It’s impossible to travel without sampling the local eats — and we always save room for dessert. Whether that means rich chocolate cake in Austria, fluffy-fruity pavlova in New Zealand or indulgently creamy kulfi in India, the world’s incredible variety of sweet treats can turn any journey into a blissful sugar haze.
Read on to get a taste of the planet’s dreamiest desserts.
1. Austria: Sacher Torte
The Hotel Sacher in Vienna lays claim to the original recipe for this decadent, apricot-accented chocolate cake, which was first created by a teenager! Sixteen-year-old Franz Sacher was an apprentice who had to step up when Prince Metternich’s chef fell ill during a dinner party in 1832. His impromptu dessert was a hit with the prince’s guests — and has been delighting diners ever since.
2. India: Kulfi
We couldn’t put together a dessert slideshow without including some form of ice cream! India‘s version, called kulfi, is more of a frozen custard than an ice cream — it’s denser, with an almost chewy texture, and is made via a lengthy process of slow-cooking sweetened milk. Commonly served in conical molds, kulfi comes in a variety of flavors including mango, rose, cardamom and pistachio.
3. New Zealand and Australia: Pavlova
Both New Zealand and Australia claim credit for the creation of this light, colorful confection named after the dancer Anna Pavlova, who toured the region in the 1920s. It consists of a meringue cake topped with whipped cream and fruits such as strawberries, kiwifruit and blueberries. It’s most popular in the summertime when fresh local fruit is readily available.
4. Thailand: Khao Niaow Ma Muang
This Thai favorite consists of sticky rice drenched in sweet coconut milk and accompanied by chunks of fresh mango. In Thailand this is largely a seasonal treat, enjoyed in the heat of April and May when the locally grown mangoes ripen.
5. Italy: Granita
Though similar to Italian ice, granita is a refreshing frozen confection unique to the island of Sicily. It comes in numerous flavors — including lemon, strawberry and mulberry, among others — and is often eaten by the locals for breakfast along with a brioche. It’s also commonly enjoyed as a sweet afternoon snack on sultry days.
6. Turkey: Kadayif
A variant of kunafeh, a pastry popular across the Levant region, kadayif is distinguished by its unique wiry strands of dough that are baked with a layer of soft cheese, soaked in sweet syrup and cream, and topped with nuts such as walnuts or pistachios.
7. Brazil: Brigadeiros
A staple of birthday parties in Brazil, these chocolate bonbons gained popularity in the 1940s when the wife of Brigadier Eduardo Gomes, a presidential candidate, served them at fundraising events. Made with condensed milk and cocoa, brigadeiros can be coated with various toppings such as sprinkles, nuts and coconut shavings.
8. Hungary: Dobos Torte
Also known as dobosh torte or drum cake, Hungary’s impressive dobos torte comprises either five or seven thin layers of sponge cake separated by rich chocolate buttercream and topped with a caramel glaze. It’s believed to have been invented in the 19th century by a confectioner in Budapest, who took the cake on tour across Europe when it became wildly popular.
9. Canada: Maple Taffy
During chilly Canadian winters, locals in Quebec and other French-speaking regions put all that snow to good use by turning it into a delicious dessert. Maple syrup is poured onto clean snow and allowed to harden for a few seconds; then you can pick it up with your fingers or roll it around a popsicle stick for a sweet frozen snack.
10. Latin America: Tres Leches Cake
The name of this mouthwatering cake means “three milks,” and it’s served everywhere from Mexico to Chile. Vanilla sponge or butter cake serves as a base that is then soaked in the tres leches of evaporated milk, condensed milk and heavy cream, making for a moist, sweet treat. It’s often topped with whipped cream or meringue.
11. South Africa: Koeksisters
Pronounced “cook-sisters,” these deep-fried South African treats are like plait-shaped donuts dipped in sweet, sticky syrup. For the ideal sensory combination, the koeksisters themselves should be toasty-warm and the dipping syrup cold. (And don’t forget a steaming cup of coffee.)
12. China: Mooncakes
Mooncakes are a luxury in China that are most commonly enjoyed during the Mid-Autumn Festival. They’re filled with lotus seed or sweet bean paste, as well as a whole egg yolk (a symbol of the full moon). The Chinese characters imprinted into the top of the cakes typically convey the fillings inside.
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