Desserts with Curious Histories

No doubt every country, and all of the varied regions within, serve some kind of sweet treat after a savory meal. Who isn’t tempted by the highs that a bit of sugar can induce? Many of these recipes are deeply rooted in local culture and come from generations of tradition, while others have emerged in recent decades only to become enormously popular (especially in the West). Those that have been around longer may have some peculiar origins that are easily overlooked. Take a gander below and see if you find any of them surprising.


Photo: © OlgaMazyarkina via

Anna Pavlova was a classical dancer well ahead of her time, who is famous for defining the aesthetic of ballet as it is known today, and for playing several iconic ballet roles such as the Dying Swan, Giselle and for being the first to embody Stravinsky’s Firebird. As the tutus that she danced in tended to be white and very fluffy, in 1929 a chef in New Zealand was inspired to create a fluffy white meringue dessert that resembled the dancer’s costumes and named it in her honor.


Photo: © A_Lein via

This Cuban dessert is not far from what we know as pound cake. It can be made with nuts and sometimes raisins. Baptized in the name of the Italian opera diva, Marietta Gazzaniga, who, on a tour of Latin America, performed in Havana in 1958. Such was the rage over the prima donna that a local baker decided to create a vanilla-flavored sponge cake and name it in honor of the Italian artist.

Nun Farts

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These candies, originally from Catalonia, are extremely popular in Mexico and are cooked and distributed together with other traditional Mexican sweets. It is certainly a silly and laughable name, however, it was given to them due to some faulty phonetics. The creator, an Italian chef living in Barcelona, had actually named them ‘Petto di Monca’ which means ‘nun’s breasts’, though that, too, is a curious choice, however, he wouldn’t be the only one to go down that road. ‘Capezzoli di Venere’, traditional Venetian chocolates, translates as ‘the nipples of Venus’.

Swiss Roll

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It is said that this roll of Genoese sponge cake, meringue and jelly was brought from Egypt by a Spanish monk, arriving with the name ‘Brazo Egipciano’ (Egyptian Arm), and that this name eventually mutated into ‘Brazo Gitano’ (Gypsy Arm). Another legend says that the dessert was the way in which the gypsies paid or thanked the carpenters and other workers for doing a job for them. The English words for this sweet treat have hopefully opted out of this potentially controversial debate, offering various monikers – Swiss roll, jelly roll, roulade, or roll cake.

Swedish Princess Cake

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The Swedish princess cake or ‘princesstärta’ is famous not only for being a very sweet dessert, but also for its beautiful presentation encased in green or pink icing, and decorated with marzipan roses. The recipe was devised and written down by Jenny Akerström, the teacher of Astrid and Marta, the daughters of Prince Charles and Danish Princess Ingeborn (who ruled Sweden at the time). The cake was first created to celebrate Astrid’s birthday. It was essentially a Grön Tarta (green cake), with the difference being that it was filled with jam, marzipan and pastry cream. It immediately became the favorite dessert of both princesses, securing the name by which we know it today.

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