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The Most Overrated Dessert Ingredients, According to Boston Pastry Chefs

There's more to dessert than chocolate

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For Eater Boston’s first-ever Sweets Week, professional pastry chefs from Boston-area restaurants have weighed in on several survey questions; we’ll be sharing their answers throughout the week. Today’s question: What's the most overrated dessert ingredient?

Read on for their thoughts on chocolate, bacon, and other ingredients that are past their dessert prime. (See also: the most underrated dessert ingredients.)

Alex Bonnefoi, pastry chef at Strip by Strega

Alex Bonnefoi Provided

"Sugar — too much blinds the palate, and there is no art to a dish overloaded with sugar."

Ashley Low, head baker at Loyal Nine

"Chocolate. Chocolate will always be renowned as being delicious, but there is nothing creative about throwing chocolate into a cake or a cookie."

Ben Dorn, pastry chef at Saltbox Kitchen

Ben Dorn Provided

"For me it would be bacon. I understand that quite a few people love bacon, myself included, but I think the 'maple-bacon' and 'chocolate covered bacon' trend has overstayed its welcome. I understand the virtue of the 'sweet and salty' flavor profile, but I think it is time to discover new combinations."

Brianne "Bee" McCaughin, pastry chef at Osteria Posto

Brianne "Bee" McCaughin Provided

"I think the most overrated dessert ingredient is chocolate. When people find out that I am a pastry chef who doesn't like chocolate, they are usually shocked. My main complaint is that it's hard to make chocolate a quiet ingredient. It is so rich that no matter how you use it, it shouts at you — HI I'M HERE TOO. I prefer desserts that work in harmony, without any yelling."

Carla Pallotta, co-owner of Nebo (and head of the dessert program)

"Nutmeg. Just not a flavor I love, and everyone seems to be adding it to everything lately."

Chris Mendonca, chef at Granary Tavern

Chris Mendonca Provided

"As many people know...butter. Though it has many uses and tricks, it could be substituted with healthier options that are just as delicious."

Christina Allen-Flores, executive pastry chef at ArtBar and Studio at the Royal Sonesta

Christina Allen-Flores Brian Samuels for the Sonesta

"All-purpose flour. In nearly all baked goods recipes, an alternative flour or combination of flours, whether they are gluten-free or whole grain, can be used/substituted in part or whole with minimal amounts of change to the recipe, end product, or enjoyment by those eating it."

Dave Becker, chef/owner of Sweet Basil and Juniper

Dave Becker Provided

"Vanilla. Even in everyday life, it's slang for 'boring.' Vanilla beans are really expensive, too, but if you don't use the real thing, it'll taste like a Yankee candle."

Doug Phillips, executive pastry chef at Woods Hill Table

Doug Phillips Provided

"Single-origin chocolates in desserts. I believe that a good-quality chocolate that is a blend and can support lots of farmers at once and be a pastry workhorse is more important to me."

Hannah Lurier, executive pastry chef at Alta Strada Wellesley

Hannah Lurier Provided

"Sugar, because as you begin to experiment with different desserts, you realize that you can replace sugar with a variety of other ingredients to achieve sweetness that is more subtle to let the true flavor shine through. Honey or agave is a perfect example of a natural sugar substitute that will achieve the same balance but by using a lesser quantity."

Jamie Bissonnette, chef/owner of Little Donkey, Coppa, and Toro

Jamie Bissonnette Nick Solares for Eater

"I cannot stand peanut butter. It more often than not takes over the dish."

Jenn Harvey, bar manager at Temple Bar (formerly a pastry chef at Stix)

Jenn Harris Nina Gallant for Temple Bar

"I don't know if it’s overrated, or if I'm alone in my opinion here, but I'm not really into spice (like hot chili pepper spice). I mean, why would you ruin that beautiful chocolate cake by covering its flavor with hot peppers?"

Jesse Jackson, III, executive pastry chef at No.9 Park

Jesse Jackson, III Dale Cruse for No. 9 Park

"Sugar. Just because it’s dessert doesn’t mean it has to be wicked sweet, including chocolate. The other four tastes (sour, salty, bitter, umami) are just as important in your final course."

Kate Holowchik, pastry chef at The Townshend

Kate Holowchik Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater

"Chocolate for sure. It is delicious, but for the most part, it has taken the thinking out of dessert. People order the chocolate dessert on a menu just because it's chocolate. Pastry chefs work hard to craft menus, and it's insulting when people say 'I'll take whatever you have that's chocolate' without even looking at the other option or what the chocolate dessert even comes with."

Katie Gordon, pastry chef at Trade

"Rosewater. It even sounds annoying. It has a weird taste and is hard to work with."

Kenny Hoshino, pastry chef at Alden & Harlow and Waypoint

Kenny Hoshino Galdones Photography for Waypoint

"Most overrated ingredient is Nutella. While delicious, it's used too often and is best left as a condiment. At Waypoint we spread Fazenda coffee ganache on the plate with our cinnamon sugar doughnuts. It has the same satisfying, chocolatey element but with much more complex flavors."

Kevin Walsh, chef/owner of Tapestry

Kevin Walsh Provided

"Vanilla. It's delicious but overused."

Kristin Wilson, pastry chef at Legal Harborside

Kristin Wilson Provided

"Vanilla extract. There are so many different flavorings you can use in its place. Mint, for example — but use fresh mint and not extract."

Laura Campagna, former pastry cook at Tamo Bistro & Bar

"The combination of chocolate and raspberries; it seems that everyone combines these, and there are really other things that pair better."

Lauren Kroesser, pastry chef at Island Creek Oyster Bar

Lauren Kroesser Michael Harlan Turkell for Island Creek Oyster Bar

"The most overrated ingredient, in my opinion, is bacon. Too many desserts have some form of bacon involved to be hip. It should be eaten on the side!"

Lilah Rogoff, pastry chef at Catalyst

Lilah Rogoff Provided

"The most overrated ingredient, I would say, is sugar. I don’t like desserts that are cloyingly sweet; I like desserts that are balanced with salty and sour components."

Maria Cavaleri, executive pastry chef of Big Night Entertainment Group (Empire Asian Restaurant & Lounge, Red Lantern, and GEM)

"Putting powdered sugar on everything. It doesn’t do much for the taste; just leave it as is."

Marissa Rossi, executive pastry chef at Puritan & Co.

Marissa Rossi Provided

"Bacon. I think everyone gets and loves the savory/salty with the sweet. Let's move on and find another fun ingredient to exploit."

Michelle Boland, pastry chef at Davio's Lynnfield

"I'm going to have to say chocolate. Not to be dramatic, but there is WAY more to dessert than CHOCOLATE."

Rachel Gibeley, pastry chef at Rosebud American Kitchen and Bar

Rachel Gibeley Provided

"I think the most overrated ingredient is chocolate. Chocolate is such a strong flavor, and it often masks other flavors. People love chocolate, and yes, it's delicious, but there's so much more out there in the land of desserts."

Rae Murphy, pastry chef at Porto

"Too many bells and whistles. Edit, edit, edit."

Robert Differ, pastry chef at Bar Boulud

Robert Differ Provided

"I enjoy baking with natural ingredients; therefore, I could definitely live without gelatin."

Robert Gonzalez, pastry chef at Bistro du Midi

Robert Gonzalez Provided

"The most overrated ingredient is chocolate. Many people immediately go for the chocolate dessert, and there are hidden dessert gems that aren't chocolate."

Shawn Dresser, pastry chef at Boston Harbor Hotel

Shawn Dresser Provided

"Chocolate. Chocolate is too easy and often used as a 'go-to.' There are so many more exciting flavors to experiment with!"

Main image: Shutterstock/MaraZe

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