Greek food has a lot in common with Middle Eastern and Turkish food. It also borrows heavily from Italy and North Africa. The result is a lot of honey, a touch of spice, and plenty of nuts. The Greeks love pastry, and if you want to learn to cook like a Greek, it is advisable you become familiar with the ins-and-outs of phyllo dough. Above all, remember that the best Greek desserts contain the Holy trinity of Greek ingredients: Walnuts, honey, and cinnamon.
Many Greek culinary traditions stretch back to the ancient world. The ancient Greeks used cakes and sweets in religious festivals and as offerings. Join part of a long and delicious tradition by trying out some of these authentic Greek dessert recipes.
1. Karythopita, Greek Walnut Cake
Karythopita is a type of Greek Walnut cake, usually served with ice cream and a variety of sweet syrups. It is typically doused with some form of alcohol, such as brandy or cognac. In terms of taste, texture, and smell it is quite similar to Christmas pudding, and it is served at Christmas on the Greek mainland.
Fill your house with the Christmassy scent of cinnamon and clove with this authentic recipe.
2. Greek Baklava
Tensions between Greece and Turkey have always been high. Sometimes over the silliest things. The origin of Baklava is highly controversial. Greek baklava is subtly different from the Turkish kind, and people in Turkey will tell you it’s because they stole the recipe and got it wrong.
The Greek version normally uses chopped walnuts, rather than pistachios — or if you are in central Greece — almonds. All varieties are made by layering sheets of phyllo pastry, then covering with nuts, and honey syrup. Good quality Baklava can be identified by the crisp cracking noise it makes when you bite into it.
For a proper Greek version of the recipe click here.
3. Melomakarona, Greek Honey Cookies
Although they were once served at funerals in medieval times, Melomakarona are now more cheerfully served at Greek Christmas celebrations. Made from honey, orange zest, cinnamon, alcohol, and sprinkled with the nuts of your choosing, they are a gooey treat that cannot be missed. Soak them in honey to keep them sticky and moist.
You can learn the traditional way of making them here.
Kataifi is often served with baklava and uses similar ingredients. Made with ribbons of shredded pastry, they look incredible if you can pull them off. Nuts are hidden in the center, and whipped cream is served as an accompaniment. You may have to find a specialist Greek or middle Eastern supermarket to find Kaitaifi pastry, or if you don’t mind the extra labor make it yourself.
5. Greek Yogurt with all the trimmings
For those who want a healthy option, a good Greek yogurt with a variety of toppings is a classic in Greece. You can add fruits or syrups, but the most traditional yogurt made for dessert in Yiaourti me meli – yogurt covered in honey and sprinkled with walnuts.
If you want to be truly authentic, make sure you buy really good thick Greek yogurt. Many Greeks will tell you the knock-off versions sold around the world are but pale imitations of truly good Greek yogurt, which is strained till thick.
For an intense and exhaustive list of ideas for healthy Greek desserts using yogurt, read here.
6. Bougatsa, Custard Pie
The big daddy of Greek desserts, Bougatsa is made from phyllo pastry and Greek custard. Of all the Greek desserts, this is most people’s favorite. Invented in Northern Greece, they are especially popular in their home city of Serres, and nearby Thessaloniki.
Although you can have it for dessert, it is actually more often eaten for breakfast and goes very well with a Turkish coffee, which is served all over Greece. It contrasts nicely with the sickly sweetness of this mouth-watering dish. Crete increasingly has a reputation for fantastic bougatsa, and the late great Anthony Bourdain once went on a pilgrimage to Crete to see some infamous bougatsa makers in action.
It is traditionally made with semolina custard and you can find a recipe for it here.
Or, if you are not afraid of eye-watering calorie count, try this incredible Nutella version.
7. Kourabiedes, Greek Butter Cookies
Kourabiedes are another type of Greek cookie that is served at weddings and on Christmas. It is not unusual for them to be cut into stars and snowmen during the holiday season. You can spot them from their dusty white appearance. They are heavily coated in powdered white sugar, which you will get all over you. Made with blossom water or alcohol, and almonds, they have a soft buttery texture which resembles shortbread. Serve with coffee for the best results.
To make your own classic Greek Butter cookies click here
Diples are one of the strangest and most idiosyncratic Greek desserts. They are a type of pastry rolled up and thrown into a deep fat fryer. Once they cool, they are covered in some combination of cinnamon, sugar, honey, nuts, or syrup. You can find platters of them at Greek weddings, and they are most common in the Peloponnese, where they were invented.
A word of warning, as every Greek knows, your diples will tragically unravel if you are not careful when preparing them. Nobody likes a flat diple.
For comprehensive diple instructions try this recipe from the excellent My Greek Dish.
9. Portokalopita, Orange Cake
The Greeks are experts at making incredibly gooey moist cakes. Portokalopita is another traditional Greek cake that makes good use of syrups to keep it deliciously sticky. Made with Phyllo dough and whisked together with yogurt and orange juice, it should come out a beautiful bright orange color if done right. If you are a whizz in the kitchen, try candying some orange peel to make a decorative topping. Serve it cold to keep it from collapsing!
For Orange Cake that’s to die for, click here.
10. Loukomadies, Greek Donuts
Loukomadies, or lokma, are tiny round Greek donuts. Balls of fried dough are soaked in honey, sugar and/or cinnamon and served on street corners and in restaurants.
As you could probably guess, they are another Greek dish subject to an intense origin debate. Some people trace them to the Greek Byzantine Empire, some to 13th Baghdad, and a very similar recipe was once found in the Tomb of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Rameses IV.
Something a lot like them was also given as a prize in the Ancient Olympic Games, and they have since become an important part of Christian feast days, and Hannukah for Greek Jews.
There are many variations of the delicious dessert, and they often sold in coffee shops, and by specialist Lokma sellers across Greece.
For the regular Greek kind, try the Real Greek Recipes version
11. Galaktoboureko, Custard Pie
For those who feel that bougatsa is not enough, Galaktoboureko is another custard pie. It is sometimes served with a thin layer in phyllo pastry, and sometimes as just a massive lump of milk custard. It originates from Northern Greece.
If you are really hardcore, try making it with Greek goat’s milk. Beware, it is very strong!
12. Glyka tou koutaliou, Spoon Sweets
Spoon sweets are an old-fashioned gesture of hospitality made to guests from back in the days when people kept a large supply of preserved food in their houses. Typically they consist of bits of fruit, including bits of rind from oranges and lemons, preserved in jars of sweet syrup.
One of the most famous versions is from the Island of Chios. It’s made from mastic resin dropped into water (known as a vanilla submarine). It should harden in your glass like a piece of candy and is super fun to do.
Take one and place it on a spoon for visitors or eat handfuls of them for dessert.
If you want to make your own vanilla submarine look no further.
Alternatively, this Cherry Spoon Sweet Recipe is particularly good ladled over ice cream.
13. Rizogalo, Greek Rice Pudding
Rizogalo (literally milk and rice) is the Greek take on the well-established comfort food.
The Greek version has no eggs and requires no baking. A hearty and simple dessert, it is an absolute staple on cold winter nights. Lemon or lemon rind is quite often added to cut through the creamy flavor. Top with a bit of cinnamon or sugar to perfect!
This great recipe includes a lemony Greek twist!
14. Pasta Flora, Jam Tart
Pasta Flora is common all over Greece and is basically a type of jam tart. If you are creative, try decorating it with some latticework. Not to be confused with Pasta Frola (Quince Tart), Pasta Flora is another Greek pastry that is frequently eaten for breakfast as much as it is for dessert. Select the jam of your choice — although apricot and strawberry are classics — and get baking!
This all-purpose version incorporates any jam you like.
15. Greek Cheesecake
The innovative ancient Greeks gave us philosophy, drama, and democracy. But, better than all of that, they gave us cheesecake as well. Cheesecake goes back to ancient times and was apparently served at the Olympic games and at ancient weddings. Originally it was made by pounding goats’ cheese together with honey until it had a paste-like consistency.
In modern Greece, Greek yogurt cheesecake is extremely popular and makes a slightly healthier alternative to sugar heavy versions.
If you are of a more decadent person, try Melopita from Sifnos, a type of honey infused ricotta-based cheesecake.
Traditionally eaten at Greek Easter festivities after Holy Saturday, Koulourakia are tasty biscuits traditionally made into knot shapes. Historians believe this ancient Greek dessert was invented in ancient Crete, during the Minoan period. If you succeed in making them, see what patterns you can plat them in.
You can find the Classic version on My Greek Recipes
17. Greek Ekmek Kataifi
Not to be confused with the Turkish dish of the same name, Ekmek Kataifi is probably one of the best Greek desserts. It has everything a truly great Greek dessert needs: strips of kataifi phyllo, layers of custard, oodles of cream, and a scattering of nuts. It is effectively a sort of mash-up between a bougatsa and baklava. The crazy mix of textures is a little bizarre, but it really is very tasty.
Give it a go with this superb recipe.
For those who always go for the chocolate option, Mosaiko (literally a mosaic) is a Greek chocolate dessert. It’s easy to make and it mostly involves rolling chocolate biscuits into a kind of buttery chocolate concoction, which is then left to harden in the fridge. Add nuts, fruit, or alcohol to your liking!
For a chocolate mosaiko recipe from a chocolate expert look here.
19. Sokolatopita, Chocolate Cake
Sokolatopita is a classic Greek chocolate cake. Made with special chocolate sauce poured over the top, this moist spongey delight is simple to make for chocolate lovers everywhere. Once it is dripping with chocolate syrupy goodness, serve with ice cream or cream.
Check out this simple but classic cake recipe.
20. Greek Honey Cake
Last but not least, Greek-style honey cake is a sort of basic staple all over Greece. Although it is quite a plain and simple dessert, it was once offered to the Gods in Ancient Greece. They are mentioned many times in ancient texts as a type of religious offering and as a snack, and Odysseus eats them in the Odyssey. It feels quite cool to eat something that is part of such a long tradition!
They were one of the first cakes ever invented, and were basically a form of bread sweetened with honey. One of the oldest recipes around, you can make them the ancient way if you invest in old fashioned artisanal flours, or spelt, which is what they would have used at the time. Today there are many variations on this cake, and it is much lighter than its bready ancestor.
Also Read: 27 Things Greece Is Known For