European pastry-making reached its peak in the 19th century, but its roots go all the way back to ancient Greece. Pastry-making has developed to an artistic level in several European countries, all of which have products that are known worldwide.
Among the European countries known for their pastries, we must definitely mention France first, followed by Austria, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Belgium and the Netherlands. Our list is far from complete, as every country in Europe has traditional, iconic pastries, cakes or desserts for which they have become known.
Below, we briefly cover the roots of European pastry-making and review some of Europe’s best-known pastries and desserts.
A brief overview of the development of European pastry-making
The first European pastries date back to the time of the ancient Greek and Roman empires when the cakes were sweetened with honey.
In the Middle Ages, under the influence of Arab conquerors new ingredients, spices and fruits were incorporated. The influence of the Middle East had a major impact on the cuisines of southern European countries.
Honey was later replaced by cane sugar grown in the Caribbean colonies, and cocoa from the Americas also became available. Chocolate production began in France during the reign of Louis XIV.
The rapid development of European pastry-making began in Europe at the end of the 1700s when they were able to produce much cheaper beet sugar.
The processing of cocoa beans and the production technology of cocoa powder was developed by the Dutch in the first half of the 1800s.
The beginnings of French pastry-making date back to the 1400s, when pastry chefs were separated from bakers. Refined French pastries and desserts are considered among the best not only in Europe but also worldwide.
Profiteroles are small ball-shaped cookies made from choux pastry and filled with pastry cream. They are often served with a chocolate ganache coating. Profiteroles form the basis of such famous French cakes as Saint Honoré and Croquembouche.
Éclairs are oval-shaped pastries made from choux pastry. They are filled with whipped cream or pastry cream, which can be flavored with fruit or rum. The top of the éclairs is typically covered with fondant.
Mille-feuille is a popular Parisian dessert. It consists of flaky pastry layers and fillings, such as pastry cream, chantilly cream, or thick fruit fillings. The top is often decorated with fondant or just sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Opera cake (gâteau opéra) was created in Paris in the 20th century. It consists of almond sponge layers filled with chocolate and coffee buttercream. The top is covered with chocolate and the word “Opera” is written on it as decoration.
Macarons are small round cakes made from egg whites, sugar, and almond flour. They are assembled in pairs with chocolate ganache, buttercream, or jam. Macarons are available in many colors and flavors. Macarons are among the most famous French cookies today, but their predecessors come from Italy.
The origins of Italian cuisine are linked to ancient Rome. The new fruits and spices introduced by the Arab conquerors, and later sugar and cocoa from the New World, also influenced the development of Italian pastry cookery.
Biscotti (Cantucci) is a twice-baked almond biscuit from Tuscany. It is crunchy and can be kept fresh for a long time. Its name comes from the Latin word “biscoctus”, which means twice baked.
Cannoli is a fried cylindrical pastry from Sicily with ricotta filling. The filled cannoli are traditionally sprinkled with chopped pistachios and candied orange peel.
Tiramisu became known and popular worldwide in the 20th century. It is made by layering coffee-dipped ladyfingers and mascarpone egg cream, topped with cocoa powder. A little amaretto or coffee liqueur is used for flavoring.
Panettone is a Milanese sweet bread made with dried fruit, mostly raisins. Its predecessors were created during the Roman Empire. According to historical records, panettone was already associated with Christmas in the 16th century. Fruit bread similar to panettone has since become part of Christmas traditions in many countries around the world.
According to wien.info, the Sacher cake was invented by 16-year-old apprentice Franz Sacher. The Sacher torte is actually a buttery chocolate sponge topped with apricot jam and chocolate frosting. The word “Sacher” is written on the cake as decoration.
Apple strudel (Apfelstrudel) is a traditional Viennese dessert. The paper-thin strudel dough is filled with apples flavored with sugar and cinnamon. The strudel slices are served sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Kaiserschmarren dough is a popular Austrian dessert that originates from the court of Emperor Franz Joseph I. Kaiserschmarren is similar to pancakes that are torn into small pieces with two forks. It also contains raisins soaked in rum.
Gugelhupf was a popular holiday cake in Austria in the Middle Ages. It is made from yeast dough with raisins and almonds. It is baked in a special baking dish with a cylinder-shaped hole in the middle.
The flourishing of Hungarian pastry-making began in the 19th century and lasted until World War II, within the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Cakes and other desserts that have since become famous were created at this time.
The Dobos cake (dobostorta) was created by pastry chef József C. Dobos in 1884. It consists of six thin sponge layers, which are assembled with chocolate buttercream, and topped with a caramel coating.
The Eszterházy cake originates from the 19th century and was named after the Eszterházy noble family. It is made by layering thin walnut meringue sheets and walnut buttercream. The top is decorated with chocolate-striped white fondant.
The development of Spanish pastry making in the Middle Ages was greatly influenced by the Moors. Later, in the Age of Discovery, new ingredients from the Americas enriched Spanish cuisine.
Tarta De Santiago is a Galician almond cake that has been made since the Middle Ages. The top of the cake is decorated with the motif of the cross of Saint James.
Crema catalana is a dessert very similar to the French crème brulée. It is made from milk and egg yolk and topped with a layer of caramelized sugar. Cinnamon and lemon zest are added as flavoring.
Churro is a cylindrical fried dough with a ribbed pattern. It is usually sprinkled with sugar and served with hot chocolate. Churros are also popular in Latin America.
Turkish cuisine has its origins in the Ottoman Empire, but it has been influenced by the customs of the surrounding peoples. Pastries of Turkish origin spread throughout Europe during the Turkish conquest and are still popular in the Balkans today.
Baklava is made from filo dough filled with walnuts or pistachios and soaked in syrup after baking. It was a popular dessert in the Ottoman Empire.
Tulumba is a cylindrical fried dough soaked in syrup. It got its name from the tool used to shape the dough. Tulumba is a popular dessert in several countries in Europe and the Middle East.
Belgium is famous above all for its high-quality chocolates. Among the pastries, the most well-known today is the Brussels waffle, also known as the Belgian waffle, which debuted at the 1958 World’s Fair. It is made with yeast dough and is common street food in Belgium, along with the Liège waffle, which dates back to the 18th century.
Speculaas (speculoos) are thin, crispy, spicy biscuits that are popular in both the Netherlands and Belgium. The most important spice used to flavor speculaas is cinnamon, but it can also contain cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. Speculaas cookies are often decorated with a windmill motif.
The stroopwafel is a popular Dutch cookie, which is actually a waffle filled with syrup and is common street food in the Netherlands. They are made with a special, thin waffle iron, from yeast dough. Stroopwafels were probably first made in the 18th century in the city of Gouda.
The roots of European pastry-making go back to ancient times. During its long development, famous pastries and desserts were created in every country.
In Europe, France is the most famous for its pastries, followed by Austria, Hungary, Spain, Italy, and Turkey. The list is not complete, we could continue with other European countries, as each of them has its own characteristic and iconic pastries.
My name is Debora, the founder of My Delicious Sweets, and a qualified confectioner with broad experience in the confectionery industry. On my blog, I will share important, interesting, and fun facts about food, along with some of my favorite recipes.