The sweet aromas of Costa Rica’s panaderias drift off into the busy streets luring you in to see what’s behind their glass cases. Once you enter, your eyes won’t know where to look first with all the treats on display.
Dessert isn’t served at every meal in Costa Rica and is not a typical daily occurrence. However, when the desire arises alongside a freshly brewed Costa Rica coffee it pairs in the most satisfying way. Most often desserts (postres) in Costa Rica are delighted in during special occasions, get-togethers with family and friends, over the holidays, or as a special treat. Which is probably a good thing as they are rich and decadent.
1. Tres Leches
Considered by some to be the national dessert of Costa Rica, this dessert is by far the favorite of many. Tres leches, meaning three milks is moist, rich, creamy, and indulgent.
This traditional Costa Rican dessert is a sponge cake base that is then soaked in the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream, some even taking it a bit further with whole milk depending on the preferences of the home. It is definitely a milky treat! And in the end, topped off with whipped cream and even some maraschino cherries or fruit slices.
2. Arroz con Leche
With rice being one of the staple foods served at every meal it makes sense to create a dessert with it too, to essentially make it a dish for every meal.
Made of Costa Rica’s fundamental ingredient, rice, it is combined with sweetened condensed milk, sugar, evaporated milk, cinnamon, and vanilla. Rice with milk is a classic dessert of Costa Rica that is passed through the generations of parents and grandparents. This is where some of the added ingredients can change from home to home whether cloves, raisins, or even pineapple are mixed into the basic ingredients of the recipe to make this comforting dish.
Arroz con leche can be savored cold or warm and one of the best ways is on a cool rainy day warm with a flavourful Costa Rican fresh dripped coffee.
3. Tártaras Cocadas
It’s the land of delicious coconuts so, of course, Costa Ricans use this prevalent resource to create something wonderful. This beloved childhood favorite treat is often found right at the register of the shops so you can’t miss them and are sitting there tempting you as you are waiting to check out.
The sweet and salty tartaras cocadas (baked tarts) are a dry pastry treat shaped like a decorative tartlet and are flat and thin. Filled to the edges with the addictive flavor of the crystalized grated coconut and honey or cane sugar with a hint of nutmeg or cinnamon, they are divine.
Although in the shops they can be picked up in individual baggies you might want to treat yourself to a few because you will more than likely find yourself wanting more than one. At many tourists stops you can find them in small plastic boxes where there are hopefully enough inside to go around for you and the family.
4. Fruit Filled Empanadas
Empanadas are versatile here in Costa Rica with both sweet and savory versions. There are so many different variations that you could eat a different one every day of the week and are served at any time of the day, warm or cold.
Whether it be pineapple, coconut, guava, jams, and jellies, or the classic dulce de leche, these sweet fillings make their way inside of the homemade pastry dough. The dough is folded over into its crescent shape and baked until golden brown. Popular during the county’s holy week of Semana Santa is the traditional chiverre empanadas, made from the squash preserve.
5. Torta Chilena
The torta chilena is a work of art when it sits before you, layers upon layers of beauty. If you were to make one at home it would most definitely be a desert for a special occasion and to celebrate those festive moments.
The dessert plays off of a Chilean dessert, the thousand-layer cake but Costa Rica’s admired version usually has up to 8 layers. Within those 8 crispy pie pastry layers is the country’s much-loved staple of many of their deserts, the sweet and heavenly caramel sauce, dulce de leche.
Sold by the slice in the bakeries the torta chilena is yet another dessert best served beside a hot cup of coffee during those rainy afternoons putting you at ease and into a state of bliss.
Some other noteworthy and delicious Costa Rica desserts are tamal de masa, a family favorite to have in the home, and the country’s traditional corn pancake the sweet chorreada. A day at the beach isn’t complete without the cold treat of a granzido or the sugar rush of a Churchill and one cannot forget Costa Rica’s world-famous chocolate just to mention a few.
On these damp rainy days, venturing to your local panaderia is a great way to still immerse yourself in the culture of Costa Rica and a reason to get outside. Savoring some of the country’s sweet treats and sitting down with a cup of the country’s infamous coffee takes away any rainy-day blues. Everything always seems a bit better with a Costa Rican coffee and a little pura vida indulgence.