Romanian cuisine is still relatively unknown at an international level, but it is something well worth exploring. Traditional Romanian recipes bring together a mix of ingredients and influences, heavily influenced by Balkan, Turkish, Serbian, German, and Hungarian cuisines.
On the savory side, sarmale, mititei, and ciorba are some of Romania’s food staples, while on the sweet side cozonaci and papanasi are some of the most common traditional desserts you’ll encounter. But let’s do a deep dive and explore the best Romanian desserts.
Specific for Romanian traditional desserts are multi-layered cakes with one or more creams often made with butter and eggs. Usually, the layers are baked in advance to allow time for them to soften and the finished cakes usually improve if they are left to sit until the next day, allowing the aromas to blend in. They can last several days in the fridge, which only makes them tastier, and great for holidays when you could bake ahead and save time. It has become an inside joke between dads and the kids near festive times when they try to get their hands on the desserts prepared in advance for the festive table: it’s the “don’t touch that” season.
As you’ve probably already guessed, this layered cake requires honey. The dough calls for eggs, butter, honey, milk, sugar, flour, and baking soda, all of which gets divided into four layers. Butter, milk, and sugar make the cream that is thickened with semolina and flavored with vanilla and lemon.
Spread between the layers is plum preserve or apricot jam, which balances the sweetness of the cake giving it a little fruity sourness. After the cake is assembled, it rests in a cool place with a weight on top to get the layers to infuse better.
This will lure you from a distance, enticing you closer until you bump your forehead on the window display. The decadent Amandine not only looks appealing but even sounds appealing. It’s a love affair of cocoa-based layers tanked with syrup, caramel, and a whiff of rum with a sweet embrace of chocolate buttercream mixed with fondant. The layering is topped with a glaze, which is specific to the cake – a combination of more fondant with chocolate and rum.
Amandine can be made as one big cake or cut into serving portions in an oven tray. But regardless of the shape, it remains one of the best Romanian desserts.
Photo source: https://commons.wikimedia.org
What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the name of this cake? Funny pants maybe or at least bright colors. It was hugely popular during the 80s and 90s and one of the few, at that time, childhood sweets that you could buy from stores.
Colored pebbles are sprinkled on top of Harlequin cake, which has a yellow glaze resembling his jolly pants, hence the name. The four layers, made from eggs, flour, sour cream, and butter, are glued together with three different preserves such as apricot, plum, and strawberry or forest fruits.
Kids love it, and it’s very popular at birthday parties and on holidays. You can bake it in advance to save time, and it gets even better after two days of rest.
One of grandma’s favorite recipes is these light scones filled with plum preserves and covered in powdered sugar. I can still remember the smell of the croissants in the pantry. They might not look fancy, but they melt on your mouth and par very well with coffee, milk, or tea.
Made with lard, they are very light. Mixed with the other ingredients – egg yolks, sour cream, flour, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt – the dough doesn’t need too much kneading, unlike cozonac which does. Before going into the oven, these little croissants filled with sour fruit preserves are shaped. After baking, they get covered with powdered sugar.
Photo credits: Bogdan Suditu
The Carpathians have a cake named after them, and it is the peak of every festive table, not only because of its beautiful presentation but also because of its taste.
It takes some time to bake eight layers of sponge cake, but the effort really pays off, while chocolate cream sticks the layers together.
The cake is first divided into two halves and then it is cut into two right-angle triangles that are glued together to form a little mountain covered in chocolate and sprinkled with coconut flakes. Eating one of these will give you the feeling that you’ve conquered the Carpathians!
Chocolate was only sporadically found in stores in Romania during the communist period, so chocolate was mostly made at home. Its outstanding taste meant it has remained a firm favorite even after three decades. It is very easy to make and, with no time-consuming processes, this most delicious and rich dessert can be whipped with just 5 ingredients.
Photo credits: Raul Vidican
All you do is bring to the boil 150 ml (5oz) of water with 450 gr (2 ¼ cups) sugar and a dash of vanilla and leave it to simmer until the syrup thickens to honey-like consistency before caramelizing. Put it to one side. Put 150 gr (2/3 cups) of butter. Mix 50 gr (1/4 cups) cocoa with 500 gr (4 cups) powder milk (not formula!) and blend in the syrup once it has cooled down just enough to handle as it must be kneaded. If you like you can put in some chopped walnuts, nuts, almonds, or raisins. Spread the mixture in a tray and let it harden. I bet it doesn’t remain untouched before it’s fully cooled down!
Every family has a couple of favorite cake recipes that are made on certain occasions. Regardless of the number of desired desserts, it’s the cozonac that definitely makes it to the festive table on Christmas and Easter.
The most popular version is filled with walnut paste, but cozonaci with poppy seed paste or Turkish delight and raisins have their fans too. This sweet bread is made with leavened dough (consisting of flour, milk, egg yolks, vegetable oil, lemon peel, sugar, and yeast) and requires kneading. Egg whites, sugar, and some cocoa are blended into the walnut paste.
There are few things that can be compared to the aroma of hot steaming cozonac as it is taken out of the oven. The consistency is fluffy, the filling is moist, and you can’t stop at just one slice. Need I say that it washes down with wine or milk?
Another childhood treats made for the festive Christmas table are walnut-shaped cookies. The crisp nutshells are made from vanilla-scented dough filled with an aromatic mixture of plum preserves, ground walnuts, and rum.
The sweet smell of preserve and rum is divine and complements the sour taste of the fruit preserve. In the old days, the nutshells were made in a metal imprinter over an open fire, but modern technology has made it easier – electric cookie maker and non-stick molds.
A popular dessert when dining out is papanasi. If you are visiting Romania for the first time, you will find these are nothing like any donut you have eaten before.
The ring-shaped donuts are made from cottage cheese and semolina and then fried, which the Romanians prefer, unlike the original recipe borrowed from Austro-Hungarians that required boiling. The dessert is finished with sour cream on top and preserve, usually blackberry or forest fruits. It’s a calorie bomb, but your taste buds will explode with pleasure.
Photo credits: Iulian Nitu
I know how this sounds, but regardless of the name, it’s tasty and easy to make with non-pretentious ingredients: biscuits, butter, cocoa, sugar, milk, raisins soaked in rum, and more rum to taste. Sugar is melted in warm milk and whisked together with butter, cocoa, and raisins. Last to be blended in are the crushed biscuits, and the whole mixture is then rolled in a plastic sheet to form the salami that then rests in the fridge.
Biscuit salami is a childhood dessert that is still made today, even by kids because it’s that easy.
Many of these Romanian desserts are very old and almost faded through time. But for our parents, they bring back sweet childhood memories. They were found on every Christmas table and enjoyed when caroling, and some of them survived the fast-living era when store cookie premixes promised desserts too good to be true.
They can still be enjoyed at home, and we encourage you to taste them whenever you have the chance without thinking of the extra calories.
What’s your favorite Romania dessert? Share with us in the comments section below.