Ahhh…. European desserts. Lives there a woman traveler who can resist them? Certainly not me. Because one of the great joys of traveling is… eating. And one of the great joys of eating is… dessert!
A whole lot of travel and food bloggers seem to be just like me—unable to resist desserts in Europe. So I asked some of them to share their favorites with us. Together, we’ve come up with a list of an even two dozen of the best European desserts you need to try on your next trip. Let’s begin with one of my own personal favorites.
Poffertjes in the Netherlands
Poffertjes come directly from the gods, I swear it. These little pockets of heaven are small, puffy buckwheat pancakes (seen in the photo above), baked in a special cast-iron pan with shallow spherical depressions. Once baked, they are slathered in butter and covered in large driftings of powdered sugar. When I first went to Amsterdam, more than 45 years ago, poffertjes were usually bought from special circus-style stands that set up around town at various holidays. Today, you can find them at the street markets, such as the Albert Cuyp Market, and in many cafes. I’ll eat them anywhere I find them, but one of my favorite poffertjes stops is Café De Prins at Prinsengracht 124. This really is one of my very favorite European desserts. You need to try them. Trust me on this.
Lebkuchen in Nuremberg, Germany
By Sage Scott from Everyday Wanderer
Lebkuchen is a traditional German Christmas treat. Although the word kuchen means cake in German, I would describe lebkuchen as the love child of a gingerbread man and a spice cake. These German sweet treats are baked on a thin, white, edible wafer called oblaten that always reminds me of a Communion wafer. As it turns out, that’s because the 13th Century German monks who invented lebkuchen in Nuremberg used larger, unconsecrated hosts to structure the cakes and keep the dough from sticking to the baking surface. The cake itself can range from sweet (also known as honigkuchen or honey cake) to spicy (also known as pfefferkuchen or pepper cake).
Typical lebkuchen ingredients include some combination of honey or molasses, spices (like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg), nuts (like almonds or hazelnuts), and candied fruit (like dried apricots or candied lemon peel). As a final step, lebkuchen is dipped in a glaze or dark chocolate. In the country that invented the Christmas tree and is the setting for the Nutcracker Ballet, no Christmas would be complete without soft, sweet, and spicy lebkuchen! They are available at every bakery and every Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market) in Germany throughout the holiday season.
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Skyr in Iceland
By Danielle Desir from The Thought Card
Skyr is one my favorite treats in Iceland. Pronounced “skee-er,” skyr is a dairy product that resembles yogurt but has a milder taste. It is one of Iceland’s oldest dairy products and has been around for nearly 1,000 years. Instead of having a sour and tart taste like yogurt, the cultures that make up skyr have a rich and creamy flavor. Skyr is also very good for your health. It contains more protein and less sugar than yogurt. In Iceland, you can find all sorts of flavors like peach cloudberry, strawberry, banana, apple, raspberry, coconut and more.
Trying skyr is one of the inexpensive things I recommend doing in Iceland on a budget. It costs around 200 ISK or $2+ USD. You can find Skyr at grocery stores, gas stations and even some restaurants.
Churros and Chocolate in Madrid
By Tom Bartel & Kristin Henning from Travel Past 50
For your morning coffee or chocolate and churros in Madrid, you must visit Chocolatería San Ginés in the center city. It’s just off Calle Arenal about halfway between the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza de Ópera. If you go at the typical breakfast time of mid-morning, you’ll stand in line for a few minutes to order at the cashier. You pay, get your ticket, and then wait a couple more minutes for a table to open up. The place has seating on two levels in the main shop, and another large room next door. The turnover is quick, so the wait is never long, but even if it were, it would be worth it.
Basically, there are four combinations that are the standard fare. You can either have coffee with milk or hot chocolate, and you can either have churros or porras, which are basically just bigger churros. Churros are the Spanish equivalent of donuts. They are fried dough, usually sprinkled with powdered sugar, although they are so delicious, you can certainly forego the sweet garnish. I do. However, the essence of the Spanish churro breakfast is not the churros. It’s the chocolate. This isn’t the thin gruel that Americans call cocoa or hot chocolate. This is a thick, dark, bitter chocolate that comes in a cup, but is really too thick to drink. It exists solely for dipping your churros. Enjoy.
Read more about Tom & Kristin’s take on Madrid with this Madrid mini guide.
Sebada in Sardinia
By Claudia Taviani from My Adventures Across the World.
One of the yummiest sweet treats in Sardina is the sebada (or seada), generally referred to in its plural form—sebadas or seadas. These are made by preparing a very plain dough which is then laid very thin and filled with a mild cheese (it can be Dolce Sardo, but it should traditionally be a sweet and fresh pecorino cheese) and grated lemon or orange rind. The pastry is then folded together carefully, and deep fried. It’s cooked until crispy and then served with honey. The end result is a sweet, salty and at the same time crispy and tangy dessert that makes any mouth water. A classic among European desserts.
Read more about Claudia’s favorite food destinations around the world.
Snow-White Cake in Bucharest, Romania
By Iulia-Alexandra Falcutescu of The Traveling Tulip
When you visit Bucharest, one of the “must have” sweets is a typical Romanian cake called “Snow-White.” I know, it has a funny name, but it is so delicious, light and sweet, that you will immediately fall in love with it, just like the Prince did with the real Snow-White. This is my childhood’s cake. My grandma used to make it, as it is a favorite amongst children and adults alike. It is a layered cake, made from three thin sheets of cake with vanilla-lemon cream in between them. That fresh cream perfectly balances the sweetness of the pastry layers to create a fresh dessert.
Typically, this is not found in your average cake shop in the city, but look for the cake shops that sell “home-made” cakes. It’s a must for them to have it and for you to enjoy it! Better yet, find a Romanian grandma to make one for you. If you can’t manage that, you can always try Lulu’s Cake (located at Strada Bogdaniţa, Nr. 8-10, in Bucharest). It’s a cake shop that makes “home-made” cakes, and they are my favorite when it comes to bringing me back to my childhood.
Follow Iulia-Alexandra Twitter at @thetulipjul.
Gelato in Florence, Italy
By Dhara from It’s Not About the Miles
Florence, Italy, is considered the birthplace of not just the Renaissance but also my favorite sweet treat, gelato. Story has it that in 1565, Bernardo Buontalenti, the man in charge of setting up fabulous events for the Medicis, decided to chill pastry cream for a dessert offering at a banquet. And that’s how gelato made its debut! Without a doubt, Florence is home to some of the best gelaterias on the planet. But even in this land of plenty, there are standouts that you absolutely must not miss when you visit. Stop by Vivoli for unsurpassed renderings of classic flavors. Pay Gelateria dei Neri a visit for daring and contemporary flavor combinations. Stand in the inevitable line at La Carraia for gelato that oozes decadent richness. Visit Carapina for the most purist take on gelato artigianale. And why not stop by Perchè no! for its cute name and delicious gelato?
One of the tests for whether a gelateria is great is supposedly to see if it carries nocciola (hazelnut) gelato as a stand-alone flavor. Hazelnut is an expensive ingredient, and only top gelaterias offer real hazelnut on its own. Fior de latte, translating literally to flower of milk, is another test…if a shop can do a great sweet cream flavor, which contains nothing but milk and sugar, you can be confident its offerings will be delicious. Happy tasting, and happy gorging on gelato in Firenze! One of the best European desserts in one of the best cities!
Learn more about Dhara’s fave places to try gelato in Italy.
Kürtőskalács in Hungary
By Gábor Kovács from Surfing the Planet
The Hungarian language is full of words that are very hard to pronounce, but one of these unpronounceable words, kürtőskalács, quickly becomes part of the vocabulary of those who visit Hungary. Kürtőskalács is a cake that comes originally from the Hungarian speaking part of Transylvania in Romania, but it is one of the favorites not only in Hungary, but also other places in the region. During your walk around Budapest, you will easily find a food stall that sells this beauty, and you will also find another version in Prague that is called trdelník.
Kürtőskalács is a spit cake (sometimes they translate it to chimney cake), prepared in a special oven where the dough is wrapped around a wooden spit. The cake is baked slowly over a wood fire and then is glazed in sugar. There are different versions with cinnamon, vanilla, or even walnut added to the sugary glaze. A new trend is to put ice cream in the middle, but that cools it down, and I think it’s much tastier when it’s warm.
Follow Gabor on Twitter at @surfingplanet
Brunsviger in Funen, Denmark
By Line Olesen from Nordic Travellers
Brunsviger is a Funen cake that will make your blood flow a little slower due to a butter and sugar overload, but boy is it good. The cake is a yeast dough covered in a sugary mass made out of butter and brown sugar. The icing has to be soft, smooth and without crunch; the sugar grains have to be melted. If you get a piece of brunsviger with a crunch, the baker didn’t do a good job. On Funen, it is customary to have the baker make a brunsviger shaped as a boy or girl and decorate it with candy for kids’ birthday parties. The name of the cake is derived from the German city Braunschweig, but other than that the connection is uncertain.
Although the cake is hugely popular on Funen, people from other parts of the country don’t really understand it. But if you have grown up with brunsviger, you will keep craving it for the rest of your life. I, the writer, was once forbidden to eat brunsviger in the car by my boyfriend because he was tired of putting his hands on a sticky and greasy steering wheel every time I had been to the bakery. Have I stopped? Only I and the car know.
You can follow Nordic Travellers on Facebook.
Sticky Toffee Pudding in England (one of the best European Desserts)
By Claire Sturzaker from Tales of a Backpacker
Sticky toffee pudding has always been one of my favourite English desserts. It is one of those desserts you can find in all kinds of restaurants, from pubs and chains, to high-class gourmet restaurants. The combination of gooey sponge pudding with a sweet toffee sauce and ice cream or custard is hard to beat, and the perfect way to finish any meal!
There is something incredibly satisfying about a warm, sweet sticky toffee pudding which never fails to put a smile on my face—British comfort food at its best. There is some contention about the best recipe of course, mainly whether to include dates in the sponge mixture. Personally, I prefer it without, but there is no right and wrong when it comes to a good dessert. Either way is delicious! The most recent sticky toffee pudding I had was in London, in a restaurant on the South Bank of the Thames, as part of a food tour. Even though I was already stuffed, I still found room for it, and am so glad I did!
Follow Claire on Twitter at @clairesturz
Cranachan in Scotland
By Kirstin McEwan from The Tinberry Travels
Cranachan is a traditional dessert well worth a try if you find yourself in Scotland. A classic after-dinner accompaniment, a cranachan (occasionally spelled crannachan and pronounced kran-nuh-kun) encompasses a whole host of local produce that make it a quintessentially Scottish pudding. The layered dessert was originally made at the end of summer to celebrate the harvest but is now served at any time of year. It contains layers of toasted oats, cream, honey, fresh Scottish raspberries, and of course a little dash of whisky!
You’ll find this on most Scottish restaurant menus and it is certainly a staple at many occasions such as a Burns Night or at a Hogmanay meal. We even had it at our wedding! There’s also plenty of variations on the standard recipe, but you’ll usually have a tall glass with layers of each ingredient. It should be made with fresh raspberries, local honey, and should be light and sweet rather than heavy, but don’t be surprised if it has a kick as some places can be a little liberal with the whisky!
Follow Kirstin on Instagram.
Hungarian Dobos Torte in Budapest, Hungary
By Eric and Lisa from Penguin and Pia
Exploring the Hungarian capital city and looking for something sweet to eat? If this is you, then trying a slice of Dobos Torte in Budapest is the answer to your cravings! This classic cake contains 7 spongy layers with chocolate buttercream icing in between each of them. The top decoration is where Dobos gets its signature look: a hardened, shiny caramel layer is waiting for you to break through when you enjoy a slice.
The cake itself was created by József Dobos. a Hungarian pastry chef. in the late 1800s. As the legend goes, József was a creative baker who was tired of his creations going stale shortly after baking them. His solution? Create a dessert where all the exposed cake was covered up! He whipped together (pun intended) a chocolate buttercream icing and covered all the layers and the exterior edges of the cake. Finally, he drizzled and spread the caramel until it hardened on the top. This combination sealed the cake inside, keeping it moist and fresh. From that experiment, Dobos Torte was born! Whatever you have planned for your time in Budapest,, there are lots of confectionery shops around the city that serve a great slice of Dobos. We’d recommend Café Gerbeaud for an authentic Hungarian experience.
Berliners in Lucerne, Switzerland and Germany
By Halef and Michael, The Round the World Guys
The world was introduced to the complicated German Berliner dessert in 1963. That year, John F. Kennedy made a famous (and what some considered to be erroneous) speech. “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Urban legend has it that he stated, “I am a jelly donut!” That’s because the Berliner is a popular pastry you can get in any German region. It is a sweet dough, fried in oil to create a donut. Instead of a hole in the middle, the Berliner is typically filled with marmalade or jam. You can also find Berliners with chocolate or custard fillings. Obviously, there are many versions of the Berliner, including with powdered sugar toppings or icing.
In parts of Germany, including in Berlin, the Berliner pastry is more commonly known as Pfannkuchen – literally “pancake.” In Switzerland, however, you’ll find the true and classic Berliner, filled with jelly (hence the jelly donut). I had my first Berliner in Lucerne, Switzerland. Because Lucerne is quite culturally German, you can find many pastry shops and cafes which have their own Berliner specialties.
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Pastel de Nata in Lisbon, Portugal
By James from Portugalist
Portugal’s best and most well-known pastry is the pastel de nata (often called a Portuguese custard tart). Made from layers of filo pastry and egg custard, this sweet may be simple in its ingredients, but its flavors are complex. It’s best enjoyed with a small black espresso (called a “bica” in Lisbon) outside a small cafe, as you sit and watch the world go by. You’ll find pastel de nata in just about every cafe in Portugal, but the best ones come from the city where the recipe originates: Lisbon.
Pastéis de Belém is credited with the original nata recipe, and it’s definitely worth making a special journey to this pastelaria. Recently, however, a number of newcomers have sprung up and many have even won the coveted annual “melhor pastel de nata” award. Which is the best? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to work your way through the entire city.
Also, read about my own NomadWomen love affair with Pasteis de Belem when I was in Lisbon.
Strudel in Italy (and other places)
By Margherita Ragg from The Crowded Planet
One of my favorite sweets ever is strudel, a roll of pastry cut into slices and served with whipped cream, custard, or ice cream. It’s found all over the Alps. You can also find strudel filled with ricotta cheese, forest fruits, or other types of fruit; but the best and most common filling is definitely apples and cinnamon.
I love to eat strudel after hiking because I found it satisfies my cravings for carbs and sugar without feeling too heavy on the stomach, like many other types of sweets and cakes. Recently I went on a three-day hike around the Brenta Dolomites, staying in mountain huts, and while everyone was having beer or radler at the end of the day, I was happily munching away on a huge slice of strudel! The best strudel I’ve ever had was at Rifugio Alimonta in the Brenta Dolomites, but I think the fact I had it after hiking for seven hours is part of the reason why I found it so delicious!
Bosche Bollen in Den Boscch, Netherlands
By Karen Turner from WanderlustingK
Bossche Bollen are the traditional sweets from Den Bosch, the Netherlands. ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) is a beautiful city in Brabant about one hour from Amsterdam with a rich culture. Their own delicious pastry is one you’ll want to try, especially if you love chocolate and cream. This Dutch sweet is made with cream and melted chocolate in a giant ball.
When visiting ‘s-Hertogenbosch, you can find these delicious specialties all over the city, although the most famous come from a bakery close to the central train station, Banketbakkerij Jan de Groot. Most of the cafes around town will serve fresh Bossche Bollen, so don’t worry about finding them within the city. Even outside of Den Bosch, you can find them at some bakeries around the Netherlands. I recommend sharing one with a friend and saving plenty of room for later as they’re quite filling.
Learn Karen’s advice on how to spend a day in Den Bosch.
Rote Grütze in Northern Germany
By Cate Brubaker from International Desserts Blog
One of my all-time favorite European sweet treats is Rote Grütze, a delicious traditional summer dessert from northern Germany. If you like berries, you’ll love Rote Grütze! It’s basically a compote made from simmering blackberries, raspberries, cherries, and red currants in red fruit juice and a bit of sugar. When I was served Rote Grütze at a friend’s house, it was typically served warm with a small pitcher of cold, fresh cream to pour over the top. SO good! However, if you order it in a cafe or restaurant, they’ll probably serve it cold or at room temperature and topped with vanilla sauce, vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Don’t worry, no matter how it’s served, it’ll be amazing! Rote Grütze is super easy to make from scratch, but if you’re in Germany (especially northern Germany) you’ll find a jar of it in any grocery store. Rote Grütze: the perfect local sweet treat to enjoy in your AirBnB!
Check out Cate’s recommendations for things to do in Hamburg, Germany.
Trdelnik in Prague, Czech Republic
By Kris from Nomad by Trade
I love trying new foods when I travel, especially when they’re sweet, and I fell in love with trdelnik in Prague during my first visit there. Trdelnik are pastries made by wrapping dough around a spit and then roasting it over a grill. Once cooked, they’re coated in sugar and nuts. Nowadays you can even get them filled with chocolate, pie filling, and whipped cream. My favorite version has melted white chocolate drizzled all over the inside.
Watching them being made is almost as fun as eating them. They’re a great snack to eat while walking around Prague’s historic streets, though if you want to minimize the mess while you explore, opt for one of the simpler flavors, because the fancy ones full of creamy fillings can definitely get messy. You can find variants all over central Europe, but they’re absolutely everywhere in Prague. Don’t miss out on a chance to sample these tasty treats during your visit.
You can follow Kris on Twitter at @nomadbytrade13
Schwärzwalder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake)
By Erin from Erin at Large
Black Forest Cake is indeed from the Black Forest region of Germany, but there is debate about in which town it originated. Some of the first published recipes for the cake date from the late 1920s. You can see one of these recipes at the Black Forest Open-Air Museum, in the town of Gutach. You can have a large slice of the cake in their lovely restaurant as well.
The Black forest region is famous for its cherry trees, so much so that the women’s traditional local costume includes a hat with giant red pom-poms on top, resembling cherries. It’s no wonder the cherries and Kirschwasser (cherry liqueur) made their way into the famous dessert. A proper Black Forest cake layers light chocolate cake with whipped cream or buttercream, with one layer of sour cherries and Kirschwasser. It’s then topped with buttercream dotted with chocolate swirls.
Read about Erin’s trip to the Black Forest Open Air Museum.
Lokum, aka Bulgarian Delight, in Bulgaria
By Sarah Carter from ASocialNomad
Bulgaria has been conquered and ruled by many over the centuries, so there’s little wonder that her rulers left their culinary influences on the country. Lokum/Bulgarian Delight may be presumed to have arrived with the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Bulgaria from late 14th century to 1878, but it also could have arrived earlier, as Middle Eastern cuisine features heavily in Bulgarian food. Bulgarian Delight is, like its Turkish neighbour, made of a gel of starch and sugar. The primary Bulgarian Delight flavour is rose—for which Bulgaria his famous. Bulgarian Delight is eaten in small cubes dusted with icing sugar. You’ll find boxes available in tourist stores and be able to spend your last Leva on it at the Airport.
As in Turkey, Bulgarian Delight is known as lokum, and in the Bulgarian alphabet is written as “локум.” The sweet is served at room temperature and often given as gifts.
Learn more from Sarah’s guide to Bulgarian food.
Scones in England
By Liliane Fawzy from My Toronto, My World
Now when you think of British desserts, I’m sure a couple of them come to mind. But the one that typically instantly comes to mind? Scones! If you for some reason happen to not know what scones are, they’re a baked good made of wheat or oatmeal and baked in the oven. There are many varieties of the scone. Some scones come flavored with things like lemon. Some contain fruits like berries or raisins mixed into the dough. While there are savory versions (total sacrilege in my opinion), scones are usually sweet and best eaten with jams and/or clotted cream.
The actual best way to take in a scone is with an afternoon tea. Afternoon teas typically serve you scones with an assortment of jam flavors in addition to clotted cream. It’s a great way to try scones for the first (or tenth) time as you get to try a couple of different flavors. Plus you get to drink tea and dress up!
Read about a unique way to take tea—with scones—in London, on a double-decker bus!
Kaiserschmarrn in Austria
By Linda de Beer from Travel Tyrol
Traveling to Austria and not trying Kaiserschmarrn, the favorite dessert of Emperor Francis Joseph, would be like going to Paris and not having crêpes. Kaiserschmarrn is a thick, fluffy shredded pancake dusted with icing sugar and traditionally served with raisins and fruit compote. It’s so filling that many Austrians even have it as their main meal. There are different stories as to how Kaiserschmarrn was named after the emperor. A favorite is that it was prepared by a nervous farmer who served it up after Francis Joseph and his wife unexpectedly stopped by for lunch.
The secret to making the perfect Kaiserschmarrn is in preparing and frying the batter just right. To ensure the thick and fluffy texture, many eggs are used with the whites beaten stiff before gently stirring it into the rest of the batter. Generous helpings of the batter are then fried in real butter while “shredding” it into pieces with a fork. Not everyone likes raisins in their Kaiserschmarrn, so there’s often an option to have it without. The most popular kinds of fruit compote to accompany the pancakes are plum and apple. A traditional Austrian restaurant without Kaiserscmarrn on the menu is just as unusual as one without Wiener Schnitzel!
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Cannoli in Sicily, Italy
By Steph Edwards from The Mediterranean Traveller
The sweltering Sicilian capital of Palermo is a paradise for foodies with a sweet tooth. Sicilians love their sugar, and its capital city is the spiritual homeland of one of the island’s most famous exports: cannoli. These iconic, deep-fried tubes of pastry adorn the windows of bakeries and patisseries around the island. The tasty tubes are filled with a sweetened sheep’s milk ricotta and topped with a variety of crunchy chunky things. The most common is chopped chocolate chips with candied peel or a glacé cherry.
Although you can now find cannoli (the word is plural) around the world, the freshness of the ricotta in Sicily ensures these will be the best you’ll ever taste. Fresh quality produce is a serious business on this island. Rumor has it that the best cannoli is to be found in the twin villages of Piana degli Albanesi and Santa Cristina di Gela, just south of Palermo. Cannoli is just the beginning of Sicilian sweets and desserts though; don’t miss a helping of gelato wedged into a brioche bun for breakfast (yes!), or its famous sponge cake cassata with its neon colors, or the utterly divine setteveli chocolate hazelnut tart. They are all exquisite european desserts.
Follow Steph on Facebook.
Kremna Rezina in Slovenia
By Kay from Jetfarer
Many people flock to Lake Bled for its spectacular views and historic marvels, but fewer people know about its best-kept secret: kremna rezina or kremsnita, a traditional Slovenian cream cake. Among one of the best things to do in Lake Bled, trying a slice of this cake is a must for visitors to the region. Between layers of fluffy, soft cake is some of the most delicious and drool-worthy sweet cream in the world. Whether you’re trying to satisfy a sweet tooth craving after dinner, or as a reward after a taxing hike in Triglav National Park, kremsnita is definitely a treat you can’t pass up if you’re visiting the area.
Several cafes in the town of Bled serve kremsnita, but the original and best variant is at the Park Hotel. Here, you can order a slice of cake with a coffee or tea and admire the amazing views of Lake Bled from the hotel terrace.
So….what’ll it be? What will be the first of the many delicious European desserts you’ll try on your trip around the continent? Calories? What are those? You’re a Nomad Woman, an adventurer. It’s your duty to try everything, taste everything. And you know, really, calories don’t count when you’re traveling.
What are your all-time favorite desserts in europe. Let us know in the comments.