Around the world in 15 desserts

Travelling halfway around the world for a slice of cake was something I might do without a second thought, before the pandemic.

Now that swathes of the world are locked down, we can still fantasise about luscious cakes around the globe.

In Europe, some sweet treats come with a royal history, such as the sachertorte from Vienna in Austria. While it tastes great when enjoyed in its founding city – surrounded by Viennese furnishings, orchestra muzak and the slightly stern service of waitstaff – it can be savoured in Singapore after the circuit breaker period or in the imagination now.

American patriotism is experienced in desserts unique to the 50 states, such as the Boston Cream Pie.

Asia, too, is replete with sweet traditions, from Taiwan’s pineapple cake to Indonesia’s lapis.

Before we can travel again, here are 15 desserts to dream about. 

• Based in Switzerland, Australia-born Michelle Tchea has authored books on food, wine and travel.

CHEESECAKE, JAPAN

In 1960, Japanese chef Tomotara Kuzano travelled to Germany and brought the classic cheesecake to his home country.

Like most Japanese bakers, his rendition is much softer, fluffier and possibly more refined than cheesecakes found elsewhere. There are many versions in Japan, but I love Mr Cheesecake’s in Tokyo.

PASTIERA NAPOLETANA, ITALY

There are many iconic Italian desserts and cakes – tiramisu, gelati, cannoli – but have you heard of the Pastiera Napoletana? A speciality of southern Italy, this cake is eaten during Easter.

Only the best ingredients from the south are used – creamy ricotta cheese and candied citrus peel combined with eggs and sugar in a buttery crust.

The cake can also be found up in the north, such as at two-Michelin-star chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo’s Villa Crespi Restaurant on the shores of Lake Orta in Novara province.

LAMINGTONS, AUSTRALIA

Australia is known for its seriously unusual spread, Vegemite, but if you want to restore any lost faith in the great Aussie cuisine, look for the lamington in any good bakery.

A sponge dipped in melted chocolate and rolled in desiccated coconut was created by accident when Lord Lamington, the Queensland governor, dropped his cake into a tub of chocolate in 1901.

PRINCESS CAKE, SWEDEN

The Swedes have a name for eating sweets in the afternoon – fika, a childhood food culture many adults still indulge in daily. The cake is so loved by the Swedish population that an entire week of celebrations takes place in September to fete the national dessert.

It was created for Swedish princesses Margaretha, Martha and Astrid in the 20th century. The royal dessert is made with delicate sponge, lots of cream and finished with a blanket of marzipan.

PAVLOVA, AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND

There is a love-hate relationship between Australia and New Zealand when it comes to the great pavlova debate – who invented it? No matter the origin of this cloud-like meringue dessert laden with whipped cream and topped with fresh fruit, it is a perfect summertime dessert. When in Sydney, head to restaurants Bennelong or Rockpool Bar and Grill for elevated versions of it.

PINEAPPLE CAKE, TAIWAN

Did you know Taiwan grows excellent pineapples? The sweet and juicy fruit makes for a great pineapple cake.

Pineapple and sugar are cooked slowly for a rich filling and encased in a buttery crust. Look for the native pineapple variety for the best version of the sweet.

FLAN AND DULCE DE LECHE, ARGENTINA

Argentinians have a very sweet tooth. For dessert, all the restaurants and steakhouses will have their own rendition of the classic custard flan.

The silky custard is served with dulce de leche, a caramel made from sweetened milk – the national pride of Argentinians – and an ideal souvenir for family and friends.

SACHERTORTE, AUSTRIA

The sachertorte is a dense and decadent chocolate cake created in 1832 for the Prince of Austria by pastry chef Franz Sacher from the Hotel Sacher.

The hotel is thankfully still standing and chocolate-lovers queue for hours for the famous cake which is covered in a very rich chocolate ganache sauce.

SAINT HONORE, FRANCE

How can a list of iconic cakes not involve the patron saint of bakers? Saint Honore is just that cake and it has all the best qualities of France in one bite: delicate choux pastry, vanilla custard, cream and lots of sugar in its caramel-toffee glaze.

In Paris, Yann Couvreur has a very upscale version of Saint Honore, but you cannot beat Brasserie Rosie for a classic rendition.

MONT BLANC TART, FRANCE

Many will tell you Mont-Blanc aux marrons is from northern Italy. But the French will also claim this iconic dessert because its main ingredient, chestnuts, are in the country’s regions bordering Italy.

Either way, the dessert is delicious with a buttery tart base, chestnut puree and a copious lashing of rich vanilla cream. This might well be the ultimate dessert for me.

PARIS BREST, FRANCE

How can a list of iconic cakes not include the Paris Brest? The traditional French pastry is named after an old bike race between Paris and the city of Brest in Brittany. Created in 1910, the circular-shaped pastry is made of choux pastry and praline cream.

Famed pastry chef Yann Couvreur has one of the most popular versions in the city and, when in Paris, visiting his pastry house is a requisite.

LAPIS, INDONESIA, OR BAUMKUCHEN, GERMANY

Lots of butter and lots of egg yolks go into this very rich cake which can be found in Indonesia and also Germany – if you believe it?

Inspired by European cakes with spices like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg but with an Asian twist, the dessert was created during the Dutch colonial era. Very time-consuming to bake, this Indonesian treat is the pride and joy of the nation.

Harlie in Jakarta is known for its family recipe – expect lots of layers and lots of calories if you are counting.

In Germany, my favourite baumkuchen is from Hotel Park Adler in Hausern in the Black Forest Highlands. It is an upscale version by a Michelin-starred chef.

BAKLAVA, TURKEY

Perhaps it is too sweet for many Asian palates, but this Turkish dessert is an absolute must with a robust cup of Turkish coffee.

Flakey and uber-thin sheets of pastry are drenched in butter and filled with lots of ground nuts, like pistachio, before being doused in honeyed syrup.

BOSTON CREAM PIE, UNITED STATES

No, this is not a pie, but it is a great cake. A double-layered sponge cake with custard finished with a rich chocolate ganache and sprinkled with icing sugar, it is called a pie because the original version was baked in a pie dish in the mid-19th century.

The official state dessert of Massachusetts, it is a perfect ending to an old-fashioned England broil with lobster.

BLACK FOREST CAKE, GERMANY

You have not tasted the real deal unless you have made the pilgrimage to the Black Forest in Germany. In 1915, pastry chef Josef Keller invented the cake which generously uses Black Forest cherries and liqueur.

Picture a confection of chocolate sponge, whipped cream and macerated cherries in cherry liqueur, adorned with chocolate shavings and more cream.

There are many great places in the Black Forest selling this cake, but you cannot beat the one from family-run restaurant Der Waldfrieden, for its award-winning Grandma’s Black Forest Cake.

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