What do you know about Lithuanian desserts? Lithuanian desserts are delicious and often eye-catching end-of-meal sweets that can be purchased at markets, tasted at family gatherings, or enjoyed as a part of the Lithuanian holiday table. They’re an element of traditional Lithuanian food that bears further examination.
Lithuanian cuisine is big on using seasonal and local ingredients, and you’ll find many of them in the cakes and cookies below. Poppyseeds, honey, and the soft local cheese are common in these dishes.
Let’s discover Lithuania’s favorite desserts.
Lithuanian Desserts from the Market
If you’ve ever been to an outdoor market in Vilnius or other Lithuanian city, you’ll see a good selection of different foods—from black bread piled high, to fresh cheeses for sale, to cured meats and smoked fish. But perhaps most visually interesting are the Lithuanian desserts.
While some of these desserts can equally be found in kitchen of determined bakers, part of their popularity is that they are integral to the outdoor market or festival experience. You can’t visit Kaziukas Fair or other outdoor market without seeing one or more of the following Lithuanian desserts.
Sakotis, known as tree cake, is a spikey cake that is baked by turning batter on a spit. The baking of the cake on a spit is what gives it its spikes—as the batter is dripped on, it produces the spikes that give it its name. Sakotis takes a long time to cook, but the process is a spectacle in itself.
Sakotis ingredients are simple: eggs, cream, sugar, and flour. But depending upon the size of the cake, it could require dozens and dozens of eggs. A small, regular-size sakotis calls for up to two dozen eggs. You can imagine the preparation needed in early days when people did not have access to supermarkets and had to depend upon hens to lay eggs!
Once sakotis is removed from the spit, it forms a vertical column and has a hollow middle where the spit was. It’s served for holidays and weddings as a traditional celebration cake. Though it is usually served plain, the hollow in the middle can be filled with fruit or whipped cream. It’s also possible to find sakotis with chocolate.
The origins of sakotis cake are unclear. Some say the recipe was developed by 15th-century monks. Others say the Italian queen of Poland, Bona Sforza, is responsible for the introduction of this cake. And still others attribute the cake’s recipe to an ancient Baltic tribe.
Sakotis can be purchased at markets or supermarkets wrapped and ready for taking home as a Lithuanian souvenir. Those who are planning a celebration typically order the cake of the necessary size in advance and have it prepared by a special bakery with the equipment and expertise in baking this traditional Lithuanian dessert. This cake is certainly special to Lithuanian culture.
Mushroom cookies (meduoliniai grybukai) are distinctive because they look so much like the fungus that grows in the woods—a favorite Lithuanian food, of course. However, these clever little cookies taste nothing like their namesake. They’re also somewhat labor intensive, which is why they’re typically found at markets and may not be so willingly baked at home.
A gingerbready combination of molasses, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg give these cookies their spicy flavor. They’re often coated in chocolate icing on the top and vanilla icing for the “stems” and decorated with a sprinkling of poppyseeds for texture and realism.
They’re almost too pretty to eat, but they may quickly become a favorite.
All cultures have their version of the donut. Spurgos are, in short, Lithuanian donuts. However, instead of the traditional donut shape that Americans are used to, spurgos are more like donut holes—that is, they are spherical—but bigger.
The secret ingredient in this Lithuanian dessert is curd cheese. This fresh, light cheese gives the donuts their springy, airy texture and eliminates the need for yeast.
Spurgos are typically dusted with powdered sugar. They’re popular at outdoor markets because they’re served fresh as they’re made, often heaped into a plastic cup. You can eat them while you walk and browse vendors’ wares.
Surelis is a Lithuanian dessert that isn’t sold at outdoor markets, but it’s rather a product you can find at supermarkets.
Surelis, a word derived for the Lithuanian word for cheese, is in English referred to as a “curd snack.” In essence, it’s a sweetened cheese product and can be coated with cheese, filled with various flavors, or given texture with poppyseeds. It’s found packaged in individual bars, much like a candy bar, but smaller, and found in the refrigerated section in supermarkets.
Surelis was introduced during the Soviet era, and those simple surelis snacks close to the original recipe can still be found. However, a variety of surelis snacks are now available and in a multitude of flavors throughout the Baltic countries.
Lithuanian Desserts from the Family Kitchen
As nice as it is to shop for Lithuanian desserts at fairs and supermarkets, nothing could be cozier than sampling one straight from a Lithuanian grandmother’s kitchen. These beautiful homemade desserts are as special for their taste as they are for the care and pride baked into each one.
Simtalapis, or hundred-leaf cake, is an extremely time- and labor-intensive cake that is a testament to Lithuania’s multicultural history. (Note that simtalapis can also be found during outdoor markets and produced by bakeries.)
This cake originates with the Tatar minority of Lithuania. It’s created with many very thin layers of dough, made by pulling and stretching. The filling is a combination of poppyseeds and raisins, or alternatively curd cheese and cinnamon, for example.
The result is a dense cake that is very satisfying, especially when accompanied by a warm beverage to help wash it down.
Angels’s wings inevitably make it into every Lithuanian cookbook. They’re called zagareliai or auseles (little ears). These crispy fried pastries are typically hardly sweet in themselves—it’s the dusting of powdered sugar on top that gives them their sweetness.
Skruzdelynas, or antill, is a cousin to the angel’s wings Lithuanian dessert. Why is called “anthill”? Thin, fried pieces of pastry are piled atop one another in a sort of hill. Then a glaze of honey and cream is poured over the mound so that it clings together. A sprinkling of poppyseeds, the finishing touch, is reminiscent of “ants” gathering on their hill!
Tinginys is one of the most popular Lithuanian desserts, in part because it’s so easy to make! In fact, its name means “lazybones.” But it wouldn’t be popular if it wasn’t also delicious. It’s one of those desserts Lithuanians may bring to a gathering as both a quick homemade dessert and one that’s considered so typically Lithuanian it should be shared.
The typical tinginys recipe consists of butter cookies crumbled into pieces, sweetened condensed milk, melted butter, and cocoa powder. The tinginys is usually rolled into plastic wrap or baking paper to form a sausage roll-like shape, but you can let the ingredients firm up in the refrigerator in a loaf pan if you like.
Legend says that the recipe originated in the 1960s when a home chef made a mistake in the kitchen when trying to make chocolate. She added this and that until she crumbled cookies into the mixture—tinginys was born. We have this persevering cook to thank for the popular Lithuanian dessert of tinginys.
Honey is an important ingredient in Lithuanian cuisine and has been used since ancient times to sweeten food and make beverages. That’s why a honey cake isn’t a surprising addition to a list of most popular Lithuanian desserts.
The many thin layers of this cake start out dry, but as they sit, the sour cream in the recipe makes it moist and light.
As with many Lithuanian dessert recipes, honey cake is labor intensive to make. However, many Lithuanians feel it’s an indelible part of their childhood and a flavor conjures up many nice memories. Each family has its own favorite version of honey cake
What would the world be without Lithuanian apple cheese? Apple cheese is not quite cheese, though it’s formed into a similar shape and pressed just like traditional Lithuanian farmer’s cheese.
Dense, chewy, slightly sweet with likely a hint of cinnamon, Lithuanian apple cheese is another favorite sharable Lithuanian dessert. Each family has its own recipe, and every apple cheese will have its own balance of sweetness, grittiness, and color.
It can be served as a part of a cheese plate or at the end of a meal like a dessert. It’s perfect with tea, too.
Apples Stuffed with Cheese
A different Lithuanian dessert that riffs on apples and cheese are baked apples stuffed with cheese curd. Easy to make and appropriate at autumn, they utilize local and seasonal ingredients.
The apples are cored and stuffed with cinnamon-and-sugar-seasoned cheese curd. The apples become soft in the oven and the cheese and apple flavors complement each other.
Imagine spooning up a bite of sweetened cheese and softened apple at the end of a meal with a cup of tea or coffee at hand. Delicious!
Kuciukai are little biscuits or cookies lightly sweetened and seasoned with poppy seeds. They’re typically served on Christmas Eve.
The bite-sized biscuits can either be eaten alone or soaked in poppyseed milk. They’re appropriate for the Christmas Eve table because this meal is typically free of meat or dairy products.
Kuciukai have a symbolic purpose, too. Originally, they were served to the spirits of the deceased, for which an empty place at the Christmas table is sometimes set.
Though today’s recipe typically involves wheat flour and poppy seeds, in times past, other cereal crops were also used to create the dough and other types of seeds were incorporated into the dough instead of poppyseeds.
The poppyseed milk that accompanies kuciukai used to be created through a laborious process of grinding the seeds until they were reduced to a watery substance.
When you visit Lithuania or travel in the Baltic countries, satisfy your sweet tooth with one of the above desserts. Or, if you’re ambitious, you may want to pick up a Lithuanian cookbook and try out one of the recipes for yourself.