Malta’s Most Delicious Desserts
The Maltese have a sweet tooth indeed. That is why they put so much effort into preparing their desserts. With influences from southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, you will find an eclectic variety of desserts in Malta. Here are the most famous and traditional.
1. Date Cakes (Imqaret)
Imqaret are first on my list because they are one of the Maltese people’s most coveted desserts and are always present at the village feasts that are celebrated on the Maltese Islands.
These deep-fried filo pastry and date rolls can be smelt from miles away, so it’s very hard to resist them. But it is worth giving in to the temptation.
Make sure to enjoy them hot, and if possible complemented by a refreshing vanilla ice cream or the sweet and creamy ice cream made with condensed milk, cinnamon, nuts, and candied peel known as gelat tan-nanna.
2. Maltese Honey Rings (Qagħaq Tal-Għasel)
Qagħaq tal-għasel, or honey rings, are pastry stuffed with honey or treacle, star anise, cloves, and all spice.
They’re super comforting when eaten fresh and their interior is as soft as honey. So comforting, that even though they’re meant to be a Christmas treat, you’ll see many Maltese enjoying these at any time of year.
The filling contains honey or treacle, but treacle is more commonly used nowadays. In the past qastanija was used. This is a by-product of honey that was produced before the newer methods of extracting honey were used.
3. Maltese Cannoli (Kannoli Tal-Irkotta)
Very similar to Sicilian cannoli, the Maltese version is equally delicious with an indulgent sweet ricotta ensconced in thick and crispy pastry shells.
More often than not, they come with the addition of chocolate chips, chopped nuts, and glacé cherries.
4. Almond Cake (Torta Tal-Lewż)
The Maltese just love their almonds. Often found at village feasts, weddings, and other celebrations, this cake combines several Mediterranean ingredients—the almonds of course, as well as honey and orange peel encased in a thick pastry.
Other almond cake variations exist. You’ll find some are topped with icing, and others come in smaller biscuit-sized rounds with an almond on top.
5. Ħelwa Tat-Tork
Maltese nut fudge arrived on the Islands during Arab rule and over time became an integral part of the local cuisine.
Often served after lunch or dinner, or typically enjoyed with coffee, it is a strong sweet comprising a hardened paste of tahini, sugar, and water which is studded with whole roasted almonds. This dessert has also made its way to weddings and feast celebrations.
6. Bread Pudding (Pudina Tal-ħobż)
Believed to be a variation of the British bread pudding (since Malta was a British colony), the Maltese version is a simple, yet flavorful dessert that combines milk-soaked bread with eggs, cocoa, nuts, and dried fruit. Before baking, it is usually seasoned with orange zest and spices.
Maltese bread pudding is traditionally paired with coffee and can be enjoyed moderately warm or well-chilled.
Prinjolata is a traditional Maltese cake that is usually prepared during carnival time. The name of the cake comes from the word prinjol, or pine nut, which is the main ingredient in the cake.
Shaped like a dome, the prinjolata is made by combining glacé cherries, citrus peel, and pine nuts with either sponge cake, madeira cake or crushed biscuits. The assembled cake is traditionally decorated with meringue, cream or frosting.
Since the Maltese can’t resist their sweets, not even during Lent, they came up with a sugar-reduced yet flavorful recipe for a biscuit containing ground almonds, flour, sugar, cocoa, citrus zest, orange blossom water, and various spices such as cinnamon or cloves.
Once baked, the upper side of the biscuits are coated in honey and chopped almonds. They are delightfully chewy in texture, which is what makes them so special and delectable.
The name kwareżimal derives from the Latin word quaresima, which means Lent.
9. Easter Bakes: Figolli
It’s a pity that these are around only once a year at Easter time. Figolli are delicious flat cakes made from lemon-zest infused pastry with a juicy almond filling or marzipan, and decorated with brightly-colored icing sugar or melted chocolate, and very often chocolate Easter eggs.
If you don’t have much of a sweet tooth, you can always have a splendid time simply admiring their interesting Easter-themed shapes.
Originally, figolli were shaped as fish, baskets, or women, symbolizing fertility. Nowadays, they take on various shapes that are very popular with children, such as bunnies, eggs, hearts, and butterflies.
10. Għadam Tal-Mejtin
Għadam tal-mejtin (which translates ‘Bones of the Dead’) are traditional, bone-shaped shortcrust biscuits with an almond filling.
In fact, they have a lot in common with figolli, with a dough that also consists of lemon zest and vanilla and a filling of ground almonds. The difference here is that icing sugar and egg whites are added to the filling. And regarding the time of the year they are enjoyed on All Souls’ Day, which falls on November 2.
These biscuits are baked in the oven until golden and finally topped with icing containing almond extract. If stored in a cool and dry place, they keep for up to a month.
Traditional Maltese treats can be found at various places in Malta, including confectioners, open markets, grocers, and supermarkets.
If you want to get an overall taste of Malta and its customs, I thoroughly recommend heading out to one of the village feasts (that predominantly take place during summer), where you will find vendors selling countless varieties of the sweets mentioned above and more while you experience genuine local life and culture.
Related: Most Popular Foods in Malta