The culinary world is always evolving to include new combinations of flavors, textures, and ingredients to surprise and delight. Dessert is a popular category for playing with unconventional approaches, because sugar binds unlikely flavors together. It is also the last impression of a meal, and successfully pulling off a bizarre dessert combination makes it something to remember. This roundup of recipes goes beyond now-normal additions such as zucchini and carrots in cakes, finding dishes that use cheap, everyday ingredients to make unusual pairings -- often incorporating savory elements such as onions, hot peppers, or even garlic into sweet treats.
JALAPEÑO CHOCOLATE CAKE
The combination of chilies with chocolate is not new or unconventional, particularly in Mexican chocolate, but mixing jalapeños into a chocolate cake can still feel strange. Try it and see -- a recipe from What’s Cooking America is one of many takes on this spicy combination. The heat from the peppers enhances the natural earthiness of the chocolate and the sweetness of the other ingredients simultaneously. For anyone who loves spice, it’s well worth sampling.
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VIDALIA ONION CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Vidalia onions have long been relished for their sweet flavor, but bringing them into the world of baked goods is a new level entirely. The Vidalia Onion Committee (of Vidalia Sweet Onion Drive, in Vidalia, Georgia) has a recipe that adds diced vidalias into traditional chocolate chip cookies, giving them a unique layer of flavor. Many onion lovers swear by them, and it’s a good way to sneak some extra veggies into your family’s diet.
BLACK BEAN BROWNIES
Black beans help give brownies a fudgy texture while amping up the fiber content and lowering the fat content -- a handy little trick that will go unnoticed by everyone besides the cook. The Food Network recipe includes a bit of flour, but black bean brownies can be made gluten-free and vegan. Adding 1 cup of black beans to a regular brownie mix works just as well for creating tasty and healthier brownies.
Related: 12 Tasty Bean Recipes
WASABI ICE CREAM
Wasabi is a strong type of horseradish, known to help clear the sinuses with its powerful spice, and the combination of sweet, cold ice cream with punchy wasabi is exciting to the palate. The blog Not Quite Nigella has a version that balances spicy and sweet nicely, although you can control the heat level when making it.
GOAT CHEESE CHEESECAKE
Cheesecake recipes generally call for sweet ricotta or slightly tangy cream cheese, rather than goat cheese, which is known for its brightly acidic and seriously tangy flavor. But when used to make cheesecake, as in a recipe from the Food Network, the goat cheese mellows a bit from the cooking. The final result is a more piquant and mouth-smacking version of traditional cheesecake, a great option for dessert at a wine and cheese party.
BEET CHOCOLATE CAKE
Beets have such a high natural sugar content that they are farmed for the purpose of extracting sugar. Some bakers might raise an eyebrow at the idea that beets’ strong, earthy flavor has a place in desserts, but it comes from none other than Martha Stewart. The root flavor of the beets is barely perceptible in this recipe, complemented by the earthiness of chocolate. Instead they contribute a moist texture and extra nutrition.
AVOCADO CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES
Avocado’s naturally creamy texture and mild flavor makes it excellent for use in smoothies, mousse, and even truffles. A recipe from the blog Detoxinista takes advantage of ripe and smooth avocados to achieve a silky texture and deeply concentrated flavor. Don’t tell the guests avocado is in the mix until after they've tried the truffles.
SWEET PEA CUPCAKES
Corn is used in baking, so why not peas? These delightfully bright green cupcakes are as fun as they are delicious. A full 2 cups of peas get mixed into the batter in a recipe from the blog Vanilla Garlic. The moist, sweet, and colorful treats celebrate the fresh flavor of sweet peas. The subtle, earthy flavor works surprisingly well in a dessert.
This one might, well, take the cake for bizarre combinations. The reason for adding the sauerkraut to cake is certainly not its acidic and briny flavor, nor its stringy texture -- it’s because the chemicals in it interact with the batter to create a moist texture. As Food.com suggests, it’s important to chop up the kraut into small bits so guests don’t bite into a piece of recognizable pickled cabbage.
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Pasta for dessert? Why not? It’s as simple as adding chocolate to pasta dough, as seen in a Pappardelle's Pasta recipe, and getting creative with the sauce and toppings. Take a break from the typical cakes and confections by serving long chocolate noodles dressed in berry sauce or topped with a scoop of ice cream.
OLIVE OIL GELATO
Olive oil has made appearances on the dessert scene before, typically in dense and moist cakes or cookies. In a gelato recipe from Food52, it creates a frozen treat that is impossibly creamy, rich, and not too sweet. The cold and sweetness bring out the floral elements of olive oil, and its delicate flavor works equally well as a palate cleanser or meal finisher.
GARLIC ICE CREAM
Garlic ice cream is a popular novelty treat during garlic season and has made appearances on menus at fine dining restaurants. A punchy version on the Zak Designs blog might cross the line for even the most steadfast garlic lovers. But making it at home allows control over the amount of garlic to suit any palate.