The Dessert Dictionary Project

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ganache France

A mixture of cream and chocolate used as a base for chocolate candy such as truffles or as a frosting for cakes and other pastries.  In some cases the cooled mixture is beaten to lighten it.  In Austria, this whipped ganache is referred to as Pariser Creme.

gâteau France

“Gâteau” is most commonly translated as cake but the term means both more and less than this.  There are gâteaux that do indeed resemble what English-speakers would recognize as a cake, but others are more like a complex pastry, see for example the gâteau Saint-Honoré (below).  A petit gâteau might be well be a small cake such as  a madeleine but it is equally likely to be a cookie, or in contemporary usage, even a muffin or cupcake.

gâteau basque France

coming soon...

gâteau moka France

A multi-layered cake made with very thin layers of vanilla sponge and coffee-flavored buttercream.  According to the nineteenth century pastry authority Pierre Lacam, the cake was invented by a pastry cook by the name of Guignard in 1857.

gâteau Saint-Honoré France

A crown-like pastry creation made by piping pâte à choux around the circumference of a round of tart pastry.  Once baked the cream puffs are partially coated with caramel and the center filled with crème Chiboust (custard lightened with meringue) or more commonly, custard lightened with whipped cream.


The invention of the cake is widely credited to the Julien brothers who ran a pastry shop in Paris in the first part of the nineteenth century.  It’s worth noting that early versions of the gâteau Saint-Honoré were occasionally made with brioche, some were filled with whipped cream only, and others with a Bavarian cream (set with gelatin).

génoise France

French term for sponge cake. The term génoise, in the contemporary sense of a light sponge cake, only dates to the later part of the nineteenth century. Incidentally, it’s unlikely that the French term has anything much to do with Genoa as the name might initially suggest. Rather, the term more probably comes from cakes named after Saint Geneviève.

gingerbread United Kingdom, pain d’épice France, Lebkuchen Austria/Germany,  speculaas Netherlands

There are generally two forms of gingerbread, one in the form of a cake–usually leavened with baking powder/soda–and the other more of a dense cookie dough, which is often pressed into molds. American and English recipes often include molasses while German ones tend to use honey (and don’t always include ginger among the spices).  The idea of making molded or shaped honey
cakes goes back at least as far ancient Roman times but just when spiced honey cakes traveled to northern Europe is unclear. According to one theory, returning Crusaders brought them home from the Holy Land.  In central Europe they have long been associated with holidays and were often brought back from religious fairs as a sort of memento.  These days they are more likely to carry banal expressions of affection. 

gulab jamun South Asia

photo Deeba Rajpal

The popular gulab jamun is a syrup-soaked fritter about the size of a Ping-Pong ball. It is very similar in  appearance to a fritter made in the Middle East under the name luqmat al qadi. It is likely that they both developed from an earlier Persian antecedent. Gulab comes from the Persian word for rosewater, while jamun refers to a local fruit of roughly this size. The two batters are made entirely differently, though, so the only Persian connection may be the common use of rosewater syrup.  Gulab jamun is made by making a batter of mawa (evaporated milk), flour and milk or cream. Balls of this batter are deep fried then soaked in a rosewater-scented sugar syrup. The confection is part doughnut, part baba rum with a pleasantly bitter edge from the twice-caramelized milk sugars.

güllaç  Turkey

A pudding-like dessert made by layering gauzelike sheets of starch wafer with nuts and milk. In Ottoman days, güllaç used to be made from egg whites and wheat starch in almost the same way as medieval Arab/Persian lauzīnaj. Today, the sheets are often made with cornstarch and people buy them already cooked, though they will typically finish the dessert at home by soaking these with hot milk and nuts.

halva (also halvah & halwa) Middle East/South Asia

Two, quite different, confections exist under the name of halva.  In the Middle East the most common type is a sort of crumbly nougat made by stirring ground sesame into a sugar syrup.  A much older recipe that tends to be more popular in Iran and South Asia is made by frying semolina flour in ghee and then adding hot sugar syrup resulting in a texture closer to fudge.   In India, numerous variations exist, among the more popular are gajar halwa, made by cooking down carrots milk before adding the ghee, and moong dal halwa made with mung bean flour and milk.

hamentashen US, Israel

coming soon

Hobelspänen Austria/Germany

Fritters that are made by wrapping a rod with strips of short pastry dough.  These are fried, resulting in curled, ribbon-like fritters.  For a recipe see Ch. Kraft, Illustriertes Muster-Kochbuch für einfache und feine Küche (1899), 559.

hot cross buns UK

Sweet spiced yeast buns flavored with candied fruit and decorated with  a cross (usually made of a sugar glaze) traditional for Good Friday in Britain.  They are now available throughout the Lenten season.  They have been common since at least the 18th century.  The first reference I have been able to find is in The Connoisseur (1755).  The author, who styles himself “Mr. Town,” writes “We are to have a grand route [party] here upon Good-Friday; and I would advise you to get down into the kitchen among the maids, where you may shew [sic] your regard for the day, by feasting them with Bohea [black tea] of six shillings a pound and hot cross buns.”  (360)