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Sweet Life
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Cake, candy, cookies & goodies from around the world

According to legend, a sister at the cloistered convent of Santa Rosa in Conca dei Marini, on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, accidentally invented one of the country’s most iconic pastries some 400 years ago. She mixed together semolina flour and ricotta cheese. Some accounts say she was trying to mold it into the shape of a monk’s hood, fallen against his back. Others say her intention was to make biancomangiare (a Sicilian almond pudding), but in a fit of inspiration, she spread the sweet filling between lard-covered, sugar-coated dough. However the story goes, it ends with the birth of the layered, sweet ricotta–filled pastry known as sfogliatella.

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Say (almost) anything #146. Enjoy Vanilla Cupcake Day!

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Antwerp is the capital of chocolate, selling it in various shapes and flavors, ranging from little peeing boys (manneken pis) to more traditional shapes such as animals and happy faces. But one of the most popular shapes is a severed hand.

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M&M’s are known and enjoyed worldwide as movie snacks or general goodies. However, since 2016, this has not been true for Sweden, where the sweets have been banned due to a trademark dispute with a local candy company’s M Peanut.

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Favorite flowers

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EACH YEAR ON DECEMBER 1O, Nobel laureates gather at Stockholm’s City Hall to feast. Receiving a Nobel prize, whether for literature, science, or advances toward world peace, comes with a significant monetary prize, as well as a gold medal bearing the face of Albert Nobel, the explosives tycoon whose will established the awards. But the Nobel banquet, which has been described as “the greatest dinner party on earth,” is its own reward. You might assume that the highlight is the laureates receiving their prizes. But the dessert course is equally climactic: It’s presented with grand sparklers and a parade. For decades, it featured official Nobel ice cream, too.

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Anis de Flavigny candies start with a single, tiny anise seed. Plunged into sugar syrup over and over for a period of 15 days, the seed becomes enveloped in a white shell. The final product looks like a smooth pearl, with sweet layers in flavors such as rose and blackcurrant (courtesy of natural extracts) surrounding its licorice-y center.

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During the Soviet regime, housewives could cobble together a simple dessert called muraveynik with limited ingredients and little technical skill. Russian home bakers simply piled inexpensive pantry staples into a small hill, which earned it the name “anthill cake.” The towering confection wasn’t really a cake in the traditional sense. It was made up of a basic shortbread dough, which bakers ran through a meat grinder and baked into twisted, snake-like cookies. They’d then break up and mix the cookies with boiled, sweetened condensed milk, likely from an iconic blue-and-white can of sgushyonka (“s-goosh-YON-ka”). In times of extreme poverty, any biscuit, cookie, or bread could be broken up and mixed with small portions of condensed milk.

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Come mid-March, candy sellers around Philadelphia stock their shelves with piles of miniature potato replicas. Tri-state area natives enjoy these nostalgic treats, which go by “Irish potato candy” (but contain no potato), in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day. Despite heavily Irish associations, the sweet spud is an American invention.

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A thin cardboard wrapper with pink polka dots and ruffled edging wraps around a spiraled tower of whipped cream. Atop the dairy bouffant, an electric red cherry gleams like a gemstone nested in the cloud of cream. The dainty might deign to reach for a spoon, but the right New York nana would set such false etiquette aright: The proper Empire City Charlotte Russe is not to be scooped, but pushed.

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Have you ever tried a barbecued cake from Transylvania? If not, you’ll want to add the chimney cake to your bucket list of culinary curiosities.

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Slovenia’s Lake Bled, snuggled against the Julian Alps, is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. Visitors leave with countless photos of the scenic castle, church, and of course, the idyllic lake. But some snapshots will feature the turquoise water as a mere backdrop. The subject of these photos? A delightfully fluffy square of Bled’s signature cream cake.

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Flying Monkey Bakery refers to their Pumpple cake as the “dessert equivalent of a turducken,” but one slice into the towering treat reveals an even more wild ingredient bonanza. For the unenlightened, a turducken is the potentially foolhardy feat of cooking a chicken inside of a duck inside of a turkey to make a layered meat mountain of nesting poultry. The Pumpple cake, however, involves cooking a pumpkin pie inside of a chocolate cake, an apple pie inside of a vanilla cake, then stacking the two with a layer of buttercream frosting between. As a final flourish, the tiers receive a buttercream coating and a dusting of confetti-like rainbow jimmies (i.e., sprinkles).

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The Netherlands has many traditions that visitors can participate in, but some are much less accessible unless you have some very close Dutch friends. One such tradition is eating beschuit met muisjes (loosely translated as a “biscuit with mice”) shortly after the birth of a child.

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South Africans expect to find melktert at supermarkets, bake sales, church events, bakeries, and celebrations. Dutch settlers brought early recipes for this cinnamon-dusted custard pie to the southern tip of Africa in the 17th century. With them came their native tongue, which blended with other languages to form Afrikaans, now one of the official languages of South Africa. Melktert is Afrikaans for “milk tart,” and while the pastry lacks official designation, it’s the closest thing the country has to a national dessert pie.

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While the exact date when Yorkshire parkin became a key part of England’s Guy Fawkes Night may never be known, one thing is certain: The dense, moist, intensely-flavored bread is now as intrinsic to the November 5 holiday as a blazing bonfire.

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THE BRIGADEIRO, ONE OF BRAZIL’S most distinctive desserts, is a dense, sticky confection. It’s crafted from condensed milk, cocoa powder, and butter, and often rolled in chocolate sprinkles. Decadent ingredients aside, the brigadeiro has an unusual origin story. It became popular in the 1940s, when rations made condensed milk a wildly popular substitute for desserts. Lore holds that around this time, women sold these treats at rallies advocating for presidential candidate and Air Force Brigadier Eduardo Gomes, during the first Brazilian national election in which all women were able to vote.

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Thai sweets, called khanom, are often characterized by their interesting shapes and vibrant colors. They’re all made from three principal ingredients—flour, sugar, and coconut—but hundreds of variations exist. Leum kleun is a unique khanom that’s so silky smooth, its name translates to “I forgot I swallowed.”

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When a century-old food tradition is protected by law, it’s probably worth a try, especially if its primary ingredients include flour, butter, and sugar. In Poznán, Poland, one baked good enjoys such status: the St. Martin’s croissant. As the story goes, after hearing a sermon at St. Martin’s church in the late 19th century, one local baker, taking to heart the priest’s message about being charitable toward the poor, created a croissant for distributing to those in need. Having recently watched a horse lose its shoe, the baker shaped the pastry into its now-characteristic horseshoe shape. He shared the treats with the poor, and a warmhearted tradition was born.

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When Richard Nixon visited Beijing in 1972, he ate shaved ice, or bao bing (pronounced bow-BING), with Mao Zedong during a state dinner. Composed of thinly-shaven sheets of ice covered in sweet, Southeast Asian toppings, bao bing is as visually stunning as it is surprising to first-time tasters. Chinese diners enjoyed this icy sweet more than 1,000 years ago, and have since brought bao bing appreciation to Taiwan. Americans began eating bao bing decades ago (one New York Times article discusses the frozen novelty’s “Americanization,” circa 1989). Since then, the dessert has gained fans worldwide, with vendors and chefs often adapting their versions with local toppings.

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Ready… guests may come!

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Rich, dense, and usually cloaked in an armor of sprinkles, classic brigadeiros rely on three simple ingredients: condensed milk, cocoa power, and butter. Brigadeiros won their place in history, and their catchy name, as a fundraising treat that helped fuel Brazil’s 1945 presidential election, the first in which all women could vote. Popular lore holds that suffragists provided the treats at rallies in support of candidate and Air Force Brigadier Eduardo Gomes. They named the treats brigadieros after their candidate’s military rank. While Gomes wasn’t able to win the election, the name stuck.

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In the 18th century, children in Pennsylvania would inevitably find a two-for-one gift in their Christmas stockings. Each piece of clear toy candy, a sweet pioneered by German immigrants, lives up to its name. As the treats were shaped like trains, ships, or animals, children could play with them before eating. Once also called barley candy because some recipes were said to include sweet barley sugar, the candies appeared in the region as early as 1772. Made of colorful, boiled sugar syrup, clear toy candy is carefully made in cold kitchens to preserve its glassy look. Often, the sweets come in Christmas red or green, or the natural yellow of the lightly-caramelized syrup.

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At the end of a meal in Northeastern China, you might have the opportunity to order basi digua, or “pull-silk” sweet potatoes. The dish’s name may not be immediately apparent when it arrives: At first glance, it’s a plate of gleaming, sliced sweet potatoes, served alongside a bowl of ice water.

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My favourite sweets… durian!

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Went to Ample Hills for ice cream.

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In the Sicilian city of Palermo, you’ll find pastry shops stocked with apples, tomatoes, peaches, and other produce. But aside from their fruit-like facade, there’s nothing healthy about them. These are frutta martorana, hyper-realistic, hand-crafted marzipan sweets transformed into fruits, vegetables, and even the occasional spleen sandwich. Though they appear sinfully sweet, frutta martorana have pious origins. Legend has it that the nuns of La Martorana, a convent in Palermo, were looking to impress a visiting archbishop in the 12th century. To liven up the church grounds, they carefully crafted various fruits out of marzipan and hung them from the bare branches. The archbishop was pleased, so the nuns continued making them, sometimes even selling them to parishioners. Eventually, local bakeries caught on and began crafting their own.

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That version was introduced in 2016 to reduce its weight but drew criticism, with some likening it to a bike rack.

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