Dessert – that delectable ending to a fabulous meal – has a fascinating history, but we’ll try to keep it short and sweet. The word “dessert” is derived from “desservir,” a French word meaning to clear the table.

The grand desserts of today have their origins in the Middle Ages when the final course of a meal was infinitely more simple, and consisted primarily of fruits, nuts, butter, jellies and wafers. Custard was early on the scene, and there are records of apple pie as far back as the late 1300s, and gingerbread in the 1400s.

Until the 17th century, desserts were paired with savory dishes and served as palate cleansers, but that all changed with the advent of sugar plantations – and the reduced price of sugar – in the Colonial and post-Revolutionary War United States, followed a century later by the Industrial Revolution.

Whether dessert is enjoyed as a sweet treat at the end of a meal, or as an afternoon or early evening snack with a cup of coffee on the side, it’s an indulgence even the most health conscious among us find hard to resist.

We recently visited five local restaurants and talked with their chefs and proprietors about their signature desserts. Keep in mind, that not all desserts required forks or spoons. For two of our treats, a straw is the required tool. We have four recipes, and a “choose your own adventure” selection.

Palmer’s Village Café

Key Lime Pie

The Key lime pie at Palmer’s is legendary. Its bright, citrusy, sweet-tart filling, coupled with the buttery smoothness of the graham cracker crust hits the spot on a sweltering summer day. Co-owner Chef John Belechak shared his delicious recipe, which is lengthy, but totally worth the result.

Ingredients | Yield: 10 slices

Optional equipment needed: Small blowtorch

For the crust:

• 1 15-oz. can Coco Lopez cream of coconut

(not coconut milk)

• 12 graham crackers

• 3 Tbsp. brown sugar

• 6 Tbsp. melted butter

• ½ tsp. Kosher salt

For the filling:

• 2 14-oz. cans sweetened condensed milk

• 6 large egg yolks

• 1 cup. bottled Key lime juice, preferably Nellie + Joe’s

To garnish:

• 10 Tbsp. light brown sugar

Chantilly cream:

• ½ cup heavy whipping cream

• 1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract

• 1 Tbsp. light brown sugar

Directions | In a standing mixer, whip cream and vanilla together until it starts to form peaks, add sugar and continue to whip until stiff peak is achieved. Refrigerate. Can be made ahead of time.

For the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan set over low heat, melt butter. In a food processor, process graham crackers until fine, about 60 seconds. Transfer graham cracker crumbs to a medium bowl, add sugar, and whisk to combine. Add butter (do not wash saucepan) and salt and stir well with a fork. Transfer crumbs to a 9-inch pie plate and press down on bottom and sides to form an even layer using fingers or a metal measuring cup. Bake crust for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool crust to room temperature on a wire rack.

In the same small saucepan set over medium-low heat, bring cream of coconut to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer until reduced by half, about 30 minutes. Brush the bottom and sides of the pie crust with 2-4 Tbsp. of the reduced cream of coconut.

For the filling: In a standing mixer or using a handheld mixer, whisk together egg yolks, condensed milk and key lime juice on low speed until well blended. Transfer filling to prepared pie crust and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the filling moves slightly when jiggled and appears congealed. Cool pie on a wire rack to room temperature, and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours.

To serve: Slice pie into 10 wedges and serve. If desired, brûler each slice by transferring it to a sheet tray set on stovetop or other surface impervious to flame. Sprinkle slice on top with ½ Tbsp. brown sugar and lightly torch, moving the flame constantly over the surface of the pie, until sugar forms a dark brown, but not blackened, crust. Allow crust to cool and harden; garnish slice with Chantilly cream; and serve.

Frosty’s

Griddle + Shake Cheerwine Float

For the uninitiated, Cheerwine may be the best thing you’ve never tried. This cherry soda (with prevailing black cherry notes) has been produced since 1917 in Salisbury, North Carolina. If you’re a fan of cherry-flavored refreshments, an icy glass (or chilled glass bottle) of Cheerwine may be the elixir you’ve been seeking. A quick search of the Carolina Beverage Corp. website provides a little background about the iconic Southern soda pop.

L.D. Peeler created Cheerwine in 1917 after buying a wild cherry flavor that blended well with other flavors from a salesman from St. Louis. With its burgundy color, abundant effervescence and cheery disposition, the name Cheerwine simply made sense.

The folks at Frosty’s Griddle & Shake have taken Cheerwine to the next level and created a float that bears its names. Since you probably don’t have a soft-serve machine in your home, good quality vanilla ice cream will suffice.

According to co-owner Griffin Bufkin, the Cheerwine float is just about the most simple dessert one can make. Enjoy!

Ingredients + Directions

• 4 to 5 good pulls of Vanilla Soft Serve

(or vanilla ice cream)

• Top with Cheerwine

• Add whipped cream and a cherry

if you like.

Serve in a tall glass.

Sago at Sea Palms Bread Pudding

Some form of bread pudding has been consumed by humans for nearly 900 years. Necessity was the mother of invention in its case, because people needed a way to use up their leftover bread. One way of doing that was to add warm liquid and sugar to it so it was once again edible. Popular in England since the 13th century, it did not feature the luxurious mix of custardy cream and eggs. Rather, stale bread was soaked in hot water and squeezed dry before sugar and spices were added to it. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case.

The bread pudding served at Sago at Sea Palms is a rich mix of bread, eggs, heavy cream, sugar and spices.

Ingredients

• 4 lbs. bread cut 2-inch x 2-inch cubes,

or toast cut in 1-inch x 1-inch cubes

• 3 1/2 cups egg yolks

• 13.5 oz. coconut milk

• 5 cups heavy cream

• 1 cup brown sugar

• 2 cups powdered sugar

• 2 Tbsp. vanilla

• 1 tsp. cinnamon

Directions | Combine, top with streusel (recipe below) and bake covered at 325 degrees for 30 minutes; uncover and bake 10 minutes more. Garnish with 1 cup of cranberries or one cup of blueberries.

Streusel

• 3 cups white sugar

• 8 oz. cold butter

Directions | Combine and then sprinkle lightly over uncooked bread.

Bennie’s

Red Barn

The Raccoon

There are two recipes at this landmark restaurant on St. Simons Island that will never be completely divulged. One is for the garlicky Italian salad dressing that comes on the house salad (hint: it’s also a delicious dipping sauce for fried shrimp), and the other is The Raccoon, a dessert cocktail that was created for a group of businessmen, known as “The Raccoons,” who have met for dinner at the same tablewho have met at the same table every week for decades. These days, Grace Paolini represents the fourth generation of the Gentile family to work at the restaurant. Grace, the great-granddaughter of restaurant founders Bennie and Louise Gentile, is currently honing her bartending skills while home from the Savannah College of Art and Design for the summer months.

Grace would only provide two ingredients – chocolate ice cream and Kahlua – to get readers started. As was mentioned earlier, this is the “Choose Your Own Adventure” portion of the feature, where you’re provided to make your own version of The Raccoon. Continue by experimenting with brandies and Italian liqueurs. Whether or not you’re ever able to replicate it note for note is not the point – you’ll most likely end up with a delicious drink, and you’ll have great fun trying to find just the right recipe. Let us know how successful you were.

Georgia Sea Grill

Coconut Chocolate Pie

Studying the history of pie is akin to taking a course in world history. Possibly one of the oldest forms of food, sweet pies (called galettes) have been around since the reign of Pharaoh Rameses II, more than 1,300 years before the birth of Christ. Savory pies go back even farther. There is a recipe for chicken pie written on a tablet in Sumer prior to 2000 B.C.E.

Pies have evolved over the ages, and both sweet and savory varieties remain the favorites of many people.

At Georgia Sea Grill, the coconut chocolate pie is a favorite dessert choice of its patrons. It combines two flavors that are made for each other, but not found nearly as often as they should be.

Ingredients

Pie Dough:

• 5-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

• 2 tsp. salt

• 1 lb. butter, diced

• ¾ cup ice water

Preparation: Place flour and salt into food processor. Slowly add butter and mix until incorporated. Add ½ cup of ice water and mix. Add remainder of water if needed. Remove dough from food processor and knead. Split dough in half and form into discs. Wrap both pieces separately and refrigerate until ready to bake.

Ingredients

Pie Filling:

• 1 cup toasted coconut flakes

• 1 cup chocolate

• ¼ cup butter

• ¼ cup buttermilk

• ¾ cup sugar

• 2 eggs

• 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

Preparation: Melt butter. Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour mixture into pie shell and bake at 350 until well done.