The Dessert Dictionary Project

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rajbhog India

This variation on rossogolla (see below) is dyed with saffron and filled with a nut mixture flavored with cardamom powder.


réligieuse  France

As made today, the réligieuse is made by placing two glazed cream puffs one on top of the other.  Originally, it was assembled out of éclairs into a sort of tepee that was meant to resemble a nun’s habit.  According to the nineteenth-century pastry chef and author Pierre Lacam, the pastry was originally created at the Frascati patisserie in Paris in 1836.

rétes  Hungary

See strudel (below).

Rice Krispies Treats  US

The quintessentially American “homemade” dessert bar is made by stirring together melted marshmallows and Kellogg's® Rice Krispies®.  The recipe (originally called “Rice Krispies Marshmallow Squares”) seems to have been invented in Kellogg’s test kitchens in the late 1930’s. according to the company website, they were first advertised in 1940.  And advertised they were!  Here is the recipe, straight from the corporate horse’s mouth.

rice pudding US, arroz con leche Latin America, Spain, riz au lait France, Sütlaç  Turkey

coming soon...

roscos  Spain

A sort of egg-rich doughnut (made in the shape of a torus) and flavored with lemon rind and dusted with sugar.  Current recipes tend to use baking powder as a leaven.

rossogolla, rasgula India, Bangladesh

A spongy dumpling made by boiling balls of fresh curd (chhana) in sugar syrup.  In Kolkata, the invention of this local favorite is credited to Nobin Chandra Das who is said to have created it in 1868.  However natives of nearby Orissa dispute this with great passion.  rossogolla, rasgula

rossomalai India

This is made exactly the same way as rossogolla except that in this case it is finished off in a milk-based and saffron-tinted syrup. The result is creamy, delicate, and a little like a French île flottante, but less insipid.

rout cake UK

An early (1800 or so?) drop cookie or small cake.  Possibly the ancestor to the American drop cookie? The name comes from rout,  “A fashionable gathering; a large evening party or soirée of a type fashionable in the 18th and early 19th centuries.” (OED)  Jane Austen mentions “rout-cakes” in Emma.

Sachertorte (also Sacher-TorteAustria

A chocolate sponge cake coated with apricot and then chocolate glaze.  The cake is named after Franz Sacher (1816-1907) who is widely, credited with inventing the cake in 1832 for a dinner party hosted by the Austrian chancellor  Klemens von Metternich.  In the nineteenth century the cake consisted of one layer but some point in the 1920s (or perhaps earlier) the cake was split into two layers by the
owners of the Sacher Hotel.  This is the version the hotel sells as the Original Sacher-Torte™. Nonetheless the popular account of the cake’s history should be taken with a grain of salt.  According to an interview with the nonagenarian Franz Sacher in 1906, he invented the cake somewhat later, sometime in the 1840’s while he ran a catering business in what is now Bratislava.

Sally Lunn US, UK (dated)

A butter enriched, sweetened, yeast cake (or bread) popular in Britain and the United States in the nineteenth century.  Often served for tea.  According to the The Every-Day Book and Table Book (1827), p. 1562, ”The bun so fashionable, palled the Sally Lunn, originated with a young woman of that name in Bath, about thirty years ago. She first cried them, in a basket with a white cloth over it, morning and evening. Dalmer, a respectable baker and musician, noticed her, bought her business, and made a song, and set it to music in behalf of ‘Sally Lunn.’ This composition became the street favourite, barrows were made to distribute the nice cakes, Dalmer profited thereby, and retired; and, to this day, the Sally Lunn cake, not unlike the hotcross [sic] bun in flavour, claims preeminence in all the cities in England.”

savarin France

coming soon...

scarcedda Italy

An Easter dessert typical of Puglia.  It is a sort of pie made by filling a  short crust dough (flour, sugar, eggs, lard, lemon rind) with a sweetened ricotta filling.  The top is  typically decorated with one or more whole eggs.  Other versions are made quite differently, resembling the Calabrian cuzzupa.

sgroppino Italy

A liquid lemon sorbetto from the northern region of the Veneto Italy. “It is basically an intermezzo drink to help move through different courses made of lemon sorbetto, prosecco wine and vodka. Stored frozen and served chilled in flute glasses.“ Thanks to Leonardo Mazzero

shaqima  China

You could describe this as a cross between zalabia and Rice Krispies Treats, made by frying yeast-leavened strips of wheat and egg dough, which are then coated with a dense syrup and packed into rectangular molds.    See recipe.

sisi delle monache  Italy

A specialty of Abruzzo, specifically the town of Guardiagrele, this dessert is made by sandwiching two large sponge cake cookies with pastry cream. 
Each small spongecake is in the form of three mounds, which is likely where name comes from, literally “nuns tits.”  For more see Rossano Orlando, “Sise delle monache, la storia in un dolce,” Il Centro (16 November 2011).

Photo: Federico Deidda

sorbet  France, US,  ice  UK, sorbetto  Italy

A fruit or or other dairy-free frozen dessert made in an ice cream freezer.  Before 1900 or so, confusion reigns when it comes to the term.  Before about 1800 or so, in France,  sorbet referred to a chilled soft drink and in Italy a sorbetto was largely indistinguishable from what we would call a gelato today.

soufflé France

coming soon...

spongade  Italy (16th-17th century)

A late renaissance Venetian term used for sugar sculptures.  There were often designed by noted artists to be used as opulent centerpieces, and often gilded just to prove the host’s extravagance.

Engraving after Giovanni Grevembroch (18th Century)

sponge cake US, UK, génoise France, pan di spagna Italy, Biskuit Austria, Germany, bizcocho, vizcocho (dated) Spain

Sponge cake is made by beating eggs to a foam and then folding in flour, ground nuts, cocoa and/or other flavorings.  A number of variations exist: sometimes the eggs are separated and the yolks and whites beaten individually, at other times the eggs are beaten whole, occasionally the eggs are beaten over a low heat source.  The technique may well have originated in Spain since the earliest Italian recipes call it pan di Spagna or “bread of Spain” and early Portuguese recipes referred to it as paõ de Castella, or “bread of Castille.”  The Japanese still call it castella.  Since the recipe for pan di Spagna was used to make the more delicate kind of biscotti in renaissance Italy, the French picked up the habit of calling their egg-leavened cake biscuit, a term that, in France, had once referred exclusively to ship’s biscuit or hard tack.  Eventually the term came to mean primarily small cakes or cookies.

spoom  France?

To make this semi-frozen dessert, fold Italian meringue into a semi-frozen dessert.  The 1961 Larousse Gastronomique recommends sorbets based on fruit juices but also ones made with “champagne muscadet, Frontignan, sherry, port, etc.”  Despite the odd name (perhaps from the Italian spuma, foam) the origin of the recipe is presumably French since it is listed on a 1905 menu at the Elysée Palace and the first mention in English is Escoffier’s 1907 . (OED) Thanks to Tina Drzal.

strawberry shortcake  US

coming soon...

strudel Central Europe, rétes, Hungary

To make strudel, apples, cherries, cottage cheese and even cabbage are rolled in several layers of paper-thin dough.  Though superficially similar to filo, strudel dough is stretched rather than rolled and may well have been developed independently in central or southeastern Europe.  One of the earliest recipes for such a stretched dough appear in a dish called “Torta ungaresca” (Hungarian pie) in a 14th century source.

suspiros de Santa Catarina  Portugal

Literally, “Saint Catherine’s sighs,” these are made by piping (French) meringue onto a thin wafer base.  This is sprinkled with almonds and baked until crisp.

Photo: Antonio Rosado from

Doçaria Conventual Portuguesa, 2004

Sussex pond pudding  UK

An old-fashioned steamed pudding make by setting a whole lemon in a mixture of sugar and butter and encasing all this in suet pastry.  The name presumably comes from the fact that when the pudding is sliced open, the marmelade-like filling spills out creating a sort of “pond” around the dessertThanks to Jennifer Yee.