The Dessert Dictionary Project

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alfajores South America

A filled cookie sandwich popular in Peru and Argentina. The recipe varies according to the location. In Peru, the traditional version resembles a super soft sablé or shortbread cookie with a dulce de leche filling. The sablé can be chocolate instead of vanilla and the filling can be honey or specifically algarrobo honey (from Prosopis pallida, a desert tree), or dulce de leche mixed with a fruit purée (popular flavors include lúcuma [Pouteria lucuma], cherimoya or guanabana (soursop). The Argentinian version is dipped in chocolate; the cookies are not as soft.  Thanks to Aracelli Zea.

apple brown Betty US

coming soon...

aruheito  Japan

A candy molded into lozenges or more fanciful shapes. From the Portuguese alfeloa.

asure Turkey

A sweet, wheatberry pudding made with dried fruits. asure

Auflauf Austria/Germany

A sort of soufflé or baked pudding lightened by the addition of whipped egg whites. An auflauf can be either sweet and savory. Auflauf

baba France, babà Italy

In the eighteenth century, French cooks adapted the central European Kugelhupf under the Polish name “baba.”  The popularization of the dessert (and even occasionally its invention) in France is widely ascribed to the exiled Polish king Stanislaw Leszczynski and/or his cook Nicolas Stohrer.   Early versions of the recipe yielded a buttery, yeast-leavened cake flavored with saffron and cooked in a ring pan.  Sometime in the early nineteenth century cooks began soaking the cooked cake in rum syrup, the version familiar today in both France and Italy.

bahla  Morocco

brittle, small, round cookie often containing sesame, almonds and spices.

baklava  Southeastern Europe & Middle East

Baklava is made by layering sheets of yufka (filo) with butter.  This is then baked and soaked with sugar syrup (Greeks often add some honey).  In the version most commonly sold in pastry shops there is a middle layer of nuts sandwiched between some 10-20 sheets of filo on top and bottom.  Rustic versions contain no nuts, while others have a cream filling and very early Ottoman recipes even include sweetened lentils in
the filling.  While the idea of layering thin layers of dough may date back to medieval Arab civilizations or possibly even Ancient Rome, baklava as we know  was probably developed in or around Istanbul/Constantinople soon after the Ottoman conquest.

banana cream pie US

coming soon...

bananas Foster US

coming soon...

barfi (also burfi)  South Asia

This is made by cooking down milk along with sugar to a fudge-like consistency.  The mixture can be colored, flavored with nuts, legumes, fresh or dried
fruit, spices and even carrots. Sometimes the milk is omitted resulting in a texture closer to marzipan.   You’ll see it cut into squares like American fudge, formed into balls, layered or rolled into multicolored slices and decorated with ground nuts, dried milk, coconut or silver foil. burfi

bekkan  Japan

Literally, “softshell tortoise” this dish is made from Chinese yam (Dioscorea opposita), flour and sugar.  It is steamed and shaped to look like a tortoise.

Bavarian cream  US, UK, bavarois France

A creamy and somewhat firm mousse made of variously flavored custard, thickened with gelatin and lightened by the addition of whipped cream.  It is often used as a filling but may also be served  like a Jell-o mold. There was a great vogue for these molded creations in the nineteenth century on both sides of the Atlantic.  What, if any, connection there is to Bavaria isn’t clear.  Incidentally, there is also an old French beverage called a bavarois which is a sort of hot eggnog that includes tea along with eggs, milk, liqueurs and other flavorings.

biscotto Italy

Literally, “twice cooked” the term long referred to ship’s biscuit or bread that was cut into slices and then rebaked to preserve it.  In the Middle Ages the French biscuit and German zwieback referred to  the same preparation, a staple of sailors and other long-distance travelers.  At some point in the Renaissance the same word began to be applied to sponge cake (pan di Spagna) that was similarly sliced and rebaked.  Eventually, it became a generic term for any sort of cookie.  In the 1980s, Italian-style, twice-baked cookies took off in the United States spawning everything from cranberry white chocolate biscotti to chai masala biscotti.

biscuit de Savoie France

An elongated small cake/cookie similar to a ladyfinger baked in shallow individual molds much like a madeleineRecipes for these begin to appear in French sources by the late 1600s.

bizcocho Spain

See sponge cake.

blondie US

coming soon...

Boston cookie US

Possibly the earliest form of the American drop cookie.  For an 1881 recipe see The Household: A Cyclopedia for Modern Homes, p. 429.

brazo gitano Spain, South America

Brazo gitano (literally “gypsy’s arm”) is a sponge roll cake.  The flavor of the filling varies by region; sometimes it is creamy, other times it consists of no more than fruit preserves. In Puerto Rico, the Brazo Gitano Franco bakery sells some 22 varieties including guava, mango, lemon and coconut.  In Peru,there is a version with dulce de leche which is called pionono.  Thanks to Aracelli Zea.

bread pudding US, UK, Spain, Portugal, France, and others

The idea of soaking  left-over bread with a sweetened mixture of milk and eggs then baking it is common in most European and European- derived cuisines.  In the  American South, it is often accompanied by some sort of spirit-based sauce (rum and bourbon are common).

brigadeiro Brazil

This chocolate candy is made by making a kind of fudge with condensed milk, butter and cocoa powder and rolling this into balls. The sweet (meaning “brigadier”) is also known in some southern Brazilian states as negrinho (literally "blackie").  It is supposedly named after Brigadier Eduardo Gomes. 

brownie US

bucellato  Italy

In contemporary Italy a bucellato is a yeast-leavened cake in the shape of a ring that varies in composition depending on the region. In Lucca it is scented with anise, while in Sicily it is chock-full of candied fruit.   The Roman army used to call hardtack bucellatum and eventually the soldiers (or their vendors) figured out that if you made it ring shaped you hang it on a string.  Bussolai (see below) is similarly etymologically related.

bûche de noël  France

A sponge roll cake shaped in the form of a yule log and frosted with buttercream traditional to France for Christmas.  The dessert comes out of a seasonal French ritual in which a large log is set into the fireplace for the holiday.  The cake seems to have been invented in the later part of the nineteenth century.  The recipe appears in print for the first time in the 1890s. Initially it used to be made with a moka buttercream however contemporary cakes are often iced with a chocolate frosting, among many other variations. buche de noel

bûche de noël in Pierre Lacam’s,  Le mémorial historique et géographique de la pâtisserie (1898)

buckle US

coming soon...

bussolaì, buzolai  Italy

Generally speaking, these are associated with the Veneto and take the form of crisp ring-shaped cookies though regional variations abound.  The island of Murano, for example, used to specialize in bussolà di Murano, which took the form a ring about a foot (30 cm) across and was aggressively flavored with pepper and cinnamon.

buttercream US, UK, crème au beurre France, Buttercreme Austria, Germany

Buttercream is a rich, butter-based cake frosting or filling.  The first buttercream was likely created in France as an ingredient for the gâteau moka in the middle years of the 19th century. It was soon adapted by the pastry cooks of Vienna’s empire where it became ubiquitous in Austria’s numberless tortes.  There are at least a half dozen ways of making buttercream most of which include egg yolks or egg whites. The so-called Italian buttercream begins by drizzling hot syrup into beaten egg whites while French buttercream uses yolks.  Swiss buttercream heats the sugar with the whites.  Some Central European recipes call for uncooked egg yolks or a custard base while Americans most commonly use no eggs whatsoever--using just butter and powdered sugar--making for a sweeter, denser version of the recipe.

butter tart Canada

Small tarts filled with a sugar and (typically) corn syrup filling.  Other than the size, these are very similar to American syrup and chess pies.