From nutty toffee-date cake to apple-brown butter tart, desserts from pastry chef Kate Neumann of Chicago’s MK The Restaurant combine dinner-party sophistication and old-fashioned comfort. Plus, the perfect dessert-wine pairings.

The Perfect Dessert Menu

Double-Chocolate Bundt Cake with Ganache Glaze & Vintage Port
Nutty Toffee-Date Cake & Tokaji
Raspberry Jam Bomboloni & Brachetto d’ Acqui
Granny Smith Apple and Brown Butter Custard Tart & Ice Wine
Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta with Honey-Glazed Apricots & Orange Muscat

Best Dessert Wines

Orange Muscat

the wine Orange Muscat, the Mediterranean grape, is sometimes confused with the more common Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. It creates delicious dessert wines, something more and more California winemakers are discovering. Its floral aromas (think tangerine and orange blossoms) and light to medium body make it ideal with fresh fruit or any dessert with a tangy edge.

producers we trust Quady, Renwood, Robert Hall, Sobon Estate.

our pairing Renwood’s 2005 Orange Muscat ($16) has a delicate yet vibrant flavor evoking honeysuckle and lime, bringing out the character of the wine-plumped apricots that top a Greek yogurt panna cotta.


the wine Hungarian Tokaji Aszú, universally acclaimed as one of the great wines of Europe during the 18th century, declined during the Communist era, but has since returned to its former level of quality—attracting interest in recent years from wine luminaries like globe-trotting consultant Michel Rolland. Its sweetness is measured in puttonyos, the Hungarian word for a basket used in Tokaji’s production; the scale runs from three to six. Tokajis go particularly well with anything caramelized, such as a tarte Tatin, or desserts with dates, nuts or figs.

producers we trust Disznóko, Hétzsolo, Oremus, Royal Tokaji Wine Company, Szepsy.

our pairing The 2000 Royal Tokaji Wine Company Red Label Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos ($32) is golden in color and abundant with the rich flavors of candied citrus, fig, honey and caramel, perfectly complementing an ultra-luxurious nutty toffee-date cake.

Ice Wine

the wine Ice wine, generally made from Riesling, Vidal Blanc or Vignoles grapes harvested after the first winter frost, is a German invention—but the Canadian interpretation is what has fueled ice wine’s recent, tremendous rise in popularity. Silky and rich, ice wines are lusciously sweet and full of concentrated flavor, with a vibrant acidity that keeps them fresh-feeling. They usually pair well with desserts made with fruits such as nectarines, peaches or apples.

producers we trust Inniskillin, Jackson-Triggs, Mission Hill (Canada); Dönnhoff, Selbach-Oster (Germany).

our pairing Jackson-Triggs’s 2004 Niagara Estate Proprietors’ Reserve Vidal Icewine ($42) is dense with apricot, red apple and orange notes—terrific with apple and brown butter tart.

Brachetto d’ Acqui

the wine Italy’s Brachetto d’ Acqui has become a favorite among sommeliers: Effervescent and not too sweet, with a wild berry flavor and fizzy tingle, this sparkling red from Piedmont makes a great end to a meal. (It doesn’t hurt that Brachettos are also traditionally very low in alcohol—about 5 or 6 percent.) Pair it with any berry dessert, from a raspberry tart to a blackberry crumble to a handful of freshly picked wild strawberries.

producers we trust Banfi, Braida, Marenco.

our pairing Brachetto d’ Acqui is a fun wine, and deserves a fun dessert. Marenco’s 2005 Pineto bottling ($23), full of zippy raspberry flavor, is a great counterpart to bite-size raspberry jam-filled bomboloni.

Vintage Port

the wine A vintage year for port is typically "declared" (in producer lingo) only two or three times per decade, when the quality of the harvest is especially high. The most recent vintage, 2003, was a formidably hot year that resulted in exceptionally rich, potent wines. Vintage ports are big wines, with black-fruit flavors and powerful tannins when young; pair them with something equally intense, like a rich, dark-chocolate dessert, or a blue cheese like Stilton.

producers we trust Fonseca, W. & J. Graham’s , Niepoort, Quinta do Crasto, Smith Woodhouse, Taylor’s .

our pairing Smith Woodhouse, a lesser-known but extremely well-regarded English shipping house (whose wines consequently offer great value for their price), made an extraordinary 2003 Vintage Port ($60) full of black plum and dark-chocolate notes. It’s super with double-chocolate Bundt cake with ganache glaze.