The Best European Desserts to Sample on Your Next Trip
If you have a sweet tooth, chances are you base a good portion of your appreciation for a new city on the delicious desserts that can be found there. Eating dessert is a great way to familiarize yourself with the local culture. While everyone has to eat dinner, the choices that people make for dessert are a little more unusual. Therefore, they really express the chef or patissier’s creative vision.
Whether you prefer a little sweet bite or enjoy a full dessert course, traveling through Europe will give you a chance to sample many different desserts. These desserts can take the form of cakes, confections, and sweets.
Here are some of the best European desserts that you absolutely must sample on your next trip.
It makes sense that in Scotland, even their desserts celebrate the whiskey that has made their country so famous.
Cranachan is made with whole toasted oats. These oats are layered in a bowl on top of either crushed or whole raspberries, topped with whipped cream sweetened with honey, and flavored with whiskey. Many recipes use heather honey, which is scented by the ubiquitous bush that covers the Scottish Highlands.
Altogether, this dessert is sweet, refreshing, and light, with just a hint of depth from the whiskey. You can easily find it in pubs and traditional Scottish restaurants.
There aren’t many desserts that have as rich and storied a history as the Eton Mess, which has been served at Eton College since 1893. The dessert originated as a quick dessert meant to satisfy hungry pupils after a cricket match. Originally, it was just strawberries layered with ice cream. Later, whipped cream replaced the ice cream and meringue was added, making a delicious dessert with a pleasing variety of textures and flavors.
In England, Eton Mess is a common dessert to make at home since it’s so easy. However, there are plenty of London eateries that try and outdo each other to make the fanciest Eton Mess.
Loukoumades are the Greek answer to rich, fried dumpling soaked in syrup. They definitely didn’t invent the form, but these delicious bites will convince you never to look elsewhere for your fried dough fix.
Loukoumades are made by dunking pieces of fried dough in honey syrup and letting them soak until they’re completely saturated. Then, they’re topped with a shake of cinnamon, grated walnuts, or sesame seeds.
These loukoumades can be found all over Greece. One of the most popular spots to grab a dozen or so is at Krinos, an Athens shop that’s been dishing up these delicious treats for upwards of 90 years.
In English, Ptichye Moloko translates roughly as “bird’s milk”, an expression meant to express an unobtainable delicacy, rather than actually referring to avian milk. This delicious cake is actually based on a confection of the same name.
Originally, Ptichye Moloko candies were made of soft meringue or milk soufflé covered in chocolate. In 1978, an enterprising Moscow chef turned the concept into a cake, which is made with homemade milk soufflé on top of a light sponge cake, covered in chocolate. The idea was so popular that these cakes can now be found in supermarkets all over Russia.
Although there are tons of fancy desserts from France that are appreciated by locals and tourists alike, none is more satisfying and delicious than the Tarte Tatin. This upside-down apple tart starts with apples caramelized in butter and sugar, then adds a base of pastry on top. As the whole thing cooks, the apples infuse into the pastry, and the whole thing becomes soft, with a rich depth of flavor from the caramel.
It’s said that this cake was first made by accident at the Hotel Tatin in the 1880s. It remains the hotel’s signature dish. As such, people come to Lamotte-Beuvron from all over the world to taste the original recipe.
Although gelato is one of the most popular desserts in Italy, the real mark of a chef is whether they can create a tiramisu that’s ethereally light while still tasting complex and delicious.
Tiramisu is made with ladyfinger biscuits soaked in either espresso or coffee spiked with liquor. Then, these biscuits are layered into a dish with hearty dollops of whipped cream, whipped egg yolk, and mascarpone cheese. Following this, it sits for several hours until the flavors meld.
A small dish of tiramisu is the perfect accompaniment to an after-dinner espresso, grappa, or Marsala.
Vienna is a city that’s completely obsessed with coffee, so it makes sense that the city’s signature dessert would pair extremely well with any type of caffeinated beverage.
The Sachertorte was invented in 1832 by a chef named Franz Sacher. Franz passed the recipe down to his son, who made it famous across Vienna.
The cake is made with thin layers of dense chocolate cake sandwiched together with a thin smear of apricot jam. Then, the whole thing is covered in dark chocolate icing and is served with a dollop of whipped cream.
Currently, the Hotel Sacher and Café Demel serve the two most authentic versions.
Many may be unaware that churros — the delicious treat that has conquered the hearts and bellies of many Americans — originated in Spain and Portugal.
Churros are usually longer and thinner than their American counterparts. Plus, they come accompanied by a small cup of rich, intense hot chocolate, which is alternately sipped and used for dipping.
While there are plenty of popular places where you can find churros across southern Europe, one of the most popular and historic purveyors of chocolate con churros is Chocolatería San Ginés in the Puerta del Sol neighborhood of Madrid. If you’re in Barcelona, try the churros at Chök. Then, follow up your treat with an in-café cooking class, so you can learn how to make these delicious pastries at home.
Pastel de Nata
Although churros are enjoyed throughout Portugal, the dessert that truly represents Portugal’s culinary history is the pastel de nata. This dessert is a small, palm-sized tart made with rich egg custard inside in a shatteringly crisp shell, broiled until the top caramelizes.
These little tarts were first invented in a Lisbon monastery in the 18th century. Since then, they have spread around the world. You can now find them anywhere with an active Portuguese expat population.
If you’re in Portugal, there are tons of places to find authentic pasteis de nata. One such place is Natas D’Ouro, which makes nouveau natas spiked with port wine.
This adorable cake is every little girl’s dream. However, with rich flavors of pastry cream, light sponge cake, and marzipan, it should impress the most discerning adults too.
The Swedish prinsesstårta was first made for the daughters of Prince Carl, Duke of Västergötland, in the mid-20th century. Soon after, the cake became popular all over the country. Although many Swedish bakeries have their own version, every cake is spring green and features a decorative rose on top.
In Sweden, the last week of September is Prinsesstårtans Vecka (Princess Cake Week). During this week, money from the sale of every prinsesstårta is donated to charity. Usually, sales of these cakes double every Prinsesstårtans Vecka!
Dondurma has been called Turkish ice cream, but this claim is a vast oversimplification of a totally unique treat. While it does contain heavy cream and sugar, dondurma also contains two completely unique ingredients:
- A thickening agent called salep, which is flour made from the orchid root, and;
- Mastic, which is a chewy resin made from the sap of the mastic tree.
Dondurma is a popular street snack in Turkey. As such, you can easily spot vendors who are busily churning their product in order to attract customers.