Estonian desserts, whether served during holidays or throughout the year, are based on a series of favorite ingredients, such as local berries, grains, and dairy. Some desserts have their origins in the Baltic Germans, who were the ruling class in Estonia for a time and brought their traditions with them. Others reflect the Soviet era, when ingredients were limited and people had to use what was available. And still others have their tradition in Estonian agricultural society.
The following are some of the most typical and traditional types of Estonian desserts.
Kama is a traditional ingredient for Estonian desserts. What is kama?
Kama is a finely ground flour made from toasted barley, rye, and wheat, and peas. It originated in agricultural Estonia, when Estonians worked the land for the German ruling class – they had to be creative when it came to desserts, which had to be economical and made from easily obtained ingredients. Farming communities mixed their kama with sour milk and berries, making a tart but filling and enjoyable dessert.
Today, kama is often made into a mousse with whipped cream, or it’s added to kefir with berries and sugar as a nod to the traditional way of eating it.
Kama has even helped compensate for high cocoa prices in a well-known candy bar by the Estonian chocolate company Kalev. The kama flour was mixed with ingredients such as evaporated milk, coffee, and sugar, reducing the need for the amount of cocoa that regular chocolate bars required. Though access to cocoa is no longer a problem, this particular candy bar is still popular with Estonians.
You’ll find people eating kama on Estonia’s Independence Day on February 24 – that’s how important it is to Estonian culture!
Kissel is Estonia’s version of a pudding – whatever the main ingredient it’s made from, its most iconic feature is its smooth and silky but runny texture.
Kissel is a dessert enjoyed since Soviet times, when it was popular to use the leftover preserved fruit from the summer or to make it fresh from seasonal ingredients, like from rhubarb in the spring.
Today, kissel is available in local shops and in many different varieties. The most popular types are milk kissel with vanilla and caramel kissel – both are sold by the liter because some people drink it like milk! Even lactose-free versions are available.
Cat Arthur and the Spotted Dog
Cat Arthur and the Spotted dog are two different desserts, but it is common for Estonians to put them in the same category due to their similar method of preparation – along with their names, which represent animals.
Cat Arthur is a sweet, melted toffee mixed with butter and corn puffs. It is eaten chilled and cut into slices or broken into pieces. The name comes from a favorite kids’ show from the 1980s that had a cat named Arthur as a mascot. Cat Arthur is also sold under the name Mõnus Maius, which translates to “nice treat.”
The Spotted Dog
The spotted dog is a dessert made of cookies, cocoa powder, and gummy candies with a hint of rum flavour. Its consistency is like thick cookie dough. The dough is chilled, sometimes into a log, and cut into slices for serving.
These are common, easy-to-make desserts, and they are both produced and sold locally in stores.
Vastlakukkel Shrove Tuesday Buns
Vastlakukkel are an Estonian dessert made for Shrove Tuesday. These buns can be filled with jam or whipped cream (or both). In the past, they were served warm, but today, they’re served cold, and the fillings can be elaborate and decorative.
These buns were brought to Estonia by the Baltic Germans, who would stuff them with more elaborate fillings. However, it’s no wonder that whipped cream predominates in the Estonian version given the country’s love of all foods dairy.
Rhubarb is a beloved seasonal ingredient in Estonia. This plant is often grown in home gardens. If you’ve never had rhubarb, you know its edible stems have a sour flavor (the leaves are not able to be eaten because they are toxic!), and so sugar is typically added for a tangy-sweet combo that is irresistible.
Estonians make many desserts from rhubarb, such as pie or kissel.
Since rhubarb is a seasonal plant that grows from spring to early summer, Estonians often hoard it and keep it frozen to enjoy it all year round. It’s also sold in stores as fresh produce during the spring and worked into pies that local bakeries make and sell.
Curd Cheese Desserts
Traditional curd cheese snacks (a curd cheese snack is called kohuke in Estonian) that Estonians enjoy are bite-sized bars covered in a thin layer of chocolate. They are the most common sweet snack shoppers grab from the local grocery store no matter the time of year.
Estonians do not usually make these desserts at home even though they are simple to make – they require only curd cheese and chocolate. However, shops carry a wide variety of these affordable snacks, so it’s simply easier to buy a few or purchase them in bulk.
An All-Purpose Dessert Ingredient
Curd cheese, in fact is one of the most popular ingredients in Estonian desserts – it is widely used to make pies, or it’s eaten with kissel or fresh berries for a simple, no-bake dessert. It is sold plain or with vanilla or raisins. Curd cheese paste is also available in many different flavors.
Pasha is another dessert made with curd cheese that is eaten during Estonian Easter. Butter, sugar, whipped cream, seasonings, and sometimes candied orange zest and almonds make this dessert rich and flavorful. Typically, pasha is poured into a mold and allowed to set before it’s served.
Semolina mousse, or mannavaht, is an Estonian dessert popular since Soviet times and is often served in school cafeterias. The semolina is usually boiled in a sour homemade juice from berries, such as currants, with sugar. The cooked semolina is whipped into a mousse and eaten cold with fresh milk. It is also common to eat semolina porridge in the mornings with a knob of butter and fresh berries or jam.
Another popular Estonian dessert is gingerbread. Gingerbread cookies are an Estonian Christmas treat that is usually baked at home. Some Estonians make homemade dough, preferring it over premade dough from the store. It is also common to use gingerbread or gingerbread seasonings in a large variety of desserts during winter.
Gingerbread and Glögi: An Ideal Christmas Pairing
Gingerbread is usually enjoyed with a beverage called glögi. Glögi is a sweet, hot wine that many Estonians feel is the taste of Christmas. While it can be made at home, it’s also available in different varieties in stores. Alcoholic versions are available, but it is more popular to buy the alcohol-free version and to heat it up whenever the mood dictates.
Another Estonian dessert appropriate for Christmas is kringle. This braided wreath bread is heavy on butter and cinnamon, and it can also contain cocoa powder, nuts, or raisins. Sometimes sprinkled with poppy seeds, the kringle’s crust is pulled apart to reveal the soft and rich interior. It’s perfect with coffee or other hot drink.
Experiencing Estonian cuisine is one of the best things to do in Estonia, and when you visit Estonian cities, you’ll be able to sample traditional dishes in restaurants serving local cuisine. You can also look for Estonian desserts in shops and supermarkets. For example, you can find curd cheese snacks in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.
You can also try Estonian desserts at Christmas markets in Tallinn and Estonia – the Old Town Tallinn Christmas market will offer gingerbread, glögi, and other sweet foods typically eaten during the winter months.