Five perfectly crafted sweet delights and how to savour them

Rediscover sweet street treats from across Europe

Ever considered how food habits, like humans, have traversed boundaries, influenced, transformed and evolved in unthinkable ways? But from honey-candied fruits and nuts of the ancients to the culinary molecular gastronomy of today’s Michellins, sweet-toothed foodies have always been one community…united across time and space by a divine love for sugar. Yes?

Some of us may take offence to the word, ‘dessert’ (from French desservir or un-serve). Because, we can gorge on these tantalising temptations not just as a grand finale to a fine meal, but often indulge purely for sweetness sake. So, tastebud alert, people! Dig deeper into dessert layers. Rediscover sweet street treats from Europe.

Scheenballen: Scrumptiousness to a whole new level

The signature dish of the charming German town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, looks like a deeply wrinkled tennis-ball and has the cutest nickname ever (Franconian snowball). This traditional sweet made of deep-fried shortcrust dough comes in over 20 varieties of divine dipping and fillings, beside the classical sugar-dusted ones…including chocolate, nuts, marzipan, cinnamon, caramel, hazelnut, lemon, strawberry, even champagne truffle! It can be stored for eight weeks without refrigeration, so rethink your souvenir list.

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Blast from the past: Roots as old as the 17th century, when Schneeballen were one of the essential food supplies for soldiers during the Thirty Years’ War in Europe. Over time, they evolved into wedding celebration treats! Fairness in love and war…

Know the rules: You know you’re sampling a good one, if its crunchy, crispy and chewy. Don’t try to bite into it like an apple, it will just crack up and fall. Instead, break it up inside the brown paper bag in which it is delivered. And eat the more manageable smaller pieces. ‘Easy as pie’!

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Quest for best: Raise the bar with the leaders…venture to Diller de Schneeballenknig store in Heidelberg or Rothenberg.

Pastéis de nata: Pure perfection in pastry

Portugal has bestowed an exquisite gift to the world…a iconic olden-yellow tartlet filled with deliciously rich, creamy, baked egg custard. Food heaven? This is it.

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Blast from the past: 17th century Catholic monks of Lisbon’s Jeronimos Monastery created an egg tart pastry from yolk leftovers used for starching of clothes and clearing of wines. And we are eternally grateful!

Know the rules: If the pastry on the bottom and side is flaky, crispy, delicately buttery, the custard filling is creamy, smooth and slightly wobbly and the cinnamon dust is feather-light, you’ve hit bullseye. No flavours of lemon or vanilla, please. Look for a crowded pastelaria. Enjoy at all times of the day. Do NOT ask for a spoon. Just bite. And have a support handy…in case you start swaying with bliss.

Quest for best: The Pasteis de Belem bakery has been holding onto a closely guarded secret since 1937…the original pastéis de nata recipe, which is handed down only to ‘specially initiated master confectioners’ who handcraft 20,000 pastries a day. Join that queue, even if it means 30-40 minutes. Merely the warm fragrance of these freshly baked goodies wafting in the air would be motivation enough. I promise.

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Waffles: World of wonderful yumminess

Creativity was not a criteria when they named it Waffle (it means ‘honeycomb of bee’). But who cares when you’re lost in the delectable sensations of savouring a square-shaped Brussels waffle with its airy batter, or the oval Liège counterpart with caramelized sugar chunks inside and a gooey, rich, sticky texture!

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Blast from the past: A chef of the Prince-Bishops of Liège had a surge of innovation by adding vanilla to dough, and soon the recipe was over the Kingdom of Belgium. In the Middle Ages, waffles were sold as street-side snacks outside Churches. By the early 19th century, many Brussels families jumped into business with modest window counters in their homes or fancier tea salons. Since then, Belgium’s reputation as a waffle craft master has never ebbed.

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Know the rules: Let your nose guide you…a deep, toasty smell is a good indicator. You want a crisp, airy, fluffy golden brown crust, light on the inside, baked individually in a specialized cast iron press. Eat by hand, piping hot, off a paper plate. Its not a breakfast food, but an afternoon treat. The king is the waffle itself, not oodles of overpowering toppings.

Quest for the best: Get yours hands sticky with the ultimate sampler, head to 1829-dated Maison Dandoy, located Rue Charles Buls (a short walk from the Grand Place).

Macarons: Melt-in-your-mouth delicacy

These famous French desserts are colorful, delicately flavoured, with a thin crust, a layer of moist almond meringue and a silky smooth filling. They come in all kinds of flavors, from classic salted caramel to raspberry, pistachio, chestnut, basil lime, rose, white chocolate, lavender, even fig. Surprise…the French celebrate ‘Macaron Day’ on 20th March.

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Blast from the past: Macaron comes from the Italian maccherone meaning “fine dough”. The first macarons appeared in Venetian monasteries in the 8th century. Catherine di Medici imported it to France in the 16th century. But the dessert went public when two Carmelite nuns started baking and selling simple cookies made of ground almonds, egg whites, and sugar.

Know the rules: A smooth, firm, light, non-sticky filling, a shell that crackles with the first bite and a smooth, thin cookie surface. Sweetness shouldn’t take over in a macaron, the flavors should seep through easily.

Quest for the best: In 1900s, Parisian pastry shop and café Ladurée combined two cookies and filled them with ganache. Ladurée changed the rules of the macaron and that’s why it still rules the macaron world. Try for yourself and see how.

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Gelato: Glorious goodness for all seasons

Gelato (meaning ‘frozen’ in Italian), is a wholesome frozen dessert, much like ice cream, but with half the fat and with less air whipped into it, making it much denser.

Blast from the past: 12,000 years ago, ice and snow were used to cool drinks served during royal banquets and religious ceremonies in Mesopotamia. Cut to the 11th century and Arabs developed shrb, “sugar syrup”…this eventually became the predecessor of sorbet in Sicily and sherbet in India. In the 1600s, Florentine architect and artist Bountalenti invented the first gelato and soon enough, sorbetti carts were the talk of the town.

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Know the rules: Find a gelateria with personality, maybe Italian signage, local customers and and a long queue. Ensure they have covered, metal round containers, not artificially whipped mounds. Natural, seasonal fruit ingredients, muted colors is the key to authentic taste. Like the locals, make gelato your pastime, anytime, even breakfast is not out of bounds.

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Quest for the best: Seek the ‘The world’s best gelato’ at Gelateria Dondoli in the quaint medieval town of San Gimignano, near Siena. They’ve won a ‘Gelato World Cup’ several times!

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. So, count the memories and not the calories. Crave on!!

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74 thoughts on “Five perfectly crafted sweet delights and how to savour them

  1. I’m drooling!!! Of these I’ve has macaroons in France, waffles in Belgium & gelato in Italy! I’m yet to try the rest!!! I love how you’ve also mentioned how to eat it instead of looking for fork and spoon! The messier, the yummier, right?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Macarons are my favorite! I’ve had to tone down how many I eat and limit them to a special treat once a month or so since I moved to France, otherwise I would have gained 10 kilos by now.

    I lived in Italy for seven years. A good tip to recognize true artisan gelato is to look for pistachio. This is a flavor typically carried all the time. The color should be a gray-green, not a bright green. And as you said, huge fluffy mounds are indicative that it came from a mix.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nothing beat Gelato – people ask me what my favorite country is, and out of 50 I always say Italy, because you have an excuse to eat Gelato every day!! Thanks for including your blast from the pasts, rules and tips for how to tell a good one. I find that often I’ll be tasting a new treat though no idea if I’m eating it properly in line with cultural norms!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I never take offense at the word ‘dessert.’ I would eat all of these things. And I wouldn’t even wait for it to be dessert time!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh my God! This post is like heaven. I have a sweet tooth and I love sweets. Exploring all these desserts would be like an amazing thing to do for me. Thank you for this list – they look truly delicious and I love Gelato especially, I can have it anytime anywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You’ve got a lot of my favorites listed here! I just got back from a short Europe trip, and can fully say I indulged in waffles, macarons and gelato! Desserts are the best 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Your post reminded me of warm and sunny December in Cannes where I walked past a Laduree shop and grabbed a macaron every morning! Food nostalgia lol

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You have made me hungry! LOL. Have a massive sweet tooth and these yummy pictures are making my stomach grumble. Sigh! I am a huggeee fan of waffles especially when they dipped in honey or caramel 🙂 And when I was in Italy, gelato was had thrice a day!
    I haven’t tired Scheenballen. Hopefully someday!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Europe is a sweet toothed persons dream! I’m not even that big on sugary things over savoury, but even I’m sitting here shaking and wishing I could eat all of these right this second!

    The main thing I’m missing about living in Italy is all the gelato that I used to get to eat everyday!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This post includes some of my favorite sweets from around Europe. I ate so many pasteis de nata in Portugal that I was about to explode. I do a couple of trips to Italy every year to eat as much gelato as I can and I also love macaroons. Great list!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. These are absolutely mouthwatering. Being a sweet tooth myself, I enjoyed reading this post so much and more so because it is so nicely written. I loved the Gelato when I was in Milano and Rome few years back and I’m enjoying some Portuguese tarts here in goa.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh now these all look really delicious and just my kind of thing! I have a serious sweet tooth and those egg custard pastries look divine!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. The Belgian Waffle looks like my fave on this list…..so light, airy yet sweet and filling at the same time. Winning sweet! But all are. The macaron comes in at a close second. Even when we enjoy them in countries outside of France they are so freaking tasty.

    Ryan

    Liked by 1 person

  14. So you have become an expert of European sweet delights, I see! And thanks to you I learnt there is a “macaron day” in France, lol. However I would not call macarons a dessert, people usually eat them with a tea or a coffee, not after a meal like lunch or dinner.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Every time we travel, we learn a little more and share our experiences…though no one can claim to be an expert 🙂 You are right, macarons are not an after-meal delicacy, in fact most of these can be enjoyed any time of the day, as I have mentioned.

      Like

  15. Oh this is a great post! I am a huge dessert fan and love each of these!! The smell of a good waffle can sure be intoxicating. I never knew that the macaroon wasn’t originally two cookies with a filling, but I’m glad they made the change!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I have such a sweet tooth. Those pics are definitely drool worthy. For whatever reason, I think the sweets, desserts, pastries taste so much in Europe!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Those sweet delights are simply yummmm and a treat to my eyes! I particularly love the Macarons. I can have it any time.. Never knew that on 20th March is celebarated as Macaron Day! The second best thing I like is the Gelato which we had lots while we were in Italy!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. yep, you are doing it right 😀 And I just realized that I probably not embracing the european dessert culture enough 😀 I love Macaron but I am not eating enough of them… and pasteis de nata .. thats the best I have ever eaten !!!

    Liked by 1 person

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