The vibrance of Latin American cuisine doesn’t end with juicy carnitas, tostones, and bowls of simmering, chile-laden stews. In fact, the Latin world boasts a diverse array of dishes and traditions, ranging from wood-fired Argentinian asado, to hearty Amazonian tacacá, to briny Cuban fricasé. But some of our favorite Latin American recipes are for sweets: iconic custards, cookies, cakes, and pastries meant to accompany a mug of milky café con leche or to soothe the palate after a firestorm of flavor.
The trail of desserts from Mexican churros to Chilean leche asada owes its variety in part to a diverse climate, spanning two continents and the Caribbean. Sugar cane, originally a Southeast Asian import, is now widely grown throughout much of Latin America, with Brazil as one of the largest producers in the world. The tropical climate and fertile soil of Central and northern South America and the Caribbean bestows those regions with some of the sweetest fruit around. Cacao, which is believed to have first been used in Mexico some 4000 years ago, is now grown and used throughout Latin America, frequently blended into cinnamon-laced hot chocolate, fudgy Brazilian brigadeiros, and silky flan.
Milk and caramel are classic ingredients in the Latin American dessert canon, too. Tres leches cakes, which are thought to have originated in Nicaragua, are now ubiquitous throughout the region. Dairy also features heavily in sweet Latin American drinks, like atol de elote, a sweet and creamy corn-beverage popular in Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico. Explore more of these sweet treats with our best Latin American desserts.
Popular throughout Latin America, this milk-soaked cake is thought to have originated in Nicaragua. Get the recipe for Tres Leches Cake »
This dessert, also called chocoflan, behaves similarly to an upside down cake. The mold is covered with cajeta, followed by a layer of chocolate cake batter, flan, and finally baked with hot water. After baking, the flan is flipped right-side up, revealing the sweet, jiggly layer of flan. Get the recipe for Flan Imposible (Impossible Chocolate Flan) »
Like okra, cactus leaves have a gelatinous interior that lends a creamy mouthfeel to this lightly spicy, sweet-tart granita. CJ Jacobson, chef at Girasol in Los Angeles, serves it as a complement to a fruity sorbet; it also makes a great palate cleanser between dinner courses. Get the recipe for Cactus Ice »
Soft apples with a hint of tartness balance a bittersweet caramelized crust, spurred on by rich dulce de leche. Get the recipe for Giant Apple Pancake With Dulce de Leche »
Smoky mezcal and bright pomelo zest flavor this airy, eggy chiffon cake, the perfect quick dessert. Get the recipe for Mezcal Chiffon Cake »
Gelatina is a lifestyle in Oaxaca, where it can be found in all shapes, colors, and flavors. Combined with the creamy tres leches layer, sherry creates a boozy and refreshing Creamsicle-like effect. Get the recipe for Sherry Tres Leches Gelatina »
This classic custard is ubiquitous in Chile, where it is served in cups for a quick afternoon snack or baked in a larger pan for a family-style dessert. Get the recipe for Baked Custard with Caramel Sauce (Leche Asada) »
Variations on this elegant cookie can be found throughout Latin America, but alfajores are associated above all with the café culture of Buenos Aires. They're served year-round with coffee, but during the holidays home cooks all over Argentina break out their trusted family recipes—each one unique but always with a decadent filling of dulce de leche sandwiched between two rounds of crisp butter cookie. Get the recipe for Duche de Leche Cookie Sandwiches (Alfajores) »
Cajeta, a homemade caramel used in traditional Latin American desserts, is a terrific sauce to have on hand for drizzling over ice cream or baked treats. Get the recipe for Crepes Cajeta »
You can find many versions of brigadeiros, but chocolate is the traditional flavor for these dense, chewy fudge balls rolled in sprinkles, a treasured treat in Brazil. Get the recipe for Brigadeiros (Brazilian Fudge Balls) »
This sweet corn beverage is doled out warm in Guatemalan markets, often seasoned with cinnamon or vanilla. Get the recipe for Guatemalan Sweet Corn and Milk Drink (Atol de Elote) »
Ruben Ortega, a native of Puebla and the pastry chef at Hugo's in Houston, Texas, shared his recipe for long, fluted fritters, served with thick hot chocolate for dunking. Get the recipe for Churros con Chocolate Caliente (Mexican Fritters with Hot Chocolate) »
These tiny bites are traditional shortbread cookies from the city of Morón in central Cuba. This version calls for cream cheese and guava and a little sprinkle of sea salt on top. Get the recipe for Torticas de Morón »
Pecans, a staple on holiday tables, make an appearance in these delicate shortbread cookies flavored with cinnamon and vanilla that are a popular treat in Mexico. Get the recipe for Polvorones (Pecan Shortbread Cookies) »
This satisfying dessert uses piloncillo, a type of brown sugar used in Mexican cooking. Get the recipe for Mexican Bread Pudding (Capirotada) »
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