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 . In the eastern region of West Bengal (as well as in Bangladesh, just across the border), palm jaggery is incorporated into dense, fudgy baath , 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 sandesh 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
A hint of rosewater adds sweet, floral aroma to this moist, dense semolina cake, packed with four types of coconut. Get the recipe for Goan Coconut Cake » Nik Sharma 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)
Ricotta pancakes soaked in cardamom syrup and sprinkled with pistachios make a creamy, ethereal dessert. Get the recipe for Ricotta Pancakes in Cardamom Syrup (Malpura) » Ariana Lindquist Tamil-Style Sweet Rice Pudding
This luscious rice pudding adorned with cashews and raisins, is reason to celebrate in Pongal, India. Get the recipe for Tamil-Style Sweet Rice Pudding » Ingalls Photography 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)
Home cook Yamini Joshi gave us the recipe for this Punjabi dessert of cardamom-spiced milk bolstered by toasted vermicelli noodles, dried fruit, and nuts. Get the recipe for Sevaya Kheer (Vermicelli Milk Pudding) » Ingalls Photography Bengali Milk Sweets (Sandesh)
For these simple bite-size confections from Bengal, milk is turned into homemade paneer cheese and then combined with sugar and cardamom to yield a dense, fudge-like treat. Get the recipe for Bengali Milk Sweets (Sandesh) » Ingalls Photography Punjabi-Style Carrot Pudding (Gajar ka Halwa)
Studded with chopped nuts and flavored with aromatic cardamom and rose water, this sweet Indian pudding is made from a blend of nutty ghee, milk, cream, sugar, and grated carrot. It’s equally good served either hot or cold. Get the recipe for Punjabi-Style Carrot Pudding (Gajar ka Halwa) » Ingalls Photography Spiced Indian Cake Balls (Roti Laddu)
This buttery confection is a quick and simple treat commonly given to small children in India. Clarified butter (ghee), jaggery, and spices are kneaded into dry leftover roti to make a rich, shaggy dough that is then pressed into snack-sized balls. Get the recipe for Spiced Indian Cake Balls (Roti Laddu) » Matt Taylor-Gross Sweet Yogurt with Saffron and Pistachios (Shrikhand)
Pistachios, cardamom seeds, and saffron are mixed into yogurt to make this cool and creamy dessert. Get the recipe for Sweet Yogurt with Saffron and Pistachios (Shrikhand) » Todd Coleman Shahi Tukra (Royal Toast)
This syrup-soaked toast is slathered in a sweetened reduction of milk flavored with saffron. Get the recipe for Shahi Tukra (Royal Toast) » Ingalls Photography 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)
This offering made to a Hindu deity is seasoned with jaggery (unrefined palm sugar) and coconut. Get the recipe for Indian Sweet Coconut Porridge (Pongala) » Michelle Heimerman