It doesn’t take long to reach the conclusion that a sweet tooth is a fairly common occurrence in the Canary Islands. And when once you learn a little more about the cakes, pastries, biscuits and desserts found throughout the region you’ll easily understand why this is the case. Despite Canarian cuisine being better known for things such as gofio, green and red mojo and salted potatoes (papas arrugadas), anyone wishing for an authentic taste of the islands can’t miss out on sampling some of the delicious desserts, which, like the locals, are very, very sweet. Fancy having a guess at which of the islands they each come from? It’s not as easy as you think…
We’ll start you off with an easy one, as the clue is in the name. It might be the smallest of the seven islands, but El Hierro is also home to one of the region’s most traditional and popular desserts. This Canarian quesadilla is nothing to do with the Mexican savoury dish of the same name, except for the fact that they both contain cheese. This sweet delicacy uses goats’ cheese from the island, salt, sugar, flour, eggs, lemon, cinnamon and aniseed, cooked in a traditional wood oven. Nowadays you can find this sponge-like cheesecake in shops and supermarkets all throughout the Canaries, although it never tastes quite the same as when you sample it in El Hierro itself.
Known and eaten in all the islands, this dessert is primarily linked to Tenerife. Frangollo is made from milk, corn flour, lemon, eggs, sugar, butter, raisins, almonds and cinnamon. As with most recipes, there are several variations, some of which use water instead of milk. This is a light dessert, which, unlike most of the others, is not too sweet, making it the perfect way to finish any meal.
Just like many other typical Canarian desserts, bienmesabe (literal meaning “It tastes good to me”) comes from La Palma. It’s said to have been invented by local cake maker Matilde Arroyo, who was apparently abandoned by her husband in the 1940s and had to make desserts, which she sold from door to door, to provide for her two children. Apart from bienmesabe, which is made from almonds, eggs, sugar and lemon, she also created Principe Alberto, another well-known dessert favourite made from chocolate, lady fingers soaked in coffee and hazelnuts. La Palma is a heaven for sweet lovers, no doubt about it.
Suspiros de Moya
If you’ve heard of the village of Moya you’ll know that these curiously named delights come from Gran Canaria. Curious because their name, literally translated, means “Sighs from Moya”. The tradition of making these meringue-type treats with eggs, sugar and lemon, goes way back. The Doramas Factory in the village, situated in the north of the island, has been producing them since 1930. They also make bizcochos de Moya – Moya sponge cakes.
This is another easy one, as the name gives you the answer. Among the most unique, characteristic recipes in La Gomera you’ll find these delicious biscuits, hugely popular with both tourists and locals. What’s in them? Every bakery tends to add their own personal touch, but the basic ingredients are butter, flour, eggs, sugar, aniseed and cinnamon. Although you can find them in supermarkets and bakeries all throughout the islands, it’s worth hopping over to Tenerife’s neighbour island to try them in their place of origin. Crumbly, tasty, and utterly delicious.
Other unmissable treats
As we said, pastries, biscuits, cakes and desserts make up an important part of Canarian gastronomy, so these are far from being the only sweet options you’ll find.
Photo: Food Network
One particular favourite found in restaurants and guachinches (cheap, rustic, local eateries) everywhere is quesillo. Although it’s actually from Venezuela, quesillo has crossed the borders of the eighth island (the affectionate term given to Venezuela to reflect the Canarian presence there) to spread throughout the other seven.
Gofio is one of the stars of Canarian cuisine, used in both sweet and savoury dishes. When it comes to desserts, gofio mousse or a very unique creation called gofio amasado – kneaded gofio, mixed with almonds and honey provide an instant sugar fix.
Another regular addition to dessert menus is huevos moles, which can be traced back to Portuguese emigrants to the region. To make them, apart from a fair amount of skill, you need egg yolks, sugar and water. Perfect after a heavy lunch, they’re served chilled in small glasses.
Should you be lucky enough to spend time in Tenerife over the Christmas period you’ll be doubly blessed. Firstly you’ll spend the best time of the year in the best climate in the world and you’ll also get to try one of the most popular Christmas sweets, truchas canarias. Nothing to do with trout, however misleading the name may be (trucha = trout in Spanish), it’s a genuine bomb of sweet potato, almonds, cinnamon and sugar.
If you’re looking to sweeten up your life a bit without all those extra calories, we recommend you try the succulent, delicious tropical pineapple, grown in El Hierro. The Canarian platano or banana is another well-known favourite, which is perfect eaten alone or put to creative use in a number of recipes, often mixed with Palm honey. After a big lunch when there’s absolutely no room for dessert, a barraquito coffee brings a uniquely Canarian sugar hit – it’s an espresso combined with condensed milk, Licor 43, cinnamon and lemon peel. Or, have a shot of local speciality Ron Miel – Honey Rum.
See, here in the islands we always find a way to sweeten things up!