Sweet cuisine from across the globe
At some point in grade school, we probably all came across the spelling adage that dessert has a second ‘s’ because you always want more. Following through on that logic might lose you a foot, but some of the savory treats we’ve grown to love at the end of a meal just might be worth that kind of sacrifice.
Life would be bland without that final course, a series of unfortunate dishes rushing headlong into a sugarless abyss. It’s no wonder, then, that so many of the world’s culinary cultures have plated their greatest achievements at the tail end of the eating experience. Forget the Mona Lisa, if I have the choice to save one Italian masterpiece, it’s a safe bet you’ll find me bolting from the boot with a plate of cannoli.
This is an ode to that grand closing course, celebrated through some of the best desserts this planet has to offer. Maybe during this holiday season, if you’re feeling a little adventurous, you might want to try your hand at replicating one of these works of art yourself. Just make sure you have a fire extinguisher ready.
Cannoli aside, the Italian Peninsula is renowned for its assortment of sweets. What sashay through the world’s desserts would be complete without a stop in the land of Rome, DaVinci and Luca Brasi?
The island’s take on this classic dish makes for a drier and lighter fare than its wet and heavy New York counterpart. Much of that difference comes from Sicilian cheesecake leading with airy ricotta cheese instead of cream. Sicilian cheesecake is usually garnished with some fruit, anything from blueberries to orange peels, as a tasty way to fool ourselves into thinking we’re eating healthy.
On that note of “fooling ourselves into thinking we’re eating healthy,” Italy’s take on ice cream creates a frozen treat that’s dense and rich, but surprisingly low in fat compared to the stateside variety.
So long as you have an ice cream maker, a typical recipe calls for mixing two cups of milk with one cup of heavy cream in a medium saucepan and then warming the pan until the edges start to foam. In a large bowl, beat four eggs together with a half-cup of sugar, then mix in the warm milk and cream while whisking constantly. Bring the mixture back into the saucepan and cook it over medium heat, while stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture starts to gel. Strain it into a bowl, cover it and chill it overnight. The next day, run it through an ice cream mixer and freeze until it’s firm, and you’ll have a helping of gelato you can garnish to your heart’s content with anything from coconut to fruit.
If royal delights are more your fare, the British Isles have more than enough dishes to suffice. Who says the English can’t cook? These desserts coming up blow that stereotype across the English Channel. Just make sure you get your teeth checked afterwards.
Also known as Christmas Pudding, also known as Figgy Pudding (the same pudding that anybody who hears the oddly aggressive second verse of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” gets threatened over) or even the adorable nickname “pud,” plum pudding’s 13 ingredients symbolize each of the 12 apostles and Jesus, although it’s common for each family to have a different recipe for a homemade variant of the holiday classic. Don’t let the fact that it used to get boiled in something called a “pudding cloth,” or that the family is meant to make wishes while everybody takes turns stirring the mixture, weird you out too much.
Whether it’s store-bought or made at home for the glory of the Queen, plum pudding is a delectable sensation that every family, English or otherwise, owes it to themselves to try for the holidays.
There are as many varieties of fruitcake as there are stars in the night sky, and the nutty American version has turned off more than a few people over the years, but the English fruitcake is a different (and much less gross) thing entirely. Of course there’s fruit and of course there’s cake, but after that the English cover the whole concoction in a layer of sweet marzipan and frosting. After that it can be decorated with anything from holly to berries to decorative ornaments.
Puerto Rico’s rich cuisine can be traced to an influx of influences from the old and new world. Spanish, Taino and American ingredients and preparation methods have given the world everything from mofongo to the culinary bookend we’re about to look at here.
The Puerto Rican take on eggnog, coquito brings a tropical flare to the beverage we all know and…feel different opinions towards. To make coquito, you’ll need the following:
Two beaten egg yolks
One can evaporated milk
Onke can cream of coconut
One can condensed milk
Half-cup of white rum (unless you’re not 21)
Half-cup of water
A pinch of cinnamon
Less of a pinch of ground cloves
One teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the yolks with the evaporated milk in the top of a double boiler, simmering over water. Stir and heat the mixture constantly until it reaches about 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour the mixture into a blender, add in everything else, blend it for about half a minute (or until it’s reached your preferred texture) and chill it overnight.
Flan, Flan and More Flan
Oh flan. So deceptively simple. So moist. So rich.
Just like fruitcake, it seems there’s a flan-type creation for every culinary tradition under the Sun, but our tiny American island might just have everybody else soundly beaten in the mad race for “flaninary” supremacy.
Puerto Rico’s contributions to the (fl)annals of flan are threefold. The most celebrated Puerto Rican variant, flan de queso (or cheese flan if you’re not cool) adds a flavorful twist to the egg-and-sugar-based dish with a helping of cream cheese. There’s also flan de coco, in which coconut milk features prominently in the mix. For a final twist to the traditional flan formula, the not-at-all-confusingly-named flancocho places a layer of flan de queso, decked out in caramel sauce, atop a layer of cake.