Greek desserts | 8 Incredible pastries to try in Athens

glenn-moustokouloura

Athens is an incredible city to visit, for the beautifully visible history, the vibrant culture, and definitely the food. Greek food is world-famous for being fresh and healthy and absolutely decadent.

 

We tried so many dishes in our month exploring Athens. And we loved pretty much all of it! But one of the most unique and exciting aspects of Athenian food culture was the delicious, varied, and often honey-based desserts. So wonderful!

 

So, because most people only get to spend a few days in this magical city and don’t have time to try all the different things, we made a list of all the best Greek desserts you should try in Athens. Of course, they may not all be to your liking, but I’ve given a sense of the flavour to help you pick your must-haves. I also included the Greek names so that you can easily identify and order them, even at restaurants with little English.

 

Greek dessert culture

One of our coolest discoveries in Greece was that in much of the country, you don’t actually need to order dessert after dinner. They’ll bring you a small portion of the house dessert, free of charge!

 

In our two months here, we’ve had baklava, kataifi, moist lemon tart, chocolate cake, semolina halva, brownies, ice cream, and watermelon all as a free close-off to our meals. It’s just part of Greek hospitality, a lovely little end to a good meal that never fails to surprise us!

 

You’ll also find, as you visit Greek bakeries and cafes, that there are delicious sweet pastries all over the place. Many of these can be happily enjoyed as a breakfast – especially when accompanied by a καφε ελληνικο, a traditional Greek coffee. This strong, almost thick coffee perfectly complements the very sweet pastries enjoyed here.

 

8 Best Greek pastries to look out for

There are so many pastries and desserts in Greece, and every island and mainland town will have one or two unique to them. So always be open to new tastes (if your body deals well with them), and you never know what might be your favourite!

 

This is a list of the most delicious sweet treats we’ve enjoyed here. We highly recommend looking out for them while you’re in Greece, and trying as many as you can. They’re definitely part of the adventure – there’s nothing like a perfect slice of baklava after exploring the ancient Acropolis!

 

Baklava

Μπακλαβάς

 

 

Anyone who’s been to Greece knows all about baklava! Famous for its strong, spicy, nutty flavours, this is a real favourite. Baklava is made with layers of fresh phyllo dough, nuts (usually walnuts and/or pistachios) cinnamon and spices, and a sweet honeyed syrup. I mean, it’s really hard to go wrong with ingredients like that.

 

The best way to enjoy your baklava is with vanilla ice cream and coffee. The simplicity of the ice cream (παγωτό in Greek) breaks the intense flavours perfectly and the coffee breaks the sweetness. Otherwise, you may find a whole slice of this a bit overwhelming. Delightful, but overwhelming. Of course, a big glass of water and a slice split between two can also do the trick!

 

Loukoumi

Λουκούμι

 

 

Widely known as Turkish Delight, these squishy treats are known as loukoumi in Greece – and they truly are delightful. You’ll find authentic handmade loukoumi in most sweet shops and cafes in Greece. Covered in powdered sugar or, like the ones above, in coconut, these pillowy sweets commonly accompany Greek coffee, as the rich bitter drink perfectly complements their sweetness.

 

Loukomia originated with the Ottoman Empire, which brought them from Turkey to Greece and surrounding areas. Simple, cheap to produce, and so surprisingly tasty, they’ve been popular ever since. (And if you’re a history nerd like us, you can read more about the history of loukoumi here!)

 

The basic ingredients of loukoumia are water, sugar and starch, but you’ll usually find flavoured options – I recommend you try the cranberry ones, or a classic lemon, rosewater, or vanilla!

 

You can easily find boxed loukoumi in Greece, but we recommend you buy them straight from a vat at a local store. That way, you know they’re handmade, and you’re supporting small businesses!

 

Halva

Χαλβά

 

 

Another all-time favourite, Greeks share their famous halva with a number of Mediterranean and West Asian countries. It’s flaky, soft, and strongly flavoured, and you’ll usually only have a little of it at a time. The hunk in the image above took us about three weeks to get through, very very happily.

 

Greece’s main form of halva is the tahini halva pictured above, made with honey and tahini and sometimes additions like cocoa and almonds. But you’ll also discover the very different textured and tasting semolina halva here. And both, you’ll find, are just called halva. So it’s best to point out the halva you’re after!

 

Of course, I’d recommend giving the semolina halva a go too – we were very surprised at the big difference and the mild, not-very-sweet flavour.

 

Bougatsa

Μπουγάτσα

 

 

A popular and very tasty greek pastry is the bougatsa. Usually filled with custard and wrapped in a crispy phyllo pastry, this dessert differs from place to place. In Athens, you’ll find it topped with some powdered sugar and cinnamon.

 

Despite its sweetness, it’s considered a breakfast pastry! When we visited our local bakery in the afternoon, craving a bougatsa with our coffee, we found that they were all long gone. So try it as your brekkie before you head out on the day’s adventure, and be sure to have it still warm.

 

Moustokouloura

Μουστοκούλουρα

 

 

A lesser-known traditional Greek dessert is the Moustokouloura cookie. You’ll find this at many coffee shops and bakeries, with their distinctive circular shape to identify them by.

 

This cookie is made with grape molasses, and is part of that Greek tradition of never letting things go to waste, and baking with whatever doesn’t get used for other things! They are made from the juice of aging grapes, condensed into a sweet syrup and mixed with flour and one or two other ingredients.

 

They aren’t too sweet, making them perfect for those of us with just a light sweet tooth. And you’ll often find them stuffed with a filling, like chocolate.

 

Kataifi

Κανταΐφι

 

Kataifi is, unfortunately, the one dessert we didn’t get a picture of. But don’t rule it out! This dessert is very similar to baklava, – filled with nuts and covered in a yummy honeyed syrup. Baklava’s famous phyllo dough, however, is changed out for very finely shredded phyllo dough, almost like teeny noodles. It’s usually crispy, very sweet, and another perfect pairing with a strong coffee.

 

Personally, my favourite of the two is definitely baklava. But let me know if you disagree! Maybe I’ve just never had the right kataifi.

 

Portokalípíta (Orange pie)

πορτοκαλόπιτα

 

 

This one is a little rarer to find in bakeries, but keep an eye out! The orange pie is a common favourite in Greek households, both because of its simple tastiness, and it’s helpful role. The orange pie is made with phyllo pastry instead of flour – the thin pastry sheets are ripped up into little pieces, usually after drying. It’s the perfect way to use excess and unused phyllo pastry, which can be collected over a week.

 

The cake is made with sugar, orange zest, phyllo dough, and baking powder. After baking, a cold orange-zested syrup is poured over and soaked in, and then it’s topped with icing sugar. It’s absolutely delicious, and the tiny bits of phyllo somehow make every bite crispy and soft at the same time.

 

We made this delightful dessert during our Athens cooking class, where we learnt a lot about Greek cooking practices and food culture, and made some amazing dishes!

 

Sokolatopita (chocolate cake)

πίτα σοκολάτας 

 

 

This one is really just chocolate cake! And while that may not be very exciting, you can find this cake at most bakeries. It’s a local favourite (and a global one), and it’s super rich and delicious. Pairs perfectly with icecream or, as we have it here, with strawberries.

 

The sokolatopita is the perfect thing to have when you’re not feeling very adventurous, but still want to eat as the locals do.

 

Final thoughts on these sweet Greek pastries

You’ll be astonished to find just how much variation there is to Greece’s – and even just Athens’ – traditional pastries. There’s so much to try, we spent almost two months here and still didn’t manage to taste everything! But this list of the best Greek desserts should introduce you to some absolutely incredible sweet treats. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

 

For more Greek inspiration, check out our posts on Greek mythology and on the famous demigod Heracles!

 

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