12 Most Popular Costa Rican Desserts
Everyone knows that traveling is the perfect excuse to try new exotic and delicious food. And while we may not all have a sweet tooth, who doesn’t enjoy something sweet from time to time? We have all felt tempted to be seduced by a sinful dessert after a good meal, or to snack on something sweet at any time of day, right?
This beautiful tropical paradise not only offers natural havens but delicious sweets too. So if Costa Rica is on your bucket list, rest assured that any sweet cravings will surely be satisfied by Costa Rican desserts.
Pamper your sense of taste and give any or all of the following sweets and desserts a try; you won’t regret it! Can you wait to put it to the test?
1. Rice Pudding
Rice is one of the most common carbohydrates in Costa Rica. It is often served for lunch or supper, along with meat and side dishes; however, do not be surprised to see it on the dessert menu too.
Rice pudding is a favorite sweet for Costa Ricans (and most Latin Americans) and has been homemade for centuries. It consists of a creamy and yet consistent mix of rice, condensed milk, and cinnamon.
This dish has evolved over the years, incorporating more ingredients. Some of the commonly added ingredients nowadays include raisins, grated apple, sliced almonds, ginger, nutmeg, lemon or orange zest, and/or rum. It can be enjoyed hot or cold.
2. Chiverre Empanadas
Traditional chiverre empanadas are one of the classic and popular sweets enjoyed by Costa Ricans, mainly during Holy Week festivities. Chiverre honey is a typical preserve that can be eaten by itself or inside empanadas.
Chiverre is a vegetable that is usually consumed as a sweet treat. On the outside, chiverre looks like a large watermelon but is whitish on the inside and with a pumpkin-like texture. Chiverre is left in the sun for several days before being cooked. Once it is ready to use, it is washed, the shell is removed, and it is cut in half and the seeds removed.
Cut into cubes, chiverre is cooked with sugar cane juice, cloves, cinnamon, and water until it is tender. The end result is a sticky and chewy mix, as the sugar cane caramelizes the chiverre. This mix is used to fill small empanadas. People buy them in bags of 6 at supermarkets or in certain coffee shops. They are absolutely delicious!
Although originally from Spain, prestiños have become an integral part of Costa Rican sweet treats. Prestiños are made from a dough that combines flour, egg, salt, and water.
The dough is formed into small- to medium-sized thin circles which are placed in a fryer and cooked until they turn golden and crisp. They are then covered with a sugar cane syrup. You will surely want to taste more than one, so make room for them!
Cajetas in Costa Rica are a treat as old as the trees. They are a type of nougat formed into different shapes and sizes: large, small, round, square, etc. There are several types but the most popular are those made with Pinito milk (Pinito being a very famous, local brand of especially made milk powder), coconut or peanuts.
They are all delicious and super flavorful. Those made with Pinito milk tend to be decorated with nuts or dried fruit, while the coconut and peanut cajetas are loaded with other ingredients. They all have a consistent texture and can be easily found all year long in supermarkets or small grocery shops.
Churchill is a dessert typical of the province of Puntarenas, on the country’s Pacific coast. This is a cold dessert made with shaved ice and sweetened with red syrup. Powdered milk is added to the ice and it is topped with condensed milk and 2 scoops of ice cream, and it is then served in a glass with a couple of wafers, a straw, and a spoon.
Churchill is considered an upgrade from a regular granita or slush, which is simply shaved iced with a flavored syrup. Churchill exceed expectations for anyone craving a sweet and cold treat on a sunny day.
6. Manzanas Escarchadas
No matter what little town you visit in Costa Rica, if there is a local fair, you will always find manzanas escarchadas, candied apples. The traditional manzana escarchada is dipped in thick sugar syrup. However, now there are variations that include caramel, syrup and peanuts, chocolate, and syrup with popcorn, so you won’t run out of choices.
Manzanas escarchadas have a long stick poked into the center, making it easy to eat without getting the sugary toppings all over your hands. This is a very fun treat, especially enjoyed by kids.
7. Coconut Flan
One of Costa Rican’s most favorite desserts and commonly found on restaurant menus is coconut flan. If you have never tried flan before, the fairest way to describe it is as having a gelatinous consistency.
It is made with milk, vanilla, eggs, sugar, evaporated milk, condensed milk, and shredded coconut for texture and a tropical flavor. It melts in your mouth, and let me tell you that one piece is usually never enough!
8. Pan Bon
Pan bon is a baked pastry from Limon, a province on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica which is strongly influenced by Jamaicans.
Pan bon, also called black bread, combines flour, sugar, orange juice, baking soda, eggs, butter, vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, sugar cane powder, lemon zest, raisins, and caramelized fruit that has previously soaked in rum for at least a month. The strong, rich and one-of-a-kind flavor of this cake is never forgotten.
Plantinta is another dessert from Limon province on the Caribbean side. The star ingredient is sweet plantain. The name is short for plantain tart, and it is a small empanada filled with ripe plantain purée.
The purée is mixed with brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, and a red coloring that gives it a vivid color. The empanada dough is made with flour, margarine, a pinch of salt, and cold water. Once filled, the empanadas are baked for around 30 minutes. If you go to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, you must definitely try plantinta.
The meaning of the name of this sweet is a little amusing, but it is indeed the first thought that comes to mind to those who taste it. Bienmesabe means “it tastes good to me”. Not everybody knows how to make this sweet and it is certainly only fit for those with enough patience and time to invest, as it takes about 4-5 hours to make.
The ingredients are 4 gallons of fresh milk, 2 kilos of rice, 5 solid cylinders of sugar cane, 1 teaspoon of salt, and a banana leaf. The process is an exhausting one, but it is super worth it.
11. Tres Leches
Three milks would be the literal translation of this super moist, spongy vanilla cake that Costa Ricans simply love. Once baked, three different types of milk (regular milk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk) are poured into this fluffy cake until it is full, then it is placed in the fridge for at least an hour.
The result is an extremely moist and soft delicacy that melts in your mouth. Some people also add rum to the liquid mix, which makes it even more irresistible. This dessert is usually eaten cold but it can also be enjoyed warn and fresh from the oven.
12. Mousse Embrujo de Café (Coffee Spell Mousse)
Last but certainly not least, what would be a list of desserts from Costa Rica without one containing coffee?
This country is widely known for having one of the best coffees in the world. The excellence of Costa Rican coffee can be enjoyed in different ways, as there are 8 different coffee-producing areas with unique and famous characteristics. Embrujo de café (Coffee Spell) is a coffee cream with 20% alcohol. Its base is milk and a concentrate from the distillation of coffee beans.
These are harvested in the high mountains of Costa Rica and are sun-ripened. They are roasted by experts to create a product with a bewitching, exquisite, and sensual aromatic voluptuousness. Embrujo de café can be found in main supermarkets and liquor stores in Costa Rica.
This mousse requires few ingredients and is quite simple to make. Evaporated milk, condensed milk, flavorless pure gelatin, and embrujo de café cream are the protagonists. The evaporated milk needs to be put in the freezer for about one hour, until little crystals formed.
The condensed milk is beaten for a while until it doubles in size, then it is slowly added, along with the coffee cream and hydrated gelatin. The mix is poured into a mold (whatever shape you like) and it goes into the fridge for at least 6 hours. The texture is very similar to flan and the deep taste of coffee will surely bewitch you.
Give yourself the chance to try all these wonderful desserts. Enjoy!
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