You already know about gelato and churros but have you tried snúður or paczki? Europe is a sweet spot for a dessert crawl.
Folding in chocolate, fried dough, fruit harvests, and lots of sugar, Europe’s nations are rich in traditional desserts. If you have a sweet tooth, there’s no better way to travel and experience the continent than to bite into these treats as you cross borders. Whether you’re a home baker on the hunt for new recipes, ready to scoop up culinary souvenirs or consume on arrival, consider this your guide.
WHERE: Bordeaux, France
These mini candle-votive-shaped cakes flavored with rum and vanilla are heavy on egg—the result of smart nuns who realized during the 15th century that when egg whites were stirred into wine barrels, the yolks were wasted. In Bordeaux, drop by the pretty red-hued Baillardran cafes (retailing canelés since 1888)—and maybe pick up copper fluted molds to bake chez-vous.
Whether you’re skiing in Sölden or vacaying in Vienna, it’s not difficult to score a slice of this chocolate sponge cake nvented in 1832 by Prince Wenzel von Metternich’s chef. The decadence of the apricot-jam and ganache-like chocolate frosting spawned National Sachertorte Day (December 5, mark your calendars). Try it at Hotel Sacher in Vienna or Café Sacher shops in Innsbruck, Graz, or the Vienna airport.
WHERE: The Netherlands
Apples grow in abundance in the Netherlands, and back in the Middle Ages, a chef crafted this Dutch version with a twist—baked in a springform pan. In addition to sliced apples are two key ingredients: currants or raisins, and rum or brandy. And like, the American adaptation of “Dutch apple pie,” a lattice pattern of dough strips comprises the top. At De Laatste Kruimel, sample the pie and pick up pointers from the on-site bakery.
Thankfully it’s not hard to find gelato in the States but if you want to try a scoop of an authentically Italian flavor, go for amarena when in Italy. Miniature dark cherries with a sour flavor profile are grown in Italy and spun into the flavor that is quickly becoming popular throughout the country. In Florence, the gelato shops don’t mess around: find amarena with banana for a “banana-split-type” effect at one of the city’s oldest gelaterias.
WHERE: Istanbul, Turkey
It might sound touristy and cheesy, but some of Istanbul’s best Turkish Delight is sold at the Grand Bazaar, a covered market with 4,000 shops. If you’re only in Turkey’s largest city for a spell, dash over and snap up some of these starchy, sugary treats. Arrange a sampler so you can experience common Turkish flavors like rosewater, pistachio, Bergamot, and lemon.
Belgian-style waffles are making waves in the U.S. thanks to the rise of food trucks. But to seek out the mothership, visit Maison Dandoy, a tea room with four locations in Brussels. Sprinkled with powdered sugar, this is breakfast and dessert all in one. As one Yelp reviewer wrote, it’s as if an American waffle and a funnel cake had a baby.
Served warm and rolled in sugar crystals, these fried-dough twists carry a cinnamon accent and are sometimes stuffed with chocolate. At Chocolatería San Ginés in Madrid—in business since 1894—chocolate churros are served in this bustling café, which features al fresco seating, too.
INSIDER TIPOrder with hot chocolate (and dunk those churros).
Toffee pie gets all the credit as England’s flagship confection, but this banana, toffee, and cream concoction is actually a newer creation. Sadly, creator Nigel Mackenzie died two years ago and The Hungry Monk Restaurant in East Sussex, where Mackenzie unveiled the dessert in 1971, is now closed. Thankfully, it’s not hard to find the pie elsewhere. The Sussex Ox in Sussex is one option.
WHERE: Prague, Czech Republic
Rooted in Slavic cuisine, this 8- to 10-layer honey cake has roots in Prague and also Russia, Croatia, and the Ukraine. The cakes are flavored with honey, cinnamon, cloves, cocoa powder, and meringue between vanilla- or caramel-cream filling, and sometimes drizzled with chocolate and toasted walnuts when out of the oven. Give this cake a whirl at Grand Café Orient, a Cubist-design café near Old Town.
WHERE: Dresden, Germany
Dresden lays claim to inventing stollen—bread baked with spices and chopped candied fruit covered in powdered sugar—during a fast in 1545. While at first the recipe was bland (butter was not allowed during fasting), in time, it improved. Now it’s inextricably linked with Christmas. Lucky enough to be in Dresden during November or December? Hunt this down at a Christmas Market.
Pair a bite of this honey-laced pastry with a gorgeous sunset in Santorini by dropping by Bakery Svoronos, a family-run business baking and selling baklava in Thira since 1896. Bonus: It’s open 24 hours. Multiple layers of filo dough, when baked, produce a flaky texture and a variety of chopped nuts—from walnuts to pistachios—provide further opportunities to customize.
Petite in size—but full of flavor, thanks to the rum—this almond torte is topped with white, sugary frosting with a circle of raspberry jam in the center. As the story goes, during the 1800s a Finnish poet with the last name of Runeberg liked this dessert so much that the Finnish eventually named it after him. Ekberg is a café in Helsinki that not only serves Runeberg Torte but also Fredrika’s Torte, named for the poet’s wife.
Geirabakari Kaffihus in Borgarnes is a great place right on the water to try snúðar, a large rolled-bun cake with icing while looking out through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Or check out Braud & Co. in the capital city of Reykjavik, a year-old bakery that’s currently trending with hipsters and bakes snúðar on-site.
Reminiscent of a warm waffle cone as thin as paper, this Norwegian cookie comes out in full force during the Christmas holidays and celebrated its centennial two years ago. The way you eat these is to fill ’em with even more sugar—ingredients like jam, melted chocolate, berries, or whipped cream, similar to toppings of dessert crepes. Hunt it down in Stavanger at Vaaland Dampbakeri, on Norway’s Southwest coast, a bakery in business as long as krumkakes have been made.
Traditionally rolled out on Fat Tuesday and Fat Thursday during February or March (depending on the year’s calendar), these fried doughnuts were born out of a need to use up all the “bad for you” pantry staples (like sugar and eggs) once banned during Lent as a form of fasting. In Warsaw, Cukiernia, Pawlowicz is a locals’ favorite for paczki (just look for the line) year-round.