When it comes to Greek desserts, baklava is one of the most, if not the most, famous. The history of baklava isn’t well documented — Turkey and multiple countries in the Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East also all have claims to the dessert, and 2006 saw a “Baklava Conflict” with Greeks and Turks fighting for the right to claim it as their own. Though baklava is tasty and deserves attention, there are many Greek desserts that are just as deserving. In fact, many of those same desserts are eaten in Greece even more than baklava. There are so many Greek dishes that incorporate and nuts that are just as delicious as baklava but less well-known.
These are the 10 Greek desserts that you need to try that aren’t baklava, whether it’s on the Greek islands themselves, or at your local Greek deli.
1. Galaktoboureko (Γαλακτομπούρεκο)
Galaktoboureko is a phyllo dough pastry made with semolina flour, egg, sugar, vanilla, butter, sugar, and milk. The name of this popular Greek dessert translates to “milk börek.” Popular throughout the Balkans, börek is a pastry that’s traditionally stuffed with savory fillings, such as cheese or spinach. The Greek version most likely spread throughout the region during the period of the Ottoman empire, and instead of being a savory snack, the Greeks transformed it into a dessert. The phyllo pastry is folded over a rich, creamy semolina custard filling. Soft and sugary on the inside and cased in crisp buttery pastry, this dessert is an outstanding invention, for anyone with a sweet tooth.
2. Kataifi (Καταϊφι)
Kataifi is also made with phyllo pastry, but in this recipe the phyllo is shredded into thin, hair-like strands. This gives the dessert a different texture and appearance than other Greek phyllo desserts like galaktoboureko and baklava. Specific recipes depend on the region of Greece, but the shredded phyllo is generally wrapped around a sweet filling of chopped nuts, usually walnuts, almonds, or pistachios. Kataifi is then soaked in a sugary syrup, which is commonly infused with ground clove and cinnamon. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee.
3. Melomakarona (Μελομακάρονα)
Melοmakaronas are cookies traditionally made and enjoyed during Christmas time, but you can find them in Greek bakeries throughout the year. The aromatic, egg-shaped cookies are made with semolina flour that’s spiced with cloves, cinnamon, and orange zest. After they’re baked, the treats are soaked in a sticky honey syrup and topped with chopped walnuts. They truly taste like Christmas in every bite.
4. Kourabiedes (Κουραμπιέδες)
Kourabiedes are another type of cookie commonly made at Christmas time, but just like melοmakaronas, kourabiedes can be found year-round in Greek bakeries. The cookies are similar to shortbread and feature almonds. Greece is famous for its almonds (the country is one of the largest almond producers in the world), making kourabiedes a special treat. Butter, sugar, and vanilla are used to make the cookies, and brandy, mastika (a liqueur flavored with mastic tree resin), and rose water are other common flavorings. Kourabiedes are often compared to wedding cookies, although the use of whole almonds sets them apart from versions found in Mexico, Italy, Russia, and elsewhere.
5. Halva (Χαλβά)
There are two types of halva found in Greece. The first is dense and dry, and it’s made with tahini. This halva is also popular throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Asia. The second type of halva in Greece is a soft, no-bake semolina pudding made simply with flour, water, sugar, and oil that has nuts and dried fruit in it. This type of halva is soaked in a syrup that’s typically infused with cinnamon and clove.
6. Loukoumades (Λουκουμάδες)
Loukoumades are the Greek version of doughnuts. They are very similar in shape and consistency to doughnut holes in the United States. The deep-fried dough balls are usually soaked in honey syrup and are often covered in chopped walnuts or drizzled with chocolate. Loukoumades can almost always be found at local fairs, festivals, and concerts. While the origin of loukoumades is greatly debated (like most foods from this region of the world), some claim that these treats were awarded to the winners of the first-ever Greek Olympic games in 776 BC.
7. Bougatsa (Μπουγάτσα)
This Greek pastry is phyllo dough that’s filled with a variety of things — cheese, minced meat, or a sweet semolina custard are common — that’s typically enjoyed at breakfast time. The sweetened version is usually sprinkled with cinnamon and a sugary icing. While this treat makes for a delicious breakfast paired with thick Greek coffee, it’s equally delightful when eaten as dessert.
8. Rizogalo (Ρυζόγαλο)
You’ve probably seen this dessert all around the world, especially in Latin America where it’s known as “arroz con leche.” Rizogalo, or “rice milk,” is a type of Greek rice pudding. This thick, creamy treat is topped with cinnamon and is usually served cold.
9. Pastes (Πάστες)
Pastes are various types of miniature individual cream cakes sold in zaxaroplasteio (ζαχαροπλαστεία), or Greek sweet shops. Pastes are constructed from thin layers of sponge cake alternated with thick layers of whipped cream or custard. They come in many varieties of flavors, from chocolate to black forest to tiramisu and more. Pastes are usually offered as a gift when visiting someone’s home — just one part of the famous Greek hospitality (filoksenia) traditions.
10. Kariokes (Καριόκες)
These chocolates are another treat found in the Greek sweet shops and are again a common gift given during the practice of filoksenia. Kariokes are chocolate and walnut-filled cookies dipped in melted chocolate. They are individually wrapped and make a perfect gift and delicious dessert.
11. Portokalopita (Πορτοκαλόπιτα)
Portokalopita is a fluffy orange-flavored cake. The sponge doesn’t contain any flour; it’s actually made from shredded sheets of phyllo dough. Once it’s based the cake is soaked in an orange syrup flavored with cinnamon. The cake is believed to have originated in Crete. Greek cakes that are soaked in syrup are known collectively as siropiasta.
12. Karidopita (καρυθόπιτα)
Another version of Greek siropiasta cake, karidopita is soaked in a cinnamon infused syrup. However the main flavor of this cake is walnuts. Crushed walnuts are folded into the batter and the cake can be topped in more crushed walnuts and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
13. Amygdalota (Αμυγδαλωτά)
Also known as ergolavi, these almond cookies are similar to macaroon — crunchy shell on the outside, and soft on the inside. Sometimes ergolavi are also filled with a fruit-based marmalade. Popular in Cyprus, ergolavi are often given as a kerastika, or a gift that is a part of a birthday celebration or a baptism.
14. Tsoureki (τσουρέκι)
Tsoureki is a Greek sweet bread served on Easter. The loaf braids together three strands of dough to represent the Holy Trinity. Tsoureki is seasoned with two spices which are essential to its signature flavor, mastic and mahlab (which is made from the ground up cherry pits). Around Easter tsoureki is often also decorated with hard boiled eggs that have been dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ.
15. Kaimaki (καϊμάκι)
The signature ingredient of kaimaki, otherwise known as Greek ice cream, is mastic. Mastic imparts kaimaki with a chewy, almost stretchy texture. Salep is another key ingredient in Greek ice cream, the powdered root of the orchid plant, which adds to its smoothness. Often, kaimaki is topped with chopped pistachios or almonds and drizzled with sour cherry syrup.
What are typical Greek desserts?
Typical Greek desserts that you will find all over the islands include baklava, layers of phyllo pastry soaked in honey and encrusted with pistachios, and pasteli, sesame seed bars sweetened with honey. Other Greek desserts made with phyllo pastry, like bougatsa, are also popular. Visitors to Greece will also typically encounter other desserts soaked in honey, like loukoumades.
What is the difference between baklava and kataifi?
The difference between baklava and kataifi is that the former is made with sheets of phyllo dough, while the latter is made with shredded phyllo dough. Kataifi is made by shredding phyllo dough into fine, hair-like strands, then rolled up with nuts in the center. In baklava, sheets of phyllo dough are layered with nuts and honey.
What is Greek ice cream called?
Greek ice cream is called kaimaki. It’s main ingredient is mastic, which gives it its signature chewy texture. Kaimaki is sometimes also flavored with sour cherry syrup and topped with nuts.