Reimagining South Indian Desserts


By Marisa Kroes

Like many love stories, my relationship with sweets has been an unpredictable journey. My love for dessert began at an early age, watching my grandmother bake exquisite lemon meringue pies. I use to marvel over their decadence and perfect symmetry. A self-proclaimed “chocoholic” by the age of ten, it was many years before my love of eating sweets grew into a deep love for baking and a passionate career as a restaurant pastry chef.

When I took the Pastry Chef position at DOSA, I knew I loved the bold and complex flavors of Indian cuisine, but at the time, I knew very little about traditional South Indian desserts. The unique and exotic ingredients commonly found in Indian cooking presented an exciting challenge for me. While Indian desserts are known for being rich, dense, and intensely sweet, I aim to keep things light and interesting by developing desserts which highlight classic Indian spices while also showcasing the incredible seasonality of California.  

Classic Indian Desserts Transformed

The Carrot Cardamom Cake currently on the menu at DOSA on Valencia is inspired by the South Indian classic, Carrot Halwa. Traditionally made on the stove with generous amounts of ghee, milk, and sugar, Carrot Halwa is known for its rich flavor and condensed, pudding-like texture. Our version of the desert is transformed into a moist cardamom spiced carrot sponge cake served with a light saffron infused mousse, cream cheese coulis, and a sweet and salty cashew praline.

Currently, my favorite dish on the DOSA Fillmore dessert menu is the Almond Semolina Kesari. Kesari is a traditional South Indian pudding made with semolina flour, ghee, sugar, milk, and saffron. The addition of almond flour lends a light velvety texture and nutty complexity to the dish. We serve the pudding warm, garnished with cardamom candied kumquats, rose geranium, and pistachios. The tartness of the kumquats balances the density and sweetness of the warm pudding, making this the perfect dessert for cold, rainy winter nights in San Francisco.

Local Ingredients Add Californian Sensibility

As a California native, incorporating local ingredients and produce is an important aspect of the dessert program at DOSA. Every week, I try to make a trip to the local farmer’s market for inspiration and of course, high-quality, fresh, local produce. Of course, spring and summer months offer the most diversity among local fruits and vegetables, but citrus season is actually my favorite time to peruse the local farmer’s markets. The citrus selection here in California is incredibly diverse this time of year— mandarins, tangerines, blood oranges,  kumquats, and Buddha’s hand are among my favorite citrus fruits to bake with. Currently, locally grown blood oranges, exotic fresh passion fruit, and late harvest alpine strawberries are the inspiration for our upcoming Valentine’s Day dessert menu at DOSA.


Valentine’s Day Inspiration

For Valentine’s Day, I will be using our local winter citrus in a sweet cardamom syrup to accompany a Pistachio Financier—a rich brown butter pistachio cake served with a rose petal infused gelato and basil seeds. In addition, we will be offering a Mango Pavlova served with a creamy and tart passion fruit curd, white chocolate mousse, and alpine strawberries from Happy Quail Farms. I will also be sending guests home with a Spiced Date Cake made with local Barhi dates.

Pavlovas are one of my favorite desserts to serve at DOSA. The crisp exterior of the meringue accompanied by the fluffy marshmallow center is the perfect light and sweet finish to a spicy meal. I have included a simple Pavlova recipe inspired by California’s winter citrus and South Indian spices. We hope that, in addition to testing this recipe at home, you and yours truly can join us this upcoming Valentine’s Day to try my desserts firsthand.


Get a printable version of the recipe here

DOSA is a renowned, San Francisco dining institution with two locations in San Francisco serving innovative and authentic South Indian cuisine with a world-class spice-driven cocktail program.



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