The United States is a wonderland for anyone who loves sweets. From pumpkin pie to chocolate chip cookies, there are enough ambrosial desserts to satisfy Willa Wonka.
Many sweet treats are ubiquitous in this country, but dig deeper and you’ll find mouth-watering desserts that are a specialty of a specific state or city. Thanks to the magic of mail order, many are now delivered right to your door.
From Maine to Alaska, we’ve rounded up 10 delicious regional cakes, pies and confections that reflect a sense of place and are guaranteed to turn your glucose cravings into overdrive.
Wisconsin’s official pastry, the Kringle, has been a Racine County specialty since Danish immigrants brought the recipe with them in the mid-19th century. Made up of 32 layers of feathery dough, the butter and flour are folded together repeatedly to produce a luscious dough with a flaky texture. The dough is chilled before being shaped into an oval and filled with nuts like pecans or walnuts or fruits like raspberries or cherries. A drizzle of sweet frosting on top provides even more sweetness. O&H Danish Bakery enjoys a strong mail order business and its products are often available at Trader Joe’s at a great price.
This crispy confection has been a Buffalo staple since the mid-1900s. Caramelized sugar is spun into an airy honeycomb and covered in melted chocolate. Locals love their hometown candies so much that there is even a National Sponge Candy Day celebrated on September 21. Many upstate New York candy stores do this, so a sponge candy ride is not out of the question. If you prefer to eat at home, you can have these confections delivered right to your door.
Gooey Butter Cake is an unpretentious yellow cake created in St. Louis. According to locals, it was the result of a happy accident when a baker mixed up the amount of sugar and flour to add to the cake. It’s a study in texture: crispy like a brownie in the corners, creamy like pudding in the slightly undercooked center and as buttery as a pound cake. While not the fanciest dessert ever, this humble treat is as cozy as your favorite pajamas. It’s blissfully simple, embellished with a shower of powdered sugar. Belonging to the family Russell’s Cafe and Bakery makes a version with a savory shortbread crust, and it’s delivered fresh every Wednesday.
Moravian sugar cake is a yeast coffee cake. Once the dough has risen, the baker uses a finger to make dimples in the dough. These wells act as reservoirs to collect a rich topping of melted butter, brown sugar and cinnamon which caramelizes during cooking. Folklore holds that the best Moravian bakers had the fattest fingers, as larger holes in the dough meant that more of the filling would go into the nooks and crannies of the cake. This cake has long been an Easter morning tradition for members of the Moravian Church who settled in the Winston-Salem area more than two centuries ago. Cakes are sold and shipped to Winkler’s Bakery where the oven is still fired with wood as it was when the bakery opened in 1807.
Sugar cream pie is a velvety, single-crust pie that dates back to Frontier times. Sometimes known as the Hoosier pie or the pie of despair, it was initially popular during the winter months when fruit was scarce in the Midwest, but milk, sugar, and flour were available. Today, it is served in Indiana bakeries, restaurants, and homes year-round. Local favorite Wick’s Pies ships nationwide.
Prepared with sugar, butter and milk, thickened with a few spoonfuls of flour or cornstarch and flavored with a hint of vanilla and grated nutmeg, it’s a balanced set of pantry ingredients that makes it clear that the simplest of recipes can yield delicious results. .
Everything is bigger in Texas, including the sheet cake. A Texas sheet cake is an oversized chocolate sheet cake covered in a gooey chocolate icing and generously sprinkled with chopped pecans. This chocolate addict’s dream is easy to make in a jelly roll pan and is very portable; it is often brought to potlucks, church bake sales and funerals. Cook it at home in a jiffy with a mixture of HEBthe Lone Star State’s favorite supermarket.
Spanish for “little cookies,” these crisp, shortbread Mexican-American cookies contain a heavy dose of anise and cinnamon, explaining the fragrant aroma. Packed with a zesty flavor, purists insist on using lard, which helps explain the melty texture on the tongue. Biscochitos are the official state cookie and a staple during the holiday season. Celina’s Biscochitos in Albuquerque masterfully bakes these tender beauties, even offering a monthly subscription box.
Benne is the name of the Bambara people of West Africa for the sesame seed. During the North American slave trade, enslaved West Africans brought these seeds with them to the Sea Islands of South Carolina, home to Gullah heritage and culture. The seed was pounded and dried to form flour and ended up in a variety of dishes, including delicate wafers. Benne Wafers are bite-sized cookies that are slightly sweet, crunchy, nutty, and buttery. They are sold at Olde Colony Bakery and many Lowcountry bakeries.
Needhams are a soft and chewy mixture of mashed potatoes, shredded coconut, sugar and vanilla dipped in melted chocolate. Maine was once the largest potato producer in the country, and Needhams was originally started as a way to utilize the state’s bumper potato crop. These square candies look like a homemade version of a classic Mounds candy bar. They are a specialty Robin’s sweets in Biddeford, Maine, where candy makers dip each by hand.
Akutaq is a native Alaskan dessert similar to ice cream. Made with whipped animal fat, plump tundra berries and freshly fallen snow, it doesn’t have the creamy consistency of more familiar frozen desserts. The animal fat used depends on the region; Northern and inland parts of the state use caribou or moose blubber while areas closer to the sea use whale or seal blubber. Over time, Crisco has become a popular substitute. You’ll probably have to visit Alaska to try this frozen snack.