Most of our travels are culinary explorations that help us learn about the history, culture, and beloved traditions people enjoy. And one of our favorite avenues of discovery is through the desserts that we find along the way. We’ve encountered delicious and unique offerings everywhere we’ve gone. Whether we find them at a high-end restaurant, neighborhood bakery, or back of a vehicle parked on a well-hidden and equally well-known-by-locals side street, we love the thrill of every new taste. The unique ingredients, techniques, and cultural significance of a people can often be found in the time-honored methods of making desserts. Some of the desserts are so memorable that they have enchanted us completely, so we thought we’d share with you some of the best desserts from around the world we have discovered in our culinary journeys.
1. Sacher-Torte, Austria
Austria is filled with beautiful hotels, elegant coffee houses, fine wine, and most of all, tempting desserts. One dessert that encompasses Austria’s many delights is the incomparable Sacher Torte, named after the young apprentice chef who is believed to have created it. With a much-debated history, this delicious cake marries chocolate cake, apricot filling, wrapped in chocolate ganache, and is served with a side of fresh whipped cream. Whether you enjoy it with a glass of sparkling wine, a creamy cup of Viennese coffee, or all on its own, you will not remain untouched by the experience. We were so enraptured with it that on one trip, we bought an entire cake as a gift and carried it from Vienna to Johannesburg for an overnight stay and then on to Sao Paola. It was still just as tasty and was a well-deserved treat. Yes, it really is that remarkable. If you like, you can try making it yourself with an approximate recipe.
2. Baklava, Turkey/Greece
It’s hard to imagine completing a true Mediterranean meal without a piece of baklava at the end. It is a well-known and well-loved dessert consisting of ground nuts, spices, and honey or syrup sandwiched between buttery layers of phyllo dough. Its origin is debated, with both Turkey and Greece claiming ownership. It might be said that the Greek version is inclined to use honey and walnuts, while the Turkish uses syrup and pistachios. It is often found cut into square, triangle, or diamond pieces but is also found in rolls, crowns, and other various shapes. Sue, who doesn’t like nuts, actually found it irresistible when made by the wife of the owner of the Old Greek House in Mustafapasa, Turkey. Now that’s transcendent.
3. Black Forest Cake, Germany
The Black Forest of Germany is a magical place. From the high road, you can look through the clouds to the endless green scenery below. But nothing marks the top of your visit like a piece of genuine Black Forest Cake. We got ours from the picturesque Mummelsee Berghotel Restaurant. Chocolate cake, cherry filling, whipped cream, and chocolate shavings make it an unforgettable delight. Just be aware that the real deal is also filled with strong cherry brandy, so you better wait before you continue to drive or, like us, take it to go and enjoy it when you finish your drive.
4. Pastel De Nata, Portugal
Many desserts have both fans and detractors, but we’ve yet to meet anyone who hasn’t fallen head over heels for the Portuguese custard tarts with a creamy filling with caramelized top and crispity crust called Pasteis (plural of Pastel) de Nata. These bite-sized nibbles from Heaven are something we’ve dreamed about ever since our first bite. They’re so popular, in fact, that you can buy a sleeve of them in the airport before you leave if you need to wean yourself off them. Some enjoy them with coffee, others with port. There’s really no wrong way to enjoy a nata. Many great bakeries offer their own versions, and one of our most memorable tastes was when we enjoyed them warm from the oven in the lovely cafe of Fabrica da Nata.
5. Dobos Torta, Hungary
Those with a sweet tooth in Hungary celebrate the multi-layer sponge cake known as Dobos Torta or Dobosh Torte. Between five or seven (the number varies by creator) thin layers of cake is chocolate buttercream, sometimes including ground hazelnuts, chestnuts, walnuts, or other nuts. A layer of caramel covers the top. The history of the cake indicates that a Budapest baker named Jozsef C. Dobos brought the idea of buttercream back from France and used the caramel on top to help the cake last. These innovations allowed the cake to have a longer shelf life, something that helps bakers to this day make the investment of time worthwhile.
6. Apple Tarte Tatin, France
France has so many delicious desserts it’s rather silly to pick just one. But when we think about the desserts that still make us smile, we point to the Apple Tarte Tatin, one of the quintessential classic tastes of France. When you add a Parisian rendition of this buttery, caramely, apple upside-down tart to a nighttime view of the Eiffel Tower’s sparkling lights from Cafe du Trocadero, it’s the stuff of food travel dreams. Add some vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream on top and call it a fabulous night.
7. Sticky Toffee Pudding, Great Britain
Once in a while, we discover something that is so absurdly indulgent that we balk at how much we want to eat it over and over again every time we see it. Such is the case with the ever-popular British dessert known as Sticky Toffee Pudding. A thick and chewy sponge cake made with dates and brown sugar is covered with a sticky toffee sauce to create the ultimate sweet. Many areas claim to be the originator. We think it has been perfected in the tiny English Lake District town of Cartmel, where the Cartmel Village Shop has been selling its fabulous version for more than 25 years.
8. Eight Treasure Sticky Rice, Taiwan
Taiwan is deservedly famous for its phenomenal dumplings, rice, and noodle dishes. But we’ve also discovered an irresistible dessert that offers a subtle sweetness with the beauty of fruit. Eight Treasure Sticky Rice is deserving of its name. A combination of sweet sticky rice, berries, fruits, and seeds, it’s surprisingly satisfying yet light at the same time. World-renowned Din Tai Fung offers a fabulous rendition.
9. Gelato, Italy
To many of us dessert lovers, gelato is synonymous with Italy. With its infinite variety and healthy ingredient profile (it’s made with more milk and less cream, so it is lower in butterfat) it’s more than just a dessert. It’s really a way of life. And we’re all in for the many delicious flavors of gelato from Italy that have made their way around the world. That’s no surprise considering that artisanal gelato can be found in 76 countries on all continents. While the flavors continue to innovate and evolve, we still think our favorite is the classic stracciatella. The method of adding melted chocolate to the milk ice cream and blending it is sublime. The shards of chocolate that are created ensure you get chocolatey richness with every bite.
Here is a list of some of the best gelaterias in Italy well worth a stop.
10. Liege Waffle, Belgium
Belgium is a country with a great sense of humor. Where else can you see a tiny statue of a little boy peeing that has a huge wardrobe of handmade costumes? Mannekin Pis, as he is called, is something of a national treasure. And there’s no better way to enjoy the show than with another Belgian national treasure, the Liege Waffle. Deep, chewy pockets filled with large chunks of pearl sugar that melt into a crunchy caramel are topped with whatever you like, such as whipped cream, fruit, chocolate, or as we like it -- all of the above. Though many consider this a street food snack, we love it as a sweet ending that we walk off when our eating day is done.
11. Beard Papa’s Cream Puffs, Japan
This is a rare instance in which one particular dessert by one particular company to us is worth separating out as so unique it stands alone. We’ve had amazing cream puffs in our travels, but nothing quite compares to the lip-smacking deliciousness of Beard Papa’s Cream Puffs, where you can select your favorite shell flavor and match it with your favorite filling. This unique cream puff boutique began as a small bakery in Osaka, Japan. The story goes that owner Yuji Hirota had a fluffy white beard and kind nature that endeared him to his customers, who called him “Beard Papa.” While they liked his beard, they loved his cream puffs, and Beard Papa’s now has more than 400 stores in 15 other countries with plans to grow to 300 stores in the United States alone. We can’t wait until one opens up near us!
Desserts are fun to try everywhere. They also provide us with cultural and culinary insights that allow us to gain a deeper experience of what people around the globe enjoy. While we continue to seek out tastes near and far, these are a few of what consider the best desserts from around the world.
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