The fine arts are five in number, namely: painting, sculpture, poetry, music, and architecture, the principal branch of the latter being pastry. Marie Antoine Carême
‘Dessert’ is derived from desservir, ‘to remove that which has been served’. In ancient times that usually meant some cheese, dried fruit or honey might be served after the table was cleared. In the Middle Ages, the wealthy would dine on sweet dishes in between the meat courses (jellies, compotes, flans) and finish with a glass of Hypocras and a few bonbons.
By the 17th century, aristocratic desserts became as Baroque and elaborate as the art in the châteaux. Royal pastry chefs made magnificent dessert sculptures, of marzipan, preserves, creams, jellies, etc decorated with flowers. Ice cream and ice desserts appeared in the late 17th century (see glace).
In the early 19th century, France’s celebrity pastry chef Marie-Antoine Carême (1783-1833) ‘the king of chefs and chef of kings’ was producing fabulous sweet creations (pièces-montées) that resembled ornate buildings. You won’t see these very often now, but many restaurants pride themselves on their desserts, which really can be too pretty too eat, although somehow one always manages.
Many pastries of course can be desserts, and vice versa.
Image by Julie Kertesz, Creative Commons License