotta custard filling. “It’s traditionally covered in green marzipan and decorated with candied fruit,” she says. Her favorite is at Angelo Brocato, a pastry shop with more than a century under its belt; she says the store has become a favorite of hers since she moved to New Orleans and was introduced to it by a friend’s mother.

Gourmet Bread Pudding

Andrew “Dru” Betita, Chef, Aestus, Los Angeles

“I grew up eating capirotada for Easter,” says Betita. “It’s a Mexican bread pudding that my grandmother (Nana), who’s from Sinaloa, would make. It’s made by soaking day-old bread in piloncillo (Mexican cane sugar) syrup. It’s spiced with cloves and cinnamon, and is layered with cheese and whatever dried fruit and nuts we had on hand,” he says. “I’m thinking of doing a modern version of the dessert at Aestus.”

Chocolate Topped Sponge Cake with Prunes and Toffee Sauce

Marqessa Gesualdi, Pastry Chef, Sbraga Dining Restaurant Group, Philadelphia

As the person in charge of pastry and bread for an entire restaurant group, Gesualdi prefers to take a break from fancy pastries for Easter. She craves uncomplicated pound cake, ideally with a holiday theme. Her favorite is the egg-shaped pound cakes at mom-and-pop shop Stock’s Bakery. “I love the vanilla pound cake with chocolate icing,” she says. “There’s beauty in its simplicity and consistency.”

Photos courtesy of Angelo Brocato, Robert Ingelhart and Massimiliano Pieraccini