The velvety, eggy Creme Catalana ($9) at Casa Mono is paired with Buñuelos. Here they come five to an order, each featuring a fresh bay leaf dipped into the fritter batter and deep-fried. Bite and the fluffy, tender dough will slide off, leaving the essence of bay leaf on your tongue. The leaf isn't mean to be eaten; the herbal-y sweet fragrance it imparts to the buñuelos is statement enough. Alternate with silky spoonfuls of the Creme Catalana, the surface of burnt sugar evenly torched, just a dance of vanilla and cinnamon beneath.
Yuba's Butternut Squash Crème Brûlée ($8) is worthy end to any meal; the ramekin holds a deep, velvety custard base, the thin torched sugar surface cracking as you slide a fork in. The butternut squash flavor comes through boldly, with hints of cinnamon; it's creamy, but not excessively sweet. Portions are on the dainty side so this is one you won't want to share.
Smith & Mill's
Smith & Mill's Grapefruit Brulee is an effortless dessert (on your part that is), as they've removed the grapefruit from the shell. Three portions are caramelized to a golden brown. I love the crisp, crackly top and how it transforms grapefruit from health food to dessert with such ease. Paired with lightly salted and roasted pumpkin seeds and a tangy smear of lemon whipped mascarpone cream.
Mini Profiteroles at Balthazar Bakery are often filled with vanilla pastry cream, but on some occasions you can score caramel or chocolate cream. Regardless of the combination, they're an excellent bet for afternoon sugar cravings. Sold in sets of three for $5.50, each choux pastry round is piped tight with chilled cream. A mellow caramel pastry cream with a caramel top (pictured above) is a particular favorite, but I wouldn't refuse any of the other combinations.
At Spice Market, keep your eye out for the Warm Rice Pudding, a new addition to the dessert menu. Here rice pudding meets creme brulée with a crackly caramelized surface and a spoonful of sweet basil seeds. Crack through the top, then make your way deep into the pudding bowl, luxurious and comforting. The creamy pudding is studded with golden and black raisins, and to complete, an accompaniment of puckery-sweet passionfruit sorbet neatly tucked into the fresh fruit shell.