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Rouse your senses on a culinary expedition of passion, sweetness, and indulgence with these South American desserts, and discover a completely different side to the rich cuisine of this vast and beautiful continent.
Food is more than just fuel in South America: its culture, heritage, and connection. This sentiment more than rings true when it comes to the rich and sweet dishes of South American cuisine.
The beauty of so many of these dishes is that, while hugely popular in their listed countries, they also exist in different variations in so many other South American countries, giving you ample opportunity to try them.
So let’s dive in together, forks and spoons in hand, and discover a lavish and sweet side to South American cuisine through 25 of the continent’s most popular desserts.
South American Desserts
1 – Alfajores
While iterations of alfajores now exist all across South America, there’s no doubt that Argentinian alfajores are some of the richest and sweetest you can try across the continent.
Alfajores consist of two discs of crumbly cookie dough, filled with dulce de leche and coated with chocolate, shredded coconut, or slivered nuts. They are commonly enjoyed with a hot cup of coffee following a hearty main meal.
2 – Queso y Dulce
A dish that can be enjoyed as a protein-rich, filling snack, while also satisfying those sweet cravings, queso y dulce is quite the South American treat.
Also known as “vigilante” or “Romeo and Juliet”, this is a sweet candy bar is made of solid sweet potato jam slices, interspersed with slices of local sheep or cow milk cheese. Some variants substitute the sweet potato jam with guava, quince, or cactus fruit (tuna) jam.
3 – Gaznates Dulces (Fried Pastries with Chocolate or Cream)
Like churros but lighter and airier, gaznates dulces are one of Bolivia’s most popular sweet treats. They’re also popular in Mexican cuisine. They consist of small tube-shaped pieces of dough, which are deep-fried and filled with chocolate sauce, dulce de leche, or sweet cream.
Gaznates dulces are often coated with caster sugar and served with coffee. Miniature versions are also popular at children’s parties.
The secret to their fluffy airiness? The dough is made from a mixture of wheat and cornflour with a pinch of baking soda, and that helps fill it with minuscule bubbles as it hits the hot oil.
4 – Budín de Quinoa (Quinoa Pudding)
On the other end of the sweet spectrum is budín de quinoa, a homely and comforting sweet treat that combines traditional Spanish techniques with local ingredients.
At first glance, the base recipe is very similar to traditional European bread pudding. However, instead of using day-old bread, it uses quinoa soaked in milk, spices, and fig jam.
This mixture is then simmered and baked until it solidifies. The resulting cake has a wholesome and grainy texture, is incredibly filling, and delicately delights with its toasted almond aroma.
5 – Brigadeiro (Chocolate and Condensed Milk Truffles)
Brazili’s iconic dark cocoa-filled bites are undoubtedly one of the country’s must-try sweet foods. Sometimes known as negrinhos, Brigadeiros are made from a rich chocolate ganache mixed with condensed milk.
The resulting mixture is then rolled into small balls and sprinkled with shaved chocolate, dried coconut, or finely chopped nuts.
High-end versions of brigadeiros are often found at cocktail parties, neatly arrayed in silver platters to enjoy as the evening draws to a close. However, humbler versions are served in cafés across the country, usually as a “combo” with a cup of black coffee.
6 – Creme de Abacate (Sweet Avocado Mousse)
Most of us wouldn’t immediately think of abacates (avocados) as a “dessert ingredient.” Yet, wherever they are abundant year-round, people are bound to find creative uses for this beloved fruit.
Crema de abacate is a surprisingly easy dessert to make. It is made by taking the soft flesh from an overripe avocado and blending it with condensed milk, caster sugar, and a teaspoon of lime juice.
The result is a decadent and soft mousse, which delights and awes with its creamy texture and sweet, slightly tart flavor.
7 – Quindim (Coconut and Egg Yolk Custard)
Quindim is not just ubiquitous around Brazilian bakeries – it is also very easy to spot, largely thanks to its bright yellow color.
This is a rich custard, similar to Portuguese pasteis de nata. However, instead of the filling being held inside phyllo dough cups, quindim is instead held together by a layer of toasted coconut shavings.
Quindim is usually served in small, single-serving portions and eaten on the go. However, it can also be made into a larger pie-sized quindao and enjoyed as slices.
8 – Sopaipillas (Fried Bread Discs)
Sopaipillas are one of the most beloved “comfort foods” in Central Chile. These are small discs of leavened dough made from a combination of pumpkin and wheat flour.
Rather than baked, they are deep-fried and then soaked in warm chancaca (a reduction of molasses, water, and dried fruit). They provide an instant source of energy and inner warmth for those cold, rainy winter days in Chile.
9 – Mote con Huesillo (Hot Wheat and Fruit Drink)
A close cousin to Peruvian champús, mote con huesillo is another firm favorite to help Chileans through the cold Andean winters.
This drink is made by boiling husked wheat in a thin syrup made from honey or sugar, cinnamon, clove, and whole peaches.
It is a hugely popular drink and sold by street vendors throughout Chile. You can quickly drink the nectar directly from a cup, but you need a spoon to help you with the flavor-soaked wheat.
10 – Natilla (Milk-Based Sweet Spread)
Typical of the Antioquian plains, Natilla is the Colombian Nutella: a versatile spread that can instantly turn fruit or toast into a heavenly snack.
Natillas are made from a reduction of cornflour, milk, and molasses. The ingredients are simmered until they become a sweet, smooth paste. Throughout December, a special Natilla Navideña is produced, which also incorporates slivered nuts, and is commonly spread on top of soft sweet bread.
11 – Cocadas (Sugar and Coconut Bites)
Coconuts may be known worldwide for their mineral-rich water, but in the Caribbean and throughout the Americas every piece of the nut is deemed useful.
In particular, dried coconut jelly offers excellent potential for desserts. In Colombia, it is shredded and used for cocadas.
This simple and filling dessert is made by mixing the coconut “flakes” with sugar, cinnamon, and water. The mixture is rolled into bite-sized balls and baked until crispy. The dish is also hugely popular in many other South American countries.
Discover Colombian foods.
12 – Dulce de Higos (Caramelized Figs with Honey)
If you’ve always enjoyed the soft texture and wonderful sweetness of figs, then you are truly in for a treat with dulce de higos.
Dulce de higos are made by first soaking figs for a day or two in water with cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. The figs are then simmered with brown sugar and honey until they are completely caramelized. At this point, you can serve them immediately and enjoy biting into each fig to release its flavor into the syrup.
Alternatively, you can drain the syrup slightly, press the figs until they burst, and then spread them on toast along with some butter.
13 – Espumilla (Merengue Drops)
Meringue is a traditional Spanish concoction, so meringue-based desserts can now be found across South America. Yet few are as zesty and airy as Ecuadorian espumilla.
This small sweet treat sees guava juice infused into a traditional egg white and white sugar mixture. This adds an extra layer of flavor and some much-needed moisture. As a result, on the contrary to traditionally crumbly meringues, espumillas accompany their sweet flavor with a delightfully soft texture.
Discover Ecuadorian foods.
14 – Cassava Pone (Coconut and Cassava Cake)
Halfway between a cake and pudding, cassava pone is a pastry made from coconut milk and cassava flour. It is usually sweetened with brown cane sugar and a hint of ginger. The resulting dough is then spread on a baking dish and baked or cooked in a hot bath (bain marie).
At restaurants, more ambitious chefs often cover it with a layer of shredded coconut or flambéd sugar. However, the home versions will usually keep their texture simple, soft, and comforting.
15 – Sirnee (Milk, Flour, and Ghee Sweet Paste)
Similar to Trinidadian parsad, Guyanese sirnee is made from a mixture of eggs, flour, sugar, and clarified butter. However, it isn’t kneaded into a loose dough, but instead spread over a cake pan and pressed until firm.
Sirnee is usually served by the slice outside local mosques. Indo-Guyanese families love to decorate this dish with nuts, fruit, or colored marzipan for special occasions. The latter is often used to create beautiful swirling designs.
16 – Guayaba y Queso
Paraguay’s guayaba y queso is a close relative to Argentina’s queso y dulce or vigilante. As its name indicates, it uses thick guava jam (often solidified with a dash of gelatin) rather than sweet potato jam.
As a result, guayaba y queso is less starchy, with an unexpected yet delightful zesty aftertaste. Plus, the occasional presence of guava seeds will add an extra crunch. This blends well with Paraguayan white cheese, which tends to be less greasy than other cheeses on the continent.
17 – Kivevé (Mashed Andean Squash with Sugar and Milk)
Also known as quibebe close to the Brazilian border, kivevé is slightly thicker than creamed corn. Don’t expect a savory main dish, however, as kivevé is made from extra-sweet local squash, which is mixed with sugar, milk, and allspice. It’s sweet, wholesome, and will warm your insides from the very first mouthful.
Discover Paraguayan foods.
18 – Combinado Limeño
The Combinado limeño places two sweet winter specialties in the same bowl. The dish sees the first, sweet rice or arroz con leche, made from whole long-grain white rice, milk, sugar, and spices, placed immediately next to mazamorra Morada, a pudding made from Peruvian purple corn and fruit.
Everything is then sprinkled with a dash of powdered cinnamon. The refreshing notes of the mazamorra Morada pairs wonderfully with the sweetness of the rice.
19 – Picarones (Fried Donuts in Syrup)
Picarones are deep-fried donuts made from blended flour. Exact proportions vary depending on the cook’s family and the pantry contents on any given day.
Most of the time, the base dough will contain wheat flour, cornflour, pumpkin, and a dash of baking soda. Quinoa or Andean tubers like mashwa sometimes make a guest appearance.
As soon as they’re out of the fire, picarones are covered in fruity syrup and should be eaten while hot and crispy. Picarones are a traditional pick-me-up after a street party or an outdoor concert.
20 – Boterbiesjes (Butter Cookies)
Evolved from Dutch boterbjesjes, Surinamese boterbjesjes replace some of the wheat with cornflour, and substitute in cane sugar for beet sugar, making for a sweeter and lighter cookie, still with a satisfying crunch.
Finished with a dash of lime zest and ginger, these cookies deliver a light and crunchy cookie, that still treats you to an indulgent, buttery texture.
21 – Adolfinas (Peanut and Candied Peel Sugar Cookies)
Another Surinamese tea-time favorite are adolfinas, a type of thin, dry cookie made from peanuts, candied apple peel, and sugar.
Adolfinas sometimes feel like a midpoint between a butter cookie and a peanut cereal bar. However, they are delicate and make a delicious noise when eaten by themselves. They also make for a perfect dunking cookie for your tea!
22 – Helado de Sambayón (Egg and Port Wine Ice Cream)
Helado de sambayón is a rich and creamy dessert that came about from the influence of Italian zabaione, a delightful creamy dessert of egg yolk, sugar, and sweet wine.
Helado de sambayón is instead made from frozen milk cubes, making it a truly rich and refreshing Uruguayan favorite, and an alternative to ice cream. It is commonly topped with chopped berries and cinnamon.
23 – Pasta Frola (Guava Pie with Phyllo Dough)
In Italy, pasta frola is a thin, flakey dough, similar to Greek phyllo. In Uruguay, the same term is used to describe one of its most popular pies.
Uruguayan pasta frola uses the same dough to hold a guava-based filling. The leftover dough is used to create strips to create the decadent lattice pattern that adorns the top of the pie.
Rich, indulgent, and blessed with the zesty undertones of guava, this is one slice of pie you simply have to try when visiting Uruguay.
24 – Tarta Marquesa (Layered Cookie Cake)
Who says cake dough needs to have eggs and milk? Venezuelan Tarta Marquesa doesn’t, making it an effortless alternative for birthdays and dinner parties.
Tarta Marquesa gets its name from Marquesas, a brand of local vanilla biscuits. These biscuits are soaked in condensed milk and placed in layers with chocolate cake, fudge, and cream. Finally, the layers are covered with chocolate sauce and sprinkles.
Left to refrigerate overnight, Tarta Marquesa provides a delightful mild sweetness and softness with every mouthful, similar to that of an Italian tiramisu.
25 – Quesillo (Rum-Infused Flan)
Flan is hugely popular throughout Latin and South America, and so many delicious variations of this dish are enjoyed by millions across the region.
Venezuluan quesillo differs from its various counterparts by adding a good dose of rum into its central mix. Naturally, this mixture is then simmered with eggs, milk, cornstarch, and spices to make a wholesome dessert with deep flavor.
Quesillo also includes a dollop of heavy cream, added before baking it halfway. It should finish cooking in a Bain Marie, which helps lock in the caramelized aroma of rum.
South American Desserts Summary
South America never fails to awe, allure, and inspire with its wholesome, creative, and delicious foods, and that very much rings true in the desserts that can be found across the region.
There are so many flavors, aromas, textures, and combinations to enjoy, all in good South American company. So much love, passion, and flair go into making food every day in South America, hence its dishes sing to the soul in so many different ways.
You really are in for a treat when you dive into the sweeter side of South American cuisine. From the searing heat of Brazil’s beaches to the rustic settlements nestled in the Chilean mountains, mouthwatering food can be found across the continent. Embrace it, and see what you can discover!
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Author: Ximena Lama Rondon is a bilingual writer and translator, and has a wealth of experience traveling and living across South America and the Caribbean.
Images licensed via Shutterstock