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Dessert is a course that typically comes at the end of a meal, usually consisting of sweet food but sometimes of a strongly-flavored one, such as some cheeses. The word comes from the French language as dessert and this from Old French desservir, "to clear the table" and "to serve." Common desserts include cakes, cookies, fruits, pastries, ice cream, and candies.
Dessert, as served in a Bosnian restaurantThe word dessert is most commonly used for this course in U.S., Canada, Australia, and Ireland, while sweet, pudding or afters would be more typical terms in the UK and some other Commonwealth countries, including India. According to Debrett's, pudding is the proper term, dessert is only to be used if the course consists of fruit, and sweet is colloquial. This, of course, reflects the upper-class/upper-middle-class usage. More commonly, the words simply form a class shibboleth; pudding being the upper-class and upper-middle-class word to use for sweet food served after the main course, sweet, afters and dessert being considered non-U. However, dessert is considered slightly better than the other two, owing to many young people, whose parents say pudding, acquiring the word from American media.
Although the custom of eating fruits and nuts after a meal may be very old, dessert as a standard part of a Western meal is a relatively recent development. Before the rise of the middle class in the 19th-century, and the mechanization of the sugar industry, sweets were a privilege of the aristocracy, or a rare holiday treat. As sugar became cheaper and more readily available, the development and popularity of desserts spread accordingly.
Some have a separate final sweet course but mix sweet and savory dishes throughout the meal as in Chinese cuisine, or reserve elaborate dessert concoctions for special occasions. Often, the dessert is seen as a separate meal or snack rather than a course, and may be eaten apart from the meal (usually in less formal settings). Some restaurants specialize in dessert. In colloquial American usage "dessert" has a broader meaning and can refer to anything sweet that follows a meal, including milkshakes and other beverages.
Desserts are often eaten with a dessert spoon, intermediate in size between a teaspoon and a tablespoon.