A big portion of Greek food is influenced by the cuisine of neighboring countries in the east, Turkey, Israel, and Lebanon. Greek desserts are no exception, and each one in the wide variety is defined by its history, season, and location.
What’s Special About Greek Desserts And Pastries?
In most desserts, dough (phyllo) is used, as well as semolina, milk, butter, nuts, and sugar in the form of syrup. Eastern spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom are also used.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Greek desserts is how they are prepared in different parts of Greece. These small variations make desserts in Greece stand out from the rest, making it worth a trip across the country to sample all the delicious variations.
From Greek starters and main dishes to pastries and sweets, there’s a whole bunch of tasty delicacies waiting to be sampled.
Famous Greek Pastries And Donuts In Greek Desserts
Greek Ekmek Kataifi (Greek Traditional Pastry, Cream, And Custard)
Ekmek Kataifi is a traditional and highly popular choice of Greek desserts enjoyed across the country. Much like the baklava, this sweet treat is made up of primarily walnuts, although other nuts are often used, in addition to regional spices like cinnamon and clove. What makes these Greek pastries so amazing is the lemon-flavored syrup and kataifi dough with sweet cream and caramel.
Once baked, the crispy golden surface and soft warm center make for an exquisite combination of scents and flavors! Although you can also wait for the dessert to cool before eating – the choice is all yours.
Loukoumades (Greek Donut Balls)
Loukoumades may seem basic and simple, but they are one of the best Greek desserts for a reason! These little bite-sized Greek pastries are soaked in syrup or honey after perfectly baking to a golden and crispy final and then dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon. If you’re looking for a more fancy dressing, you can also add chopped nuts.
The origin of these Greek pastries lies in Turkish roots and the Arabic word “lokma” which means “bite” – which perfectly describes these delightful little treats.
Saragli (Sweet Greek Cinnamon Rolls)
In many ways, Saragli is very similar to Baklava, and are much-loved Greek desserts across the country. Saragli is essentially a rolled Baklava because it is made from the same ingredients.
It’s made with phyllo pastry and butter, and it’s packed with nuts and spices like cinnamon and sugar. Saragli dates back to ancient Greece in the Greek settlements of Asia Minor and is eaten all over Greece to this day.
Wrapped in tender phyllo dough, dipped in syrup from the time of baking, and topped with almonds, this is the most popular version of the baklava and a favorite choice of Greek pastries.
Greek Diples (Festive Greek Honey Pastry)
Diples, also known as Thiples, are Greek desserts made from thin sheet-shaped dough, similar to angel wings, but instead of being served dry, they are fried in hot oil, folded into long thin strips, and dipped in a sweet or honey syrup.
The Greek word for “fold” gives rise to the name “Diples” or “Thiples”. These traditional honey Greek pastries are highly sought after during the Christmas season in Greece.
The dough is kneaded into thin, long strips, fried in hot oil, folded, and then drizzled with sugar or honey sauce. Diples may be prepared in a variety of forms, such as bow ties or spirals.
They are a popular dessert in the Greek countryside and are also enjoyed at weddings and New Year’s feasts. These delights are also one of the best and most abundant choices of Greek street food snacks.
Trigona Panoramatos (Greek Panorama Triangles)
Panorama triangles are Greek pastries, derived from the region of Panorama, located in Attica. These types of Greek pastries are typically shaped into a triangle and filled with a cream of milk, butter, and vanilla. After baking, it is then dipped in simple syrup.
After you’ve put everything together and filled the triangles, you can sometimes add crushed pistachios and drizzle them over the cream. They’re best when they’ve been chilling in the refrigerator for a few hours, making them a great summer snack!
Popular Greek Sweets And Cookies Within Greek Desserts
Stafyli Gliko (Spoon Sweets)
Spoon Sweets are one of the most unusual and versatile Greek desserts out there. They’re made with thick-cut fruits, water, sugar, and lemon juice. The fruits are cooked into something like jam, and the water and sugar combine to make a thin syrup.
It is then put in jars and eaten straight from the jar with a spoon, hence the name. However, Spoon Sweets can be made with many other ingredients besides fruit. Rose petals, tomato, and walnuts are just a few of the alternative ingredients you can add to spoon sweets.
Melomakarona (Greek Christmas Cookie)
Greece is famous for melomakarona, which is a type of traditional Christmas honey cookie. People eat them all through December and January, so they’re not just prepared for Christmas in Greece! They’re made with flour, sugar, oil, orange juice, and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
It’s derived from the Greek words for honey: meli and makaria, meaning “to dip in honey”. Melomakarona is believed to have its roots in the ancient and medieval tradition of eating these treats during funerals. Over time, these Greek pastries changed and they were dipped in honey, which eventually led to the name melomakarona.
Kourabiedes (Traditional Snowball Cookie)
Almond snowball cookies are also known as kourabiedes. Kourabiedes are Greek desserts traditionally served around Christmas, but they’re so good you can find them in Greece any time of year. They are made by adding almond slivers to flour, then sugar and butter, bitter almond liqueur, and finally the aromatic rose water.
The name kourabie comes from the Persian and Azerbaijani words “qurabiya” meaning “sweetener” or “sugar.” The first mention of these lovely Greek pastries was in Persia dating back to the 7th century, just after sugar was introduced to the region. And since then, they have remained an all-time favorite!
Loukoumia (Turkish Delight)
The Greek name for Turkish delight, Loukoumia, is derived from its origin in Turkey and is one of the most famous desserts in Greece. However, it is also available on the islands located in the eastern Aegean region, close to the Turkish coast.
They are small, bite-sized treats made with gelatine, cornstarch, citric acid, and icing sugar. They often also include rosewater and food coloring. The rosewater flavor is further enhanced by the rosewater icing sugar that is sprinkled on top after cooking and cooling.
Sometimes nuts are added to small squares of confections to add crunch and an extra layer of flavor.
Pasteli (Sesame Seed Dessert Bars)
Pasteli are popular Greek desserts and famous snacks that are renowned for their popularity and traditional style of preparation. It is composed of simple ingredients such as sesame seeds and honey, as well as lemon zest and, in some cases, nuts. While simple and easy to make, these nutty sweets are delicious and fun to eat!
The original Olympians ate Pasteli every day, and thus, it is deeply rooted in the history of Greek desserts. Rather than cooking the sesame, on some Greek islands, it is dried in the sun. This method of drying pasteli is one of Greece’s oldest and most natural methods. For many locals, this is also the prime choice for a quick but delicious Greek breakfast.
Traditional Greek Cakes In Greek Desserts
Karidopita (Traditional Greek Walnut Cake)
Karidopita, one of the most special Greek desserts, is a type of cake featuring the beloved walnut. It’s usually made with ground walnuts and a mix of spices, like cinnamon and cloves, plus eggs and butter.
The cake is further topped with a special syrup that’s spiced and has a lemon flavor, which makes it extremely fluffy and moist.
This Greek cake is typically served immediately after baking while it’s still warm, and paired with vanilla ice cream or fresh cream for the ultimate indulgence. This dessert is popular in most parts of Greece, particularly in the eastern regions.
Galaktoboureko (Traditional Greek Custard Cake)
If you’re looking for a Greek cake for dessert, you can’t go wrong with Galaktouboureko. It’s a creamy, semolina-based custard dish that’s wrapped in buttery, phyllo-like layers and then drizzled with sweet syrup. In Greek, Gala means ‘milk’ and Boureki means ‘cake’.
Galaktouboureko is golden brown and crunchy on the top and soft on the inside. It’s filled with the world’s creamiest custard and dusted with scented syrup.
Greek Baklava (Traditional Layered Pastry Cake)
Baklava are Greek pastries known for their sweet, rich flavor and flaky texture. It is made from a thin layer of phyllo dough that is baked until golden brown, then filled with nuts, spices, and sweet syrup, resulting in a pastry that is beyond delectable.
It’s thought that baklava was first made in Turkey under the Ottoman Empire and then introduced to Greece. But the tradition of adding nuts and honey to unleavened bread dates back to the 8th century BC during the time of the Assyrian Empire.
The difference between the Turkish version and the Greek version is the nuts used for the filling. The Turkish use pistachios for the filling, while the Greek dessert uses walnuts. Whatever you decide on, they all make for an exceptional dessert!
Bougatsa (Sweet Pastry “Pies”)
If you’re looking for creamy Greek desserts that are easy to make, bougatsa is the way to go! It’s a crispy Greek custard pie that’s made with a layer of creamy custard between golden-brown filo sheets, melted butter, and cinnamon sugar.
Phyllo pastry is one of the main components of this dessert recipe. Phyllo pastry is made by stretching the dough by hand or rolling it out on a rolling pin until it is very thin. The butter/oil between the layers is brushed on and as it cooks, the layers turn crispy.
Bougatsa is a traditional Greek sweet dish originating in the Byzantine region of Asia Minor – back to the time when the city of Constantinople was a part of the Greek Empire. During this time, the region was renowned for its traditional sweet pies, one of which was Bougatsa. Since then, these Greek pastries have been at the heart of Greek cuisine and desserts.
Ravani (Greek Coconut Cake)
Ravani, one of the best desserts in Greece, is derived from the Greek word for sweet and is a type of cake traditionally baked in most regions of Greece. It consists of a blend of Semolina and flour, sugar, eggs, orange zest, and yogurt. After the cake has been mixed and baked, cold orange and cinnamon-spiced syrup is added to the cake to further moisten it.
When it’s completely cold, it’s filled with shaved coconut and pistachios and topped with ice cream, so it’s a dessert you can enjoy all year round. It’s thought to be named after Revani, a famous Turkish poet from the 16th century who wrote about food, and thus, is one of the oldest Greek desserts still enjoyed today
Traditional Greek Puddings And Bread In Greek Desserts
Rizogalo (Greek Rice Pudding)
Rice pudding, also known as Rizogalo, are Greek desserts that have a wide variety of forms around the world, each with its unique flavor profile. The traditional recipe for Rizogalo in Greece involves the addition of sticky rice to a mixture of water and heavy cream. Cardamom is added to the mixture, followed by cinnamon sticks and sugar.
It is then topped with a bit more ground cinnamon and is typically served cold. In some parts of the northeast, the pudding is topped with drops of fragrant rosewater, which showcases the dessert’s Turkish heritage.
Halva With Semolina (Greek Semolina Pudding)
Halva is widely regarded as one of the most popular and traditional Greek desserts, and it is highly sought after by many. The Greek version utilizes two distinct types of semolina, mixed with olive oil. The main ingredients of halva are cinnamon, lemon, and orange peel, and occasionally nuts such as almonds or raisins are added.
It’s one of the most classic Greek snacks that’s usually served in pubs during the summer. Halva with Semolina has a fascinating origin: Semolina is derived from the Latin word ‘simila’, meaning flour, and is derived from durum wheat. It is thought that the origin of semolina dates back to approximately 7000 BC in central Europe and the Near East.
Portokalopita (Greek Orange Pie)
One of the most famous Greek cakes is known as portokalopita or orange pie. Portokalopita is similar to a moist cake, but it is made with a rolled-up phyllo pastry dough, orange juice, and zest, plus sugar, eggs, and milk.
As with most Greek desserts, orange syrup is added to the top of the pie after it has been baked and is typically served with vanilla ice cream.
This traditional Crete cake was originally made in the Chania area. It’s based on a recipe that originated there and is named after the snow-capped Oreon mountains, which provide water to the valleys during the hot and dry summers.
Galatopita (Greek Milk Pie)
Galatopita is derived from the Greek word for milk pie and is a much-loved choice of dessert found across the country. It is similar to a custard pie in that it is made mostly with milk, butter, semolina, cornstarch, egg, and sugar.
After baking, it develops a deep caramel color and a slightly crunchy texture, similar to Crème Brûlée. And it’s no surprise this is still one of the best Greek desserts. Galatopita originated in Ancient Greece.
The renowned Greek writer Aristophanes referred to a dish known as Amis, which he characterized as a “milk and honey dish with semolina flour and eggs”.
Tsoureki (Greek Sweet Bread)
Tsoureki is a type of sweet bread and one of the most loved Greek pastries – made annually on Holy Thursday and eaten on Easter Sunday. O Holy Thursday in Greece, women begin to knead the dough for tsoureki early in the morning.
The main ingredients used in making Tsoureki are hard flour, white yeast, sugar, and butter. The most distinctive feature of tsoureki is the addition of Mahlab, Cardamom, and Mastic, which impart a unique flavor to the dish that is only found in Eastern cuisine.
Greek Desserts And Their Rich Historic Roots In Ancient Culture
It’s easy to see why the cuisine of Greek desserts is such a fascinating culinary culture to start exploring.
With a rich history and far-reaching influences, every dessert has elements of ingredients used thousands of years ago, in dishes that have not changed much. And those that have changed or evolved, still echo the times long passed to memory.
If you’re thinking about diving into the culinary world of Greek desserts, there is no better way than to visit the local haunts. And remember – there is always time for a tasty sweet treat in between exploring all those stunning Greek landmarks.