The signature dishes of Latin American cuisine doesn’t end with chile-laden stews and juicy tacos.
Some of the best South and Central American recipes are sweet. Think of those iconic cookies, custards, and cakes you use to soothe your palate after a firestorm of spices and peppers.
From the Mexican cuisine, you have those classic churros, dripping with gooey chocolate dipping. Then there are Spanish polvorones, the holiday-favorite shortbread cookies laced with pecan. Meanwhile, Chile has the leche Asada—a custard—not to mention Guatemala’s sweet corn milk.
But that’s just a glimpse of what Latin American has to offer.
Here are some of the best Latin American Desserts you might not know of:
1. Tres Leches
Tres Leche, when translated to English, means “three kinds of milk.” To the rest of the world, it’s simply a desert to quench the sweet tooth. But in Costa Rica, it’s much more than that. It’s an authentic culinary institution, much so that National Geographic dared to name it Costa Rica’s “national dessert.”
Dreamy when served with a cup of rich Costa Rican coffee, this dessert is a sponge cake comprised of three types of milk. These include condensed milk, fresh full-flat milk, and evaporated milk. It’s rich and tasteful, with a thin topping of whipped cream and on occasion, sprinkled crushed nuts.
To make this spongy cake for scratch, use this easy recipe below
How to Make Tres Leches Cake
- Bring your oven to 350 degrees F.
- Flour and grease your baking pan.
- Sift the baking powder and flour together, and put the mixture aside.
- Whip eggs, half spoon vanilla extract, butter and one cup of sugar in a separate bowl until fluffy.
- Mix the flour-baking powder mixture you set aside earlier with the fluffy butter mixture until well blended. Pour the resulting mixture into the prepared pan.
- After baking at the 350 degrees F for half an hour, use a fork or a toothpick to pierce the cake several times.
- Mix the three types of milk together and pour the mixture on the cake after it cools.
- Mix whipping cream, one cup of sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla. Whip until you get an even, thick cream and spread it over your cake. Enjoy!
But if you’d rather take a short cut, Duncan Hines makes a great Tres Leches cake mix that won’t disappoint.
2. Cactus Ice Cream
If you’ve ever been to Mexico during summertime, you might have heard of tuna ice cream. That’s the local name for Cactus ice cream.
Let’s get one thing straight though, there’s no fish in this dessert!
In Mexico, tuna is a cactus flower with a fresh cucumber smell. It also tastes like cucumber, which might be a bit unusual for an ice cream flavor. But, it’s one of the favorite delicacies among Latin American food lovers.
But cucumber isn’t the only flavor you’ll taste in cactus ice cream. You’ll also grace your palate with a creamy mouthful of lightly spicy, but sweet ice cream. It’s a good palate cleanser between courses and a good complementary serving to a fruity sorbet.
Cactus Ice Cream Ingredients Needed
To make cactus ice cream, you’ll need:
- enough prickly pears to fill half a cup
- a tablespoon of lime juice
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 2 fine-chopped chile tepins, pequin peppers, or chiltepins
- 1/8 tsp salt
But these are just the flavor ingredients. For the base of your ice cream, you’ll need:
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1 1/2 cups cream
- 1/2 cup skim milk powder
- 3/4 cup sugar
How to Make Cactus Ice Cream
To make the ice cream, follow this recipe:
- Blend peeled prickly pears and strain the pulp into a bowl
- Add your desired flavor ingredients, and mix well
- Stir the cream, milk powder and milk in a non-reactive pot until you can’t see any more of the milk powder. Add sugar to this mixture and stir to dissolve.
- Add the flavor mixture to the milk pot. Stir smoothly, and kill the heat. Let the mixture steep for 60 minutes.
- Afterward, strain the mixture into Tupperware or a bowl. Cover with a lid and refrigerate for 4 hours.
- Churn it in your ice cream maker as per manufacturer’s directions. After churning, quickly transfer the ice cream into a free-safe container and let it age in the freezer. Enjoy!
Picarones are a Peruvian food, strikingly similar to Spanish buñuelos, but they’re in a league of their own when it comes to flavor. These deep-fried delicacies are a stroke of genius from the Peruvians and deservedly made our list of the best Peruvian desserts.
When the Peruvians saw the fritters of the Spaniards with the bunuelos, they raised the bar with pumpkin and sweet potato. The result was a tasteful culinary master class in the form of pumpkin, sweet potato-dough rings. Have your Picarones served with powdered sugar and syrup, and your perception of donuts will never be the same again.
Want a simple way to make picarones at home? Then this may be for you.
4. Chocolate Covered Fruits, Nuts, and Coffee Beans
Costa Rican desserts have a legendary love affair with chocolate. So much so, that they call it “the food of the gods.” If you’re touring the country, you can visit a few cacao farms and learn a thing or two about this heavenly bean. But learning aside, you’ll also get to taste some of their delectable treats.
Ironically, you won’t find a great variety of homegrown and made chocolate bars in the streets of Costa Rica. Most of what they produce is for export. What you’ll find are chocolate covered nuts, coffee beans, and fruits.
These make tasty snacks for that afternoon energy slump, and the sealed packets can be fantastic souvenirs to take back home. That is, if you can stand the temptation to eat them on the way!
For the DIYers, this is one of the easy Latin desserts to make.
Start by melting chocolate chips in a double boiler. Next, add your coffee beans, nuts or fruits and stir to cover them with chocolate. Remove the pieces one by one using a fork and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Put that into the refrigerator for about half an hour and enjoy.
5. Postre Chaja
Postre Chaja is one of the many Latin American cakes from Uruguay. It is a sponge cake with all the right ingredients: peaches, meringue, rum, whipped cream and dulce de leche.
Interestingly, the cake is named after a large bird known as el chajá (popularly known as the “crested screamer”).
Apparently, the bird’s under-the-skin air pockets reminded Castellano of airy meringue and inspired him to invent the cake. Looking at the el chaja, it’s fair to say that this delicious cake was a bit hard done by the naming.
6. Torta de Milhojas
One might say that the Chileans borrowed the Torta de Milhojas from the French, mainly due to its striking resemblance to the French Mill-Feuille. But regardless of where the idea came from, the Chileans certainly perfected it.
In their brilliance, they replaced the French custard with Chilean staple Manjar, and the result was heavenly. In case you’re wondering what Manjar is, it’s similar to dulce de Leche in form and consistency, but with minor tweaks across different cultures. A traditional Chilean dessert that you will love!
7. Dulce de Higos
While figs might not be originally South American, the idea behind the Dulce de Higos dessert came from Ecuadorians. While the rest of the culinary world was busy creating sweet desserts with the obvious ingredients (sugar, cream, dough, etc.), Ecuadorians were inspired by a common cheese platter.
There’s no denying the fact that cheese and figs are a match made in heaven. But, introducing the delicious Dulce de Higos dessert to that combo takes it to a whole new level.
8. Dominican Dessert
This is one of the most common desserts you’ll find on the menu in a Dominican gathering. Be it a baby shower, birthday party or anniversary this Dominican dessert always delivers tasteful flavors in a moist, airy texture.
And while it follows the recipe of a traditional cake, the icing and filling are what sets it apart. Locally named suspiro, the icing is comprised of sugar and egg whites. The baked-in fillings can be pineapple, tres leches, dulce de leche, or guava.
Costa Rica’s love for condensed milk is almost as much as that of chocolate—and we’re all happier for it. After a hot day, cool off with a serving of granizados the Costa Rican version of American favorite snow cone drenched in condensed milk, sweet syrup, and rich flavor.
Be sure to order a Churchill, a variation of this Latin American dessert that’s generously topped with vanilla ice cream for a richer flavor.
10. Coconut Flan
Latin America is brimming with all kinds of desserts, but custard tarts are the most prominent type. Each country wants the “best of the best” honor, but Costa Rica’s coconut flan sets the bar higher.
Smooth, Velvety, and delectably sweet, this dessert comes topped with whipped cream, fruits, or coconut or chocolate shavings. Which topping should you choose? All of them!
Golfeados are the Venezuelan form of the American sticky bun. If you think you love your normal cinnamon rolls just fine, it’s because you haven’t tasted the golfeados yet.
Somehow, Venezuelans found a way to up to the ante in sticky buns. Theirs are still buttery, soft and bursting with cinnamon flavor.
But what sets the golfeados a bar higher is the cheese. A single ingredient might not seem like much, but it’s the way they fuse it with the rest of the ingredients to form a heavenly flavor that makes this Venezuelan dessert so special.
How to Choose the Best Latin American Desserts for Your Guests
When dining with guests, you won’t have much to ponder when it comes to choosing the best Latin American desserts from this list—they’re all tasty! But while you can’t go wrong with any of the choices listed here, you might want to consider two key factors before settling.
One of those factors is food allergy and intolerance. Some people have allergic reactions to products such as dairy and nuts, and it might be a good idea to check that with everyone on your table before ordering for your guests.
In case of any allergies and/or food intolerance, cross-check the ingredients of a prospective choice before ordering to avoid medical emergencies.
Second is the season. If you’re preparing your desserts by yourself, you’ll want to think about where you’ll get your ingredients. Some ingredients are seasonal, and lacking them can cause last-minute changes to your menu.
You don’t want that, especially if you’re looking to make a big impression. For instance, it’s difficult to find fresh peaches during winter. As such, it would be wise to avoid choosing postre chaja as a dessert during the cold days.
Where to Buy the Best Latin American Foods and Desserts
Let’s face it! Tasteful as they may be, some of these Latin American Desserts are can be tricky to make at home.
Maybe you don’t have the equipment, ingredients or simply lack the time to DIY. Whatever your reasons, they aren’t enough to stop you from enjoying dessert masterpieces from South and Central America.
Amigofoods has your back.
We’re passionate about everything that’s Latin American food and drinks. Through our blog, we provide you with the best Latin American dessert recipes and articles to keep you informed.
But we just don’t talk about it. We also provide the best imported foods and beverages from Spain and Latin America at our online store.
Our blog is all about sharing our love of Latin American foods & drinks. We will bring you articles and recipes of the very best Latin American & Spanish cuisine. Amigofoods was founded in 2003 and is the largest online grocery store offering a wide variety of hard to find freshly imported foods & drinks from all over Latin America and Spain.