I’m a slave to my sweet tooth. I love baking, you see, and you never bake just one slice of cake – you bake a whole cake, even a small one, or at least six cupcakes (I’ve never managed less than a round dozen). So I’ve been known to eat chocolate cake as a meal and then have ice cream for dessert. There’s no distance too great to travel for the perfect dessert, and if along with it you get a lovely vacation of non-dessert stuff, too, why would you even hesitate?
PS: I started out with ten, but being the aforementioned sugar-monster, I couldn’t stop. But who’s counting? Nineteen might be an unusual number to stop at, but my meagre ration of will power failed me at number 19. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to find out how I can make these. Till I can go to all these places, that will have to keep me.
Tiramisu is the most popular and decadent of Italian desserts, at least in Italian restaurants everywhere else. It’s with excellent reason, too. This layered, glorious, coffee-flavoured beauty is enough to melt anybody’s heart.
What’s the point of even trying to resist? Pic: Sasha Fujin
Fried sweet dough sticks dipped in chocolate – if you don’t want it, your soul is dead, I tell you. DEAD. If you’re in a place where everybody’s speaking Spanish, or maybe even Portuguese, odds are that you can have this for breakfast. They’re quite popular in Spain, Portugal, Mexico and parts of South America.
Pic: Sami Keinänen
3. Dulce de Leche
I love chocolate, but the intensely pure flavour of slow-cooked condensed milk is one of the few treats I’d choose over the richness of chocolate. It’s extremely popular in Latin America, and its sheer simplicity is what makes it so special. Of course, there’s also the fact that it can be paired with almost anything – cookies, cake, macaroons – you name it. If you can’t quite take off to Colombia at the moment, Haagen Dasz has this flavour in ice cream form. I recommend it very highly.
Crepes stuffed with dulce de leche – some bacon on the side and this would be the best brekkie ever. Pic: Rebecca T. Caro
It was named after Anna Pavlova, but created in her honour either in Australia or New Zealand – this is one of the many things the neighbours cannot agree on. The base of the perfect pavlova is the perfect meringue: soft and gooey on the inside, crunchy and crisp on the outside. Now that we have electric beaters (I don’t, but you probably do), it’s a lot easier to whip the egg whites and sugar to form the right consistency. The pavlova should always be topped with fruits, and it’s a great summer dessert. Or winter dessert. Or autumn breakfast. Or... you get the idea.
Pic: Blake Johnson
For somebody who really loves desserts, I oddly dislike nuts. But the baklava is so special that even as somebody who really dislikes nuts, I plan to stuff myself with baklava when I’m in Turkey. It’s common enough through most of the Middle East. The layers of delicate pastry, the sweet flavour of syrup or honey and even the crunch of finely diced nuts – it’s a delicate but incredibly satisfying dessert.
Pic: Robert Kindermann
6. Key Lime Pie
Would you believe that this one was born out of a lack of milk? It’s made from key lime, eggs and condensed milk, not fresh milk, and was apparently developed to indulge the sweet tooth when fresh milk was scarce in the US. You can get the most authentic version in Key West, Florida. Necessity really is the mother of invention if you really really want dessert.
Pic via Ralph Daily
7. Chimney Cake/Kürtőskalács
This is a dessert that calls Székely Land, a very specific region within what we now call Romania, its sweet home. Of course, the region has attractions such as Transylvania, too, so if you’re a specific kind of adventure seeker and you get here, do not forget to have this cylinder of dough rolled in granulated sugar and then baked, then again rolled in lovely things like powdered sugar and cinnamon. It’s hearty, delicious and sweet.
8. Mango sticky rice pudding
If you’re in Thailand, a popular destination, and you feel like dessert, ask for Khao Niaow Ma Muang. It’s intriguing because we do a lot of things with mangoes in the way of pickles and desserts, and we do a lot with rice and rice flour to make desserts, too. But we don’t usually put the two together, which does strike me as a horrible oversight. Go ahead and try to make your version now that it’s finally mango season again, but don’t forget to have the real deal in Thailand!
9. Guinness Cake
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I like beer. I love Guinness. Ireland is on my wishlist and has been forever, but with all that Guinness, I might need at least three trips there before I have at least one that I can actually remember. But when you want a small change from drinking Guinness, have Guinness Cake. This particular kind of cake was a thing before Guinness became almost synonymous with Ireland: it was made with porter, a lower alcohol cousin of stout. It’s fruity, though there’s a rich and chocolaty version of it, as well. It’s the only fruit cake I would voluntarily have, especially if the frosting is Irish coffee flavoured!
This isn’t the traditional one, but it’s cake, it’s got Guinness in it, frosting’s got Bailey’s. So who's complaining? Pic: jules
This is, apparently, a Ukrainian delicacy, but it seems to me like this is just a big lump of jelly. I can take it or leave it, but if you really love jell-o, go for it.
For us, this would be a bit like paneer pancakes. It’s made from quark, which is very similar to paneer, except that it’s strained sooner than paneer is and is not made to firm up. It is still like cottage cheese, and now, don’t you want to crumble fresh paneer into pancake batter and try this? The recipe also calls for flour, eggs, sugar and vanilla. In the interest of accuracy and gluttony, I tried this one out, and I think it works better with khova than paneer. It goes well with any fruity or sweet syrup. For the authentic version, head to Russia, Ukraine (or is that the same already, have powerful people made up their minds?), Belarusia, Poland or most surrounding regions.
12. Ovocne knedliky
When you’re in Prague – because of course you want to go to Prague, who doesn’t – stop by a small cafe and ask for these little dumplings of awesome. The coating is made from flour, butter, eggs, milk and curd cheese (yes, like the awesome pancakes), but these have a soft centre of jam or fruit like strawberries, apricots or plums. They’re often dusted with powdered sugar, too.
13. N'dizi No Kastad
Zanzibar might not figure on most people’s travel wishlists, but it really should. It’s an archipelago of gorgeous islands, visas are easy to get, though you do need to get vaccinated for yellow fever. When you’re there, make sure you try this excellent dessert made of banana and custard. Sure, you could make it yourself and serve it right in a champagne glass, but compare that prosaic experience to the real deal, of having it served to you on an island paradise.
14. Kaab el Ghzal
This is a Moroccan speciality and it translates roughly to ‘gazelle horns’. They’re cookies, but that simple word doesn’t do justice to the flavours in it. The cookie dough has to be handled extremely carefully, rolled out thin. Then a filling of almonds ground to a find powder and made into a paste with sugar, cinnamon and orange blossom water needs to be made. Finally, it needs to be baked and rolled in powdered sugar. It’s an involved procedure, and to do it justice, you need to have the authentic version.
15. Baram Tteok
East Asia holds a special lure for people who love stories. Korea is no different. So when you do go, don’t forget to get this delicate dessert made of bean paste and rice. They’re a bit similar to daifuku, which calls Japan home and I would recommend very highly, too, but different enough to have its own identity. Sometimes, mung bean filling is used instead of original Azuki bean version. This is more common among people of Korean heritage in the West.
That’s daifuku, not baram tteok, though. But both look very similar. Pic via
16. Guava duff
Who needs yet another reason to go to the Bahamas! As if the beaches and the drinks and everything else weren’t enough, now we have an excellent dessert with guava gorgeously entwined in folds of sweet dough calling us. If that’s not enough, it’s usually served with sauce poured over it liberally. This local dessert encapsulates the spirit of Bahamas in dessert form. This is the eleventy-thousandth reason to visit Bahamas!
17. Cassava Pudding
The Cassava pudding has been credited to Fiji, the Solomon Islands, the Philippines, Belize and Jamaica, but that’s a good thing, isn’t it? It means there are a lot of lovely island destinations where you can vacation and still expect this dessert on the menu. You know what a cassava is, though by a different name: it’s tapioca. This dessert is a bit like a pudding-y cake made with grated cassava, with coconut milk used liberally.
When you’re in Vienna and sitting in a cafe, you will notice an extremely rich and tempting chocolate cake calling your name. You have heard the siren call of the sachertorte, but unlike sailors, your only death will be by dessert. And you can go back for more.
Pic: David Monniaux
19. Dobos torte
As far as cakes are concerned, this pretty much represents Hungary. It is absolutely decadent – at least seven layers of extremely rich spongecake with layers of chocolate butter cream between them, all drenched in caramel. I hope you have a bakery that delivers on speed dial because I need a fix now!
Pic: Bruce Tuten