The Best Dessert in Philadelphia, According to JBF Rising Star Camille Cogswell

Looking for the best dessert in Philadelphia? You might need to plan several trips.

Photo: Alexandra Hawkins

Ever since the first James Beard Foundation Awards were given in 1991, only two pastry chefs have taken home the title of Rising Star Chef of the Year. The first winner, in 2012, was Christina Tosi of Milk Bar and in 2018, Camille Cogswell became the second. At the time, the then-27-year-old pastry chef from Philadelphia's Zahav nabbed the award that goes to a chef age 30 or younger who, in the foundation's words, "displays an impressive talent and who is likely to make a significant impact on the industry in years to come." If you had the chance to dine at Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook's landmark Israeli restaurant and taste Cogswell's work in the form of Turkish coffee custard or malabi with ground orchid root, her noteworthy win probably didn't come as a surprise at all.

The Asheville, North Carolina native trained at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, interned at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and worked at The NoMad in New York City, but wherever she goes, the South comes along with her.

"I have to find something that I connect with, and also something that [guests] will connect with, so that's where my heritage can come into play," said Cogswell. "Being from the South, really simple, comforting desserts are what we're all about. Every chef, no matter the cuisine they're cooking, their experience with their own food, with their own heritage, is the lens through which they access the food they're making."

Konafi at Zahav. Alexandra Hawkins

So, Cogswell brought her Southern background to the table when making traditional or traditional-inspired Israeli desserts, like the konafi. Usually filled with cheese and soaked in syrup, the chef's spin involved coconut cream, rhubarb, and fennel. Rhubarb is common in both Southern and Israeli cuisines. "It's fun when you find ingredients and techniques that have a correlation in both," she said. "I try to make desserts that people here can find their own familiarity and nostalgia and connection."

The chef, who lived in South Philly for a number of years, tasted her way through the city one neighborhood at a time. Below, find the best dessert in Philadelphia, according to Cogswell, from Vietnamese sesame balls to a signature milkshake. Depending on your appetite, you might need to plan two trips.

Ice cream sandwiches at Weckerly's

Weckerly's Ice Cream Sandwiches
Neal Santos

At Weckerly's Ice Cream, the micro-creamery in Fishtown run by Jen and Andy Satinsky, you'll find made-from-scratch ice cream transformed into dense little ice cream sandwiches. While Cogswell is a fan of the Crème Fraîche Cranberry with cranberry-swirled Crème Fraîche ice cream between spiced shortbread cookies, the brand's unexpected flavor combinations and ever-changing menu is part of its appeal.

9 W Girard Ave, Philadelphia

Vietnamese Pastries at Ba Le Bakery

"One of my favorite, less-assuming places is on 6th and Washington," said the chef about Ba Le Bakery. "They do tons of savory stuff — they have awesome banh mi, and packaged meals with chicken and spring rolls and shrimp, but they do really cool sweets, too. They have these sesame balls. They're big, fluffy, softball-sized balls but when you bite into them the middle is mainly hollow, and then there's a little ball inside the ball that's stuffed with sesame paste. They're so good, and they're a dollar a piece, and you can just go and fill up your bag."

She also loves the bakery's crispy lotus blossom cookies studded with black sesame seeds, so make sure to arrive with a big empty bag.

606 Washington Ave, Philadelphia

Milkshakes at Franklin Fountain

Franklin Fountain, a retro soda fountain in Philly's Old City dishes out plenty of housemade scoops and sundaes but unsurprisingly, the chef created her own signature flavor. "My fiancé and I discovered the most delicious combination milkshake flavor is peanut butter and coffee," she said. "I grew up with peanut butter milkshakes, so it's a nostalgia thing for me."

116 Market St, Philadelphia

Tehina Shakes at Goldie

Goldie's Tehina Shakes
Michael Persico

Part of the CookNSolo restaurant group that also includes Zahav, Goldie is a fast-casual spot in Center City that specializes in creamy shakes and perfectly-spiced falafel and fries that all happen to be vegan. The dairy for Goldie's specialty shake is replaced with tehina, and they're shockingly good. "My favorite one is the mint chocolate chip," said Cogswell. "I would have never thought the mint and tehina would be a perfect match, but I love it."

1911 Sansom St, Philadelphia

Rugelach at Essen Bakery

Essen Bakery's Rugelach
Abigail Beachy

Helmed by Tova du Plessis (a JBFA semi-finalist for Outstanding Baker in 2018), Essen specializes in traditional Jewish baked goods — think challah, babka, and Jewish apple cake. But Cogswell comes for the chocolate rugelach. "Her stuff is so good."

1437 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia

Sticky Toffee Pudding at Stargazy

Stargazy Menu
Lisa Elbert

The first place Cogswell staged (interned) when she moved to Philadelphia, Stargazy, specializes in quintessential British savory meat pies and mash, tarts, and Cogswell's favorite: the sticky toffee pudding. "It's super traditional, blended up dates in a sweet cake, that's then soaked in toffee, and whenever you order it, he heats it up and pours cold fresh cream on top."

1838 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia

French Pastries at Machine Shop

Machine Shop, an excellent artisan bakery specializing in breads and traditional Viennoiserie, started out as a wholesale operation but opened a retail space in 2021 after popular demand. Cogswell is a fan of their chocolate croissants, which taste as good as they look. "Their laminated pastries —croissants, danishes, and kouign amann — are so gorgeous," she said.

1901 South 9th Street Room 403 Philadelphia

Cannoli at Termini Bros.

While she loves the ricotta cookies at classic Italian bakery Isgro's, the chef prefers the cannoli at Termini. "They're fresh-filled with a super tasty ricotta filling that's not overly sweet," she said. Cogswell added that she had never been a fan of cannoli until moving to Philly. "These are the cannoli that made me like cannoli."

1523 South 8th Street, Philadelphia

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