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

The French village of Locronan looks much the way it did in the 15th century. Pedestrians wander the cobblestone streets freely, cut off from car traffic, surrounded by granite houses. Situated in France’s northwest region of Brittany, this well-preserved haven houses a bakeshop called Le Guillou. Here, five generations of pastry chefs have crafted kouign-amann, a regional specialty that features croissant dough laminated in salted butter and rolled in sugar. Some Bretons claim that this signature treat (which is pronounced “queen ah-MAHN”), made by artisans across the region, is the fattiest pastry in the world.


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.


Anyone who’s lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in the last two decades knows Caliche’s Frozen Custard. The hot dog and ice cream joint has provided refreshing, creamy relief from the desert sun since 1996. Customers order from a window, sit outside, and enjoy concretes (a term describing frozen custard that’s blended with candy, nuts, or fruit), hot dogs, and one particularly unique sundae: the New Mexican. This local specialty counters the green chile’s signature heat with cool sweetness. Caliche’s churns out vanilla frozen custard, then smothers it in green chile topping—in a format akin to homemade strawberry sauce—and tops it with a handful of salted pecans.


Visitors flock to see the mosaic tiling and waterways that earned Aveiro the nickname “the Venice of Portugal.” But this city has a flavor all its own, which is—in large part—egg yolk. Ovos Moles, wafer confections filled with sweet, vibrant yolk, are a symbol of the canal-lined, coastal city.


There comes a moment in many Chinese children’s lives when they realize that bo lo bao(“pineapple bun”) contains no pineapple. It’s not as if the bread tastes or smells like pineapple, but it is sweet and yellow.


Many people consider haggis to be an acquired taste. The Scottish dish of spiced organs and oatmeal loaded into a sheep’s stomach inspires both delight and disgust. For those who might want to experience the flavors of haggis without the texture of organ meat, you’re in luck. Two Scottish chocolatiers have taken haggis’s unique spice blend and added it to high-end chocolate.


A boiling pot of vegetable soup, or so the legend goes, saved Geneva’s religious fate in 1602. The troops of the Catholic Savoyards, led by the Duke of Savoy, launched a surprise attack on Protestant Geneva on a cold night in December that year. Genevans tells the story of Catherine Cheynel, also known as Mère Royaume, whose quick thinking led her to seize, and empty, a large cauldron of boiling hot soup on a group of attackers beneath her window, killing one of them. The resulting commotion alerted the townspeople who successfully defended their city and defeated the Savoyards. While it’s likely that the story of Mère Royaume is apocryphal, Geneva’s citizens did fight alongside the city’s militia to fight off invasion that fateful night. Eighteen Genevans died in the attack. Sources vary on Savoyard losses, ranging from 54 to 72 casualties.


The Dutch call Indonesian lapis legit “bacon cake.” In English, the sweet goes by “thousand-layer cake.” Though both names are hyperbolic, they are a testament to this treat’s decadence. The Indonesian-Dutch fusion dessert features 18 to 30 individually baked layers of spiced butter, sugar, and egg yolk.


At first glance, apple cheese looks a bit like charcuterie, but it’s not meat or even cheese at all.


Romesh Ram Gour is content. While his signature invention, a seven-layer rainbow of different varieties of tea, has gained fans around the world, he has no use for riches. “What for?” he asked a Guardian journalist who suggested he expand beyond his two-stall operation. “For money? A bigger TV? I’m happy with life as it is.”


Driving through the tiny town of Arcadia, Oklahoma, just a half-hour north of Oklahoma City, no passenger can miss the sign for Pops. Nestled along Route 66, the roadside restaurant and gas station sells around 700 kinds of soda, arranged by color. Out front, a 66-foot-tall soda bottle statue provides a tip-off regarding what’s in store for customers. At night, LEDs illuminate the structure, turning it into a beacon of light that harkens back to the days when this legendary route was dotted with neon.


Rainbow cake for everyone of you!


It’s morning in Sicily and, for some diners, that means one thing: brioche con gelato, a typical breakfast item consisting of a brioche bun stuffed with a couple of scoops of gelato. You can eat it like a sandwich, biting through the solid mass, or scoop off bites with a small spoon. A combination of the two methods seems to work best.


Before Floridians made key lime pie their internationally-known dessert sweetheart, they baked pies using the juice of another tangy, local citrus. When the Spanish first arrived in the state during the 16th century, they brought assorted species of local flora from Europe. Before long, sour oranges, most often of the Seville variety, dotted the sunshine state’s landscape.


Long before the Cronut became a sensation, locals in Girona, Spain enjoyed a decadent, custard-filled version. In this Catalonian city, bakers fill croissant-like dough with crema catalana (Spanish-style crème brûlée), deep-fry, and sugar-coat the pastry. The resulting breakfast treat is called a xuixo, or “shoo-shoo.”


Brits in the 19th century steamed a jam-filled roll of suet pastry that most people refer to as a jam roly-poly. But historically, it’s been known by another moniker: dead man’s leg. British baby boomers recall embracing the morbid nickname when school cafeterias served the pudding as a weekly treat. It’s also referred to in a discussion of English puddings in Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book(published in 1982). Introducing an apricot and almond crumble, Grigson writes, “It is always a great success with our French and Italian friends, who ask for an English pudding but whose pioneering spirit would fail if faced with Spotted Dick or Dead Man’s Leg.”


Towards the end of the 19th century, a pâtissier on Rue Saint-Denis, near the Paris stock exchange, baked rich cakes in the shape and color of gold bars, likely in an effort to appeal to his banker customers. The pastry’s name? Financier, pronounced “fee-nahn-see-AY,” of course.


Reims is the unofficial capital of Champagne’s grape-growing region, but the French city also boasts a namesake sweet designed for dunking in the area’s world-famous wine. Local bakers created biscuits rose de Reims around 1690. Made from sugar, flour, egg, and salt, the twice-baked cookies have a crispness that keeps them from flaking when submerged in liquid. Rather, after going for a dip in a glass of champagne, biscuits rose de Reims melt in your mouth.


La Gomera, the second smallest of Spain’s Canary Islands, is home to a honey-like substance known as miel de palma. Made from the Canarian palm’s sap (called guarapo), miel de palma begins as a liquid that The Art of Eatinglikens to a “very mild coconut milk.” Once guarapo is boiled down, the finished product evokes comparisons to smoky, liquid toffee, thin molasses, and treacle. Technically, miel de palma is a syrup, but it remains colloquially referred to as “honey.”


When President Richard Nixon covered up the 1972 break-in at the Watergate Complex, pistachio pudding was probably the last thing on his mind. But after the scandal broke and Watergate fever swept the United States, one sweet, Cool Whip–based dessert gained an unlikely name: Watergate salad.


Indian children growing up in the 1980s and ’90s have fond memories of running to the nukkad(corner) shop or local paan stall and coming back with a small, orange packet of Fatafat every time the vendor couldn’t make change and offered the candy instead. The name Fatafat means “quickly” in Hindi, and they’re marketed as “Ayurvedic digestive pills.” They’re made in the style of churan, a broad category of postprandial herbal tablets (whose recommended dosage no self-respecting Indian ever follows, preferring instead to eat them like candy) meant to aid with digestion, keep acidity at bay, quell nausea, conquer constipation … the list is endless. The name Fatafat quite possibly alludes to how quickly these pills are supposed to work.


In Colombia, one of the birthplaces of cacao, sweet hot chocolate is accompanied by savory cheese.


Depending upon a baker’s region of residence, he or she might make a different version of Pão de Ló, a traditional Portuguese spongecake. In Ovar, a coastal city north of the district capital, Aveiro, bakeries are known for their particularly superlative iteration.


Russian cake, also known as Creole trifle, has been a Louisiana tradition since the 19th century. But few bakeries today sell this “cake,” which is made by taking assorted bakery confection scraps and pressing them together into a cake tin. Liberal splashes of rum moisten the cake, and jelly or other infused syrups are used as binding agents. It is assembled in special molds with separate bottoms, and bags of flour or sugar are typically placed on top of the covered cake to press it solidly into the mold.


It’s not often one needs to make a batter for a cocktail, but so it is with the Tom and Jerry, a Christmas party staple in the American Midwest. The drink begins with a frothy batter of separately beaten egg whites and yolks folded together and mixed with sugar, vanilla, and warm spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Cream of tartar is occasionally added to ensure the beaten egg whites maintain their stiff peaks. When served as a party punch, this sweet, eggy batter is often ladled out of special Tom and Jerry punch bowls. Drinkers add hot milk (or water) and rum or brandy (adding both is also popular) into matching Tom and Jerry cocktail mugs and drop the creamy batter on top. After stirring, they’ll garnish the cloud of foam on the brim with an additional sprinkle of nutmeg for a delicious, warm revamp of the classic eggnog.


In the twisted streets across from Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid, vats of ghee-fried, sugar-soaked bread tempt passersby. Covered in pillows of rabri (sticky reduced milk) and jewel-toned dried fruits and nuts, this is shahi tukda, a specialty likely dating back to the same Mughals who build Old Delhi’s red sandstone walls.


On hot summer days, friends and families gathered at Indian cafes slurp down tall glasses of falooda using long, slender spoons.


When Mongolians celebrate the Lunar New Year with a days-long holiday called Tsagaan Sar, the centerpiece is usually a fabulous ul boov. Ul boov means “shoe sole cake”—a humble name for a towering dessert that’s steeped in tradition and plays a role similar to a Christmas tree or family shrine.


Frog eye salad is a sweet contradiction. Definitely not made of frog eyes, and not your average lettuce-based salad, this sweet, creamy side dish is a beloved treat in the United States’ Rocky Mountain region. A particular favorite among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, frog eye salad is a staple of Mormon potlucks, cookouts, funerals, and holidays. It’s especially beloved on Thanksgiving, claiming the top spot in online Thanksgiving recipe searches in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah in 2014.