India is renowned for its sweets, or mithai in Hindi-Urdu. Indian desserts, like much of the vast South Asian country’s cuisine, vary from region to region, with coconut proving especially popular throughout the tropical south. Take, for example, Goa’s rosewater-scented, coconut-and-semolina cake, called baath. In the eastern region of West Bengal (as well as in Bangladesh, just across the border), palm jaggery is incorporated into dense, fudgy sandesh, made from cardamom-scented paneer. And in the central-northern regions—heavily influenced by the Persian techniques and ingredients introduced during the Mughal Empire—elegant court treats like vibrant saffron toast are frequently blinged out with silver leaf.
Though not considered dessert in India, the banana fritters and rice porridges traditionally offered up to the Hindu goddess Attukal Amal during Kerala’s Attukal Pongala festival are certainly sugary enough for you to serve after dinner—they make a good breakfast, too.
So whether you’re looking for a sweet way to start your day or end a meal, our best Indian dessert recipes make it easy to incorporate the flavors of this complex nation.
Goan Coconut Cake
Kheer (Indian Rice Pudding)
Traditional cardamom-scented Indian rice pudding owes its particular richness to the inclusion of whole milk, which has been reduced by half during the cooking process to produce a thick, creamy base. Get the recipe for Kheer (Indian Rice Pudding) » Landon Nordeman
Fried Banana and Rice Flour Balls (Unniyappam)
These sweet, fried rice flour balls are a typical prasadam, or “offering,” sold at Hindu temples in Kerala or at local sweet shops. The runny batter, which includes banana purée, grated coconut, and jaggery syrup, is spooned into a ghee-coated appachatti pan (a specialty pan with divots), which is then heated over an open flame, cooking the batter into crispy cakes. (If you have an aebleskiver or takoyaki pan, those work too.) Fried unniyappam can be stored for up to a week and reheated in a moderate oven before serving. Get the recipe for Fried Banana and Rice Flour Balls (Unniyappam) » Michelle Heimerman
Ricotta Pancakes in Cardamom Syrup (Malpura)
Tamil-Style Sweet Rice Pudding
Steamed Cardamom-Spiced Rice Flour Balls (Mandaputtu)
Local to Kerala, these chewy, lightly granular sweet rice balls are made by binding green mung bean flour and rice flour with cashews, coconut, raisins, and cardamom, using melted ghee and jaggery syrup. Their flavor profile—sweet but strongly spiced—is typical of South Indian sweets. At the Attukal Pongala festival, where they’re created as an offering to a Hindu goddess, they’re steamed in special pans with individual divots, but a bamboo steamer or steamer insert works just as well. Get the recipe for Steamed Cardamom-Spiced Rice Flour Balls (Mandaputtu) » Michelle Heimerman
Sevaya Kheer (Vermicelli Milk Pudding)
Bengali Milk Sweets (Sandesh)
Punjabi-Style Carrot Pudding (Gajar ka Halwa)
Spiced Indian Cake Balls (Roti Laddu)
Sweet Yogurt with Saffron and Pistachios (Shrikhand)
Shahi Tukra (Royal Toast)
Pistachio Ice Cream
Sweetened whole milk flavored with crushed cardamom, saffron, and pistachio is frozen in molds to create these impressive, sculptural desserts.Get the recipe for Pistachio Ice Cream » André Baranowski
Indian Sweet Coconut Porridge (Pongala)