I’ve got a sweet tooth to rival all sweet-toothed readers. Half of the pictures from my childhood are me face-deep in Oreos or a cake of some kind, coolly ensuring Type II Diabetes in my future. No matter.
I am a grown woman who firmly believes that dessert should round out every meal, not just as a “weekly treat” (where are these Puritans, and how can I help them?). Since moving to the majorly, beautifully internationally diverse Los Angeles, I’ve been exposed to all manner of global desserts.
Here are ten desserts you may not have heard of, but should seek out, in whatever city you live. There’s bound to be some specialized bakeries with a cornucopia of saccharine gems just waiting for you and your taste buds, bud. Now go find ‘em!
1. Ube Cake // The Philippines
Pronounced “OOH-bee,” Ube is a purple yam that has made its way into the hearts, stomachs, and grocery aisles of a lot of Filipino and Thai desserts. Many Asian stores sell it either mashed in a pre-cooked jar or frozen, and it is a deliciously surprising element of delightfully spongy, light-as-air cakes that just so happen to be purple.
2. Gizzada Coconut Tart // Jamaica
With origins within the Portuguese community of Jamaica, the Gizzada is a tart within a small, crisp pastry shell with a pinched crust (why it’s also referred to as a “pinch-me-round”), that’s filled with sweet and spicy coconut filling.
With hints of nutmeg and vanilla percolating inside, this unassuming little tart is packed with delicious flavor bursts of the island’s most famous fruit – which isn’t even native, but was introduced by Spanish settlers in the 16th century!
3. Bojo Cake // Suriname
Definitively one of the more delightfully-named cakes, the Bojo is another flourless dessert that is deceptively pie-like.
Created by grating coconut and cassava (otherwise known as yucca), and flavored with rum and cinnamon, Dutch colonizers brought this dessert to Suriname in 1667, who likely adapted their European tastes for cakes with the ingredients available to them locally.
4. Aran Islands Carrageen Blancmange Pudding // Ireland
You wouldn’t think of seaweed for dessert, but some 500 species of the stuff grow around Ireland’s coastline, and the Irish have been eating it since the Middle Ages. They dry it in the sun and eat it like crackers, add it to soups – and use it as a mineral-rich thickening agent for desserts.
Also used as an ingredient in ice cream, carrageen (carraigín, or “moss of the rocks”) is soaked in warm milk or water, which causes it to release a natural gel that acts as a setting agent for chilled desserts.
5. Malva Pudding // South Africa
Of Cape Dutch origin, Malva pudding is an absurdly delicious caramelized sponge bread with apricot jam and often served hot with cream sauce.
If you live in Los Angeles, you can get a modernized take on the malva pudding at the phenomenal Sqirl in Los Feliz. Every time I’ve introduced this pudding to a new guest, they take a bite and stare at me as though I’ve just discovered nuclear fission. Yeah. THAT impressed. An incomprehensible impressed.
6. Vínarterta // Iceland
This 150-year old fruitcake is a sacred Icelandic cake concocted with dense layers of prune and shortbread. Nice hostesses tell their guests it’s baked with “dried plums,” however, to put a more modern and delicious-sounding spin on the nose-wrinkling idea of eating a prune cake.
Created in the 1860s, when prunes were a luxury, the ideal preparation of the cake widely differs between native Icelanders and North American descendants of Icelanders. Vínarterta traditionally boasts six or seven layers, is flavored with almonds, vanilla, cinnamon, and cardamom, and is served in rectangular slices.
__7. Pain Patate // Haiti __
Pain patate is probably the most widely-beloved dessert in Haitian cuisine. The name means “sweet potato bread” but the recipe is more like a sweet potato pudding. White sweet potatoes known as boniatos, not yams, will make this look more appetizing, but it’s delicious regardless!
Think banana bread, but softer, with the key ingredient of evaporated milk and cinnamon elevating this puddingy-bread to delicious heights. Am I salivating as I write this? Yes. Carry on.
8. Daifuku // Japan
Daifuku means “good luck” in Japanese, which is what you’ll need to not eat ten of these in a row. Daifuku is a type of mochi that involves a stuffing of sweetened red bean paste (azuki bean) and a shell of ethereally chewy glutinous rice cake. Usually in a white or pastel green or pink shell, they come in two sizes: palm-sized or about 1 inch in diameter.
They are often dusted with a thoughtful, fine layer of corn or potato starch to keep the glutinous rice ball shell from sticking to your fingers. If you’re in Los Angeles, I can’t recommend Fugetsu-Do in Little Japan highly enough for your Daifukumochi fix.
9. Dulce de Guayaba // Paraguay
With the appearance of a block of quince paste, this fruity treat is light and refreshing. You won’t find any flour here, as this dessert is comprised solely of boiled and pureed guava combined with sugar, water, and sometimes pectin to make this sweet-tart sweetheart. Paraguayans slice and serve this either alone or with crackers on a hard white cheese.
10. Sacher Torte // Austria
In 1832, his Highness, Prince Wenzel von Metternich, charged his in-castle chef with creating an extra-super-duper special dessert for his guests. Having taken ill at the most inopportune of evenings, the chef gave the opportunity of a lifetime to his no-doubt nerve-ridden 16-year old apprentice, Franz Sacher, only in his second year of training in the prince’s kitchen.
Franz then concocted what is now Austria’s most famous cake: a dense chocolate cake meringue with a thin layer of apricot jam on top, and coated in dark chocolate icing on the top and sides. Yummm. Find it at most Austrian bakeries.