15 traditional romanian desserts

Small Romanian baked goods on a tray and adjacent on a small plate.

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There’s something so soul-satisfying about the flaky crusts, sweet cheeses, and delicate flavors that comprise traditional Romanian desserts. In fact, Romanian food in general is so satisfying that it’d be hard to imagine their desserts didn’t live up to the hype. And sampling the local cuisine is one of the top things to do in Transylvania!

A couple of desserts on this list are Hungarian. However, given the fact that the region of Transylvania has a huge Hungarian population, we’re including those too. We’ve put together a list of the best desserts you’d likely see on a menu in Romania. Poftă bună!

traditional romanian desserts

prăjitură cu mere

Traditional Romanian apple cake, prajitura cu mere (cake with apples).

Prăjitură cu Mere (cake with apples) is a traditional Romanian dessert with a mixture of sweet apples, sugar, butter, and cinnamon layered between two pastry crusts.  It’s somewhere between a cake and a pie, and you can find it easily in local bakeries or grocery stores.  

There are variations of this dessert throughout the country. Some people prefer to make those more as a cake (as pictured above), and some are more pie-like in nature, but all are delicious.

I’ve eaten this as everything from a breakfast to a dessert, to a midday snack.  They’re delicious when warm and fresh from the oven, but this is a rare treat unless making them yourself.  

They also make for a good vegan option if you substitute the eggs and butter


vargabéles

Vargabeles, a sort of noodle pie that is a traditional Transylvanian dessert (Hungarian/Romanian) on a plate with a berry sauce and powdered sugar.

While this dessert is probably Hungarian in origin, you can find some variation of it throughout Transylvania and elsewhere in Romania.  It’s rumored to have been invented in Cluj-Napoca, the capital of Transylvania, but by a Hungarian.  The territory and identity politics of the past blur the lines a bit – regardless, this dessert is a popular addition to most Romanian menus.

It’s one of the most interesting desserts on our list – noodle pie!?  This straightforward dessert is egg noodles, milk, egg whites, and cheese curds between layers of puff pastry.

Different flavor variations to vargabéles include raisins, spices, citrus zest, or vanilla.  Enjoy it freshly warm with a sprinkle of powdered sugar or a berry sauce (or both!).


papanași

Large round donuts (papanasi) covered in red fruit and sour cream sauce on traditional painted Romanian plate.

Papanași are delicious little Romanian cheese donuts.  They are by far the country’s most popular and beloved dessert, by locals and tourists alike.  Bakers make papanași by fring or boiling them. Both are delicious, but the boiled variation generally has a breadcrumb and sugar coating.  

If there is one common dessert you are most likely to find in restaurants throughout Romania, this is it.  Enjoy this traditional Romanian dessert with a warm fruit compote, a touch of sour cream, and powdered sugar.


joffre cake

Homemade chocolate Joffre Cake on a clear crystal dish, a traditional Romanian dessert.

Joffre Cake is a Romanian dessert that was created for a French Marshal. Joseph Joffre was the leader of the French Army in the early 20th century.  When Joffre visited Bucharest in 1920, the owners of a local high-end café invented this special cake in his honor.  

The cake is decadently rich, with layers of chocolate ganache and chocolate buttermilk, with a chocolate buttercream frosting.  Joffre Cakes are the same size and shape of the Adrian helmets that Joffre’s troops wore in WWI.


kürtőskalács

Kurtoskalacs aka chimney cake roasting on a spit, a traditional Hungarian/Romanian dessert local to Transylvania.

Kürtőskalács is a delicious spit-roasted pastry with Hungarian roots.  Prior to roasting, wrap the dough around the spit and coat in granulated sugar.  The result is a brûléed treat – warm, sweet, and perfectly crisped.  

You can select from a variety of toppings such as crushed walnuts, chocolate, powdered sugar, or cinnamon. Or, grab a plain one and enjoy its simplicity.

These aren’t typically on restaurant menus, but there are stalls or walk-up windows on busy pedestrian streets that specialize in Kürtőskalács.


plăcintă cu urdă

A few squares of cheese pie on a crystal plate, a traditional Romanian dessert.

Plăcintă is best translated as ‘pie,’ so you can think of this traditional Romanian dessert as a lightly sweetened cheese pie.  Urdă cheese, sugar, vanilla, and eggs are all mixed to create this popular Romanian pastry. 

Sometimes additional cheeses, such as brânză, are also added.  Another popular addition is rehydrated raisins in juice or liquor.  Some variations include sour cream or citrus zest. 


clătite

Close-up of a portable clatita, crepe, in Romania with berries and a chocolate drizzle.

Clătite are the Romanian version of crepes. A paper-thin layer of batter is cooked on a griddle, and wrapped up with a variety of ingredients. Sometimes sold in restaurants, these are most widely available from food trucks or walk-up windows.

If you happen to be visiting Cluj, be sure to check out La Nu Stiu Cine. This is our favorite place to get crepes in the city. My latest favorite flavor combo has been strawberries and kiwi with whipped mascarpone – delicious!


albinita

Albinita, a layered honey tray cake that is local to Romania.

I just tried this for the first time the other day! When my pregnancy cravings had me in the mood for something sweet, I ordered 60 lei worth of desserts for dinner. Whoops! As it turns out, this was one of my favorite traditional Romanian desserts I’ve tried so far.

Romanians are all about layers when it comes to their desserts, and this is no exception. Albinita, named for a bee (albină), has layers of honey-scented sponge cake, vanilla, lemon cream, and preserves (usually sour plum or apricot).


brânzoaică

Cheese pastries, a traditional Romanian dessert, on a red and white napkin in a basket.

Brânzoaică is another cheese-based traditional Romanian dessert.  This one comes from the Romanian region of Moldova, and is a beloved favorite throughout the country.  

Brânzoaice are made with Romanian sweet cheese with a hint of vanilla and raisins. The ingredients are folded into a sweet square of dough similar to a brioche.  There is a special technique to folding the dough that is best learned by someone’s bunică.  The corners fold over themselves to lock in the filling. Season the pastry dough with a bit of lemon zest for added flavor!


cozonac

Loaf of cozonac cut in half and facing the camera with the inside shwoing.  Blurred fruits and plants in the background.

Cozonac is a sweet, brioche-like bread, traditional in many Balkan countries. Christmas is when you will most likely see this traditional dessert bread.

The exact recipes vary between different regions. While the dough is generally similar, different regions may add raisins, grated orange or lemon, vanilla, rum, walnuts, hazelnuts, or Turkish Delight.


pască

An elegant pasca cake, a traditional Romanian dessert usually served at Easter.

Traditionally eaten at Easter, pască is a traditional Romanian dessert made of – you guessed it – sweet cheese, raisins, and sweet bread.  A little rum gives it a hint of spiciness and additional flavor layer.  

Pască is round, formed by braiding the dough.  Sometimes you will see a cross decoration in the center of the cake.  Like the other desserts with the same key ingredients, pască is fluffy, light, and delicate in flavor.


mucenici

Small Romanian baked goods on a tray and adjacent on a small plate.

These traditional Romanian pastries are made of sweet dough that’s in the form of a figure eight.  After the dough is formed, they are boiled in a mixture of water, spices, and crushed walnuts. This imparts heaps of flavor!  

The name ‘muceniciliterally translates to ‘martyrs. So, it will come as no shock to learn that these little sweets are named for the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste.  The Forty Martyrs of Sebaste was a band of Christian-Roman soldiers. They were drowned in a lake during the persecutions of Diocletian when they refused to abandon their faith.  In a fairly morbid comparison, the pastries are said to be the martyrs. The liquid they are boiled in is symbolic of the water in which they drowned.

Enjoy some mucenici on March 9, when the feast of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste takes place.


frigănele

Romanian-style French toast, friganele

While frigănele is more of a breakfast than a dessert, I had to include it on the list for its ‘sweet factor’. It’s a sweet version of the classic bread in eggs (pâine în ou), but Americans will find the most similarities with a classic French Toast.

Simply dip the sliced bread in battered eggs and spices, top with a bit of jam or marmalade and powdered sugar. Enjoy!


găluşte cu prune

Traditional Romanian plum dumplings on a plate.

Găluşte cu prune is a shining example of the Romanian ability to take simple, generic ingredients and create something amazing.  Given the country’s past, where poverty and food shortages were the norm, one had to exhibit a bit of creativity in the kitchen.  

These little guys are plum-filled potato dumplings, similar to a stuffed gnocchi.  The breadcrumb-like mixture you see on the outside consists of breadcrumbs, sugar, cinnamon, and a bit of oil to bind the ingredients.  Sometimes, walnuts make a nice addition as well.

My mother-in-law makes these and they are to die for!


carpati

Cake made into the shape of Carpathian mountain peaks.

Carpati may not be one of Romania’s best-known traditional desserts, but I couldn’t omit it from the list!  Often served during festive holidays such as Christmas or Easter, Carpati is a chocolate-lovers’ delight, featuring eight layers of rich chocolate ganache and sponge cake.  

The cake, once assembled with its many layers, is cut and shaped into peak-like formations to resemble the Carpathian Mountains. 


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Pinterest graphic with pasca cake and text - 15 traditional Romanian desserts
Pinterest graphic - 15 Traditional Romanian desserts with photo of Mucenici.

What did you think? Have you had the good fortune to try any of these traditional Romanian desserts? What are your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!

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12 thoughts on “15 traditional romanian desserts”

  1. Wow, these look incredible! I have tried some of these but there is much more I want to try. My husband has worked in bakeries for years. That is another reason why I would like to try these pastries and cakes.

  2. Gosh, everything looks so wonderful! I’ve always wanted to visit Romania and seeing these desserts is making me want to go all the more! Thanks for the foodie inspiration – just pinned!

    1. I highly suggest coming to Romania when restrictions ease! I got here in March 2020 and never left (was supposed to only stay 3 months, but, then the pandemic happened). It’s great, super safe, and so much to do (and eat)

  3. All of these desserts look so delicious! I definitely need to get to Romania at some point and I want to try these while I’m there. 🙂

    1. I am very lucky in that my partner brings me a clatita from the local food truck park every night on his way home from work! Lucky, but it’s dangerous too, haha!

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