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Dessert in the Desert:
Cup Cafe at Hotel Congress

The extensive dessert case at Cup Cafe has something for every sweet tooth.

May 22, 2017

Dessert in the Desert

Hotel Congress is known for many things: John Dillinger, the fire of 1934, exciting events, and its busy night life.

Hotel Congress is known for something else —  the food. Hotel Congress’ restaurant, Cup Cafe, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But what we’re really here to talk about is the dessert.

If you’ve ever dined at Cup Cafe, you’ve probably walked by their rotating pie case. It’s filled with goodies. Just a simple glance at the case will make you hungry for sweets.

The pie case at Cup Cafe changes daily.

“I think our rotating case truly makes the desserts stand out at the Cup,” Pastry Chef Carol Friel said. “Since there isn’t that much shelf room, most of our items are served as whole cakes or pies and getting a ‘slice of this’ and a ‘slice of that’ is what really makes eating our desserts fun.” Friel added.

The pastry case is stocked every morning with the classics — the same desserts that have been around since the Cup opened in 1990. Once the classics are in the case, the rest of the space is filled with off-menu specials.

Friel said that many dessert ideas are inspired by suggestions from both guests and employees at Cup Cafe. Holidays and seasons also inspire dessert dishes.

The Coconut Cream Pie at Cup Cafe is a fan favorite.

Although the Cup makes an extensive list of desserts, the top sellers are always the Coconut Cream Pie and the Kahlua Mousse Cake. And, even better, each dessert requires less than six ingredients to make.

To make the coconut cream pie, pastry cream and coconut are combined with whipped cream. This creates the filling, which is then added to a baked pie shell. Just like that, the coconut cream pie is ready to be eaten.

The Kahlua Mousse Cake is hard to beat.

The Kahlua mousse cake is also simple, with melted chocolate, whipped egg whites, whipped cream, and Kahlua, a coffee-flavored liqueur. These four ingredients create a smooth mousse, which is set into a chocolate graham cracker crust.

But Friel’s favorite desserts to make are the ones she’s never made before. “It’s rewarding to taste a dessert that you threw together on a whim, and to see if the technique you used turns out the way you imagined it would,” she explained.

Cup Cafe’s Chocolate Cake is topped with a cinnamon ganache and cinnamon butter cream.

The Cup makes an extensive amount of desserts, and among them are key lime pie, chocolate cake, banana cream pie (pictured at top), fruit pies, carrot cake, flourless chocolate tortes, lemon cups, peanut butter cheesecake, New York cheesecake, chocolate pudding cups, chocolate coffee tarts, vegan cheesecake, and cookies.

“I try to have an allergen-free item made at all times for the people who feel left out when it comes to eating out,” Friel said. “Sugar is my favorite and I want everyone to be able to enjoy dessert if they want to.”

Pastry Chef Carol Friel tries to incorporate gluten-free and vegan desserts into the pie case daily.

“I would never make a gluten-free or vegan dessert that I, myself, wouldn’t eat,” she said. “You can bet that almost everyone will enjoy the item regardless of their diet.”

As for the featured specials, Friel said they can be just about anything.

“My head chef is so supportive,” she said. “He will taste anything I offer, even if he hates some of the ingredients I use. He always says, ‘I don’t care what you make — just make it good.'”

Cup Cafe in Hotel Congress
311 E. Congress St.
Tucson, AZ 85701
520-622-8848


Dessert in the Desert is a new series highlighting desserts in Tucson. The main courses at restaurants get all the rage, as they should, but what about desserts? They deserve a spotlight, too.


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