The 11 Best Desserts in Philly, According to JBF Rising Star Camille Cogswell
In the 28 years since the James Beard Foundation has been awarding the Rising Star Chef of the Year, only two pastry chefs have taken home the title. The first winner, in 2012, was Christina Tosi of Milk Bar, and earlier this month, Camille Cogswell became the second. The 27-year-old pastry chef from Philadelphia's Zahav nabbed the award that goes to a chef 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've 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 won't as a surprise at all.
The Asheville, North Carolina-native trained at the 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'm not Jewish, I haven't been to Israel, or any of the surrounding countries, and it's not a cuisine I've cooked before," she says. "But it's such interesting, unique, vibrant, and exciting food, so I'm constantly inspired."
While Cogswell says plans are in the works for a trip, she relies on her own research into ingredients and techniques, and she taps into Solomonov's experiences with the region and foods he loves, too. "But of course 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. 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."
So Cogswell works to relate the two cuisines when making traditional or traditional-inspired Israeli desserts, like the konafi. Usually filled with cheese and soaked in syrup, the chef's current spin has coconut cream, rhubarb, and fennel. Rhubarb, she notes happily, is common in both cuisines. "It's fun when you find ingredients and techniques that have a correlation in both," she says. "I try to make desserts that people here can find their own familiarity and nostalgia and connection."
The chef, who lives in South Philly and works in Old City, has only been in Philadelphia for a little under three years, but is tasting her way through the city one neighborhood at a time. Below, find Cogswell's favorite sweets in Philadelphia so far, 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
At Weckerly's, 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. Look out for the collaboration between Weckerly's, local tehina specialist Soom and Cogswell, who will design the flavor, coming at the end of the summer.
9 W Girard Ave, Philadelphia
Tiramisu at Amis
Cogswell loves the desserts at this Italian trattoria (where her fiancé, Drew diTomo, happens to be the chef de cuisine) including the seasonal sugared, whole strawberries topped with fresh zabaglione, and the tiramisu, which isn't actually on the menu, but is available daily.
"It's made with marscapone, which is traditional Italian, though some places here make it with cream cheese. It's so moist and soft, but not soggy, and the marscapone cream is so light, and the flavors are super well balanced and it's just sweet enough, but not too sweet. It's the perfect mix."
412 S 13th St, Philadelphia
Vietnamese Pastries at Ba Le Bakery
"One of my favorite, less-assuming places is on 6th and Washington," says the chef. "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
The retro soda fountain in Philly's Old City dishes out plenty of housemade scoops and sundaes, but unsurprisingly, the chef has created her own signature flavor.
"My fiancé and I discovered the most delicious combination milkshake flavor is peanut butter and coffee," she says. "I grew up with peanut butter milkshakes, so it's a nostalgia thing for me."
116 Market St, Philadelphia
Pretzel Shortbread and Kouign Amann at Lost Bread Co.
At his wholesale bakery and retail space in Philly's South Kensington neighborhood, Alex Bois is milling his own whole grains (some locally grown) for his menu of hearth breads, buns, and focaccia. He's also making a salty-sweet snack called pretzel shortbread (a new cult favorite in the city), and a traditional kouign amann using buckwheat.
"In America, we've popularized individual versions of kouign amann—the small pastries baked in muffin tins. But he makes the traditional form, in a large spiral, the shape of a cake pan, cut into wedges," she says, "That and the pretzel shortbread are really sick."
1313 N Howard St, Philadelphia
Tehina Shakes at Goldie
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," says Cogswell. "I would have never thought the mint and tehina would be a perfect match, but I love it."
1526 Sansom St, Philadelphia
Rugelach at Essen Bakery
Helmed by Tova du Plessis (a JBFA semi-finalist for Outstanding Baker this year), 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
The first place Cogswell staged (interned) when she moved to Philadelphia 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
Breakfast Pastries at Hungry Pigeon
Though she hasn't had the opportunity to try Pat O'Malley's dinnertime desserts yet, Cogswell loves the breakfast pastries at this popular all-day café in Queen Village. The co-owner and former head pastry chef of New York City's Balthazar makes chocolate croissants and banana bread sticky buns that draw lines out the door every weekend.
743 S 4th St, Philadelphia
French Pastries at Machine Shop Boulangerie
The excellent artisan bakery specializing in breads and traditional Viennoiserie doesn't have a retail space—their wholesale business caters to local restaurants and cafes, but they do have occasional pop-ups, which have continued to elude Cogswell so far. "The last time I tried to go to one they were sold out by the time I got there," she says. "I've had the chocolate croissant once at Res Ipsa, and I was like I was like 'Where is this from, it's amazing!'" So now she admires the goods on Instagram. "You can just tell. Their laminated pastries—croissants, danishes, and kouign amann—are so gorgeous."
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 says. Cogswell says 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