Spanish cuisine has a long tradition of sweets for dessert. The varied regions of Spain each have their own specialities and desserts from Spanish-speaking countries around the world are also enjoyed by Spaniards. Spanish desserts tend to be cakes and pastries, as well as custards and other cream desserts made from simple, natural ingredients.
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Typical of the simple, flavourful cakes Spaniards enjoy for dessert are the orange cakes from Valencia -- a famous orange growing region. These cakes tend to have one flavour and that flavour is usually intense. Other popular flavours include lemon, lime, hazelnut, honey and cappuccino. Probably the most famous Spanish cake is the Saint James or Santiago cake, made of almonds. These are often made as small individual cakes called magdaleno and served after a meal, at breakfast or in the afternoon at merienda -- Spanish tea time.
Spain has a lot of cream deserts that follow the pattern of the cakes: small, intense-tasting sweets using a single natural flavour. Flan is the most common of these, with the flavour usually being vanilla or caramel. Another famous Spanish cream dessert is the crema catalana, which comes in a rainbow of flavours such as lemon, lime, orange, raspberry, blackberry, rosemary, chocolate, cappuccino and hazelnut. This dessert is made from egg yolks, sugar and cream and seared on top like the French dessert creme brulee. Catalan, the region for which this dessert is named, is a Spanish state along the eastern Mediterranean coast. Tocino de Cielo (Heaven's little pigs), another cream dessert, are made with egg yolks, sugar and water, baked into a dense cake and covered with a thick cream topping that's usually caramel flavoured.
Spain also boasts a wide variety of pastries and cookies. Polvorones are very crumbly shortbread cookies covered with powered sugar (polvo is Spanish for dust). They're usually almond flavoured, but are sometimes made with cinnamon, in which case they're called polvorones de canela. Tecula mecula are almond-flavoured pastries from western Spain that date back to the 16th century. Flao is a cheese and mint tart, sometimes flavoured with anise instead of mint and somewhat like cheesecake in consistency.
Yema is a quintessentially Spanish dessert, enjoyed by Spanish-speaking cultures around the world. Recipes vary, but it is basically egg yolks cooked with sugar then rolled in more sugar. Yemas are often only seen on holidays. "Yema de huevos" is Spanish for egg yolks, which are a common ingredient in Spanish desserts. This dates from the 17th century, when winemakers in Spain used egg whites to clarify wine. This left them with a lot of egg yolks, which they donated to convents and the nuns used them to make sweets to sell. This tradition is still celebrated with holiday yemas.
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