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Best Desserts 

Niche and Veruca

"Pastry chef" seems an inadequate title for Mathew Rice, who masterminds the desserts at the Benton Park restaurant Niche and its new, adjacent bakeshop, Veruca. "Mastermind" works — though that too seems to miss something essential about Rice's baking. His desserts plug into someplace deep in the unconscious, where the simple pleasures of our childhood reside: tollhouse cookies, Hostess snack cakes, s'mores. Rice interprets each in a way that brings both a smile of recognition and the thrill of the new. Those s'mores, for instance, are toasted-marshmallow semifreddo with salted caramel and a graham cracker. Not that all of Rice's ideas are rooted in the past. Sometimes it's a combination of cleverness and convenience, like his slices of red velvet cake served to look like a small sandwich wrapped in wax paper. And sometimes it's working with something no one else does, like the South Asian dish kulfi, a dense frozen dessert so good it might supplant ice cream as your favorite summer treat.

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