The Best Dessert in Every State
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Apple pie belongs to all of us, but when it comes to the best desserts in the country there are 50 different and delicious winners.
Ask every one of your friends what the best desserts are, and you’re sure to get as many different replies are you have friends. It’s not only about who counts chocolate among their favorite foods, who prefers pastry to cake, or the best ice cream in every state either. We all know that regional cuisines differ state by state, and any delicious state food could be someone’s favorite dessert (even if the state next door disagrees). The best dessert is a combination of sugar, nostalgia, and maybe even a little state pride. Not everyone is in perfect agreement on the best dessert from their state, but cooking up some dessert debate is part of the fun. After all, you can’t have an opinion on all these cakes, pies, and puddings without trying them first. These are (probably) the best desserts in every state.
Alabama: Lane cake
This dessert made 19th-century Southern hospitality a piece of cake. Perfect for impromptu guests, Lane cake is filled with dried fruit (traditionally raisins) soaked in whiskey or bourbon, which keeps it moist even days after it comes out of the oven. In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, young Scout eats one so boozy that she feels the effects. Better check if the eggs are still good before your judgment is impaired by this delicious dessert.
Also known as Eskimo ice cream, akutaq calls for reindeer fat, seal oil, berries, and snow—all whipped by hand until it becomes airy. In Yupik, “akutaq” (“ah-GOO-duck”) means “mix them together.” It’s traditionally made after the first seal catch of the year, though it can be enjoyed at any time with vegetable shortening and sugar in place of the animal fat and oil. Ever wondered who invented ice cream?
Arizona: Cactus candies
You might call these desert gumdrops. They’re made by combining simple syrup and the bright pink juice of the prickly pear cactus. The mixture is then cooked, cooled, and coated with sugar. The flavor lands somewhere between lemon and watermelon, which sounds delicious and reminds us of the old sorbet vs. sherbet question.
Arkansas: Chocolate rolls
Depending on your culinary touchstones, these pastries look like flat croissants or fried burritos. The buttery dough is stuffed with cocoa powder and sugar before being rolled into gooey sticks up to a foot long. Searcy County, in northern Arkansas, is the self-proclaimed “chocolate roll capital of the world” and hosts the annual Chocolate Roll Festival. As long as it’s not white chocolate, we’re there.
California: Frozen yogurt
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In Massachusetts, where it was invented in the 1970s, frozen yogurt went by the ungainly nickname “frogurt.” The Valley girls of SoCal helped rebrand it “froyo” and transformed this low-cal, low-fat, high-sugar frozen dessert into a lifestyle. Today, California is the corporate home of many of the big chains, including Menchie’s, Pinkberry, Tutti Frutti, and Yogurtland. Remember: There’s always money in the froyo stand. Do you know these amazing banana uses?
Colorado: Root beer float
In 1893, Frank Wisner gazed at snowcapped Cow Mountain against a dark summer sky. It looked like a scoop of vanilla ice cream floating in dark soda. The next day, he made the float at his brewery in Cripple Creek. The black cow, as he called it, was born. We should all be so lucky to have visions of the best desserts instead of questions like “What are hot dogs made of?”
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These are sugar-and-spice cookies, and this being the Nutmeg State, the spice in question is obviously…cinnamon. Flat and chewy, this is the rare cookie that doesn’t use vanilla. As for the name, it might come from the German Schneckennudel (“snail noodle”)—or it might be made up, like the wasabi you get with your sushi.
Delaware: Strawberry pretzel salad
Don’t let the name fool you—no lettuce (or anything green) allowed here. This tricolor “salad” comes with three layers: a crust of crushed pretzels mixed with butter and sugar, a middle layer of cream cheese and Cool Whip (and more sugar), and a top layer of strawberry Jell-O that is usually studded with real strawberries, Delaware’s state fruit. Memorize that fact and you won’t just ace every food quiz, you’ll have the best dessert in Delaware.
Florida: Key lime pie
In 1965, state representative Bernie Papy Jr. proposed a $100 fine against anyone selling a version of this dessert that wasn’t made with the tart-sweet limes famously grown in the Keys. His bill didn’t pass, but Floridians are still protective of their signature dish, despite a rumor that it was actually invented in New York City. Just like the question of whether tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, that debate is easy to settle: Florida all the way.
Georgia: Peach cobbler
When the biscuity top layer starts to sink into the juicy peaches below, this inverted pie looks a bit like cobblestones. At the Georgia Peach Festival each year, volunteers make one that is 11 feet by 5 feet and six inches deep. Would you like ice cream with that?
This pudding (pronounced “HOW-pee-ah”) is as thick as lava. Made with coconut milk and ground pia (a member of the yam family), haupia thickens when it’s heated and thickens more when it cools. In fact, you can cut it into blocks and eat it with your hands, which is how it’s typically served at luaus (though it’s also a popular wedding cake topper).
Idaho: Huckleberry pie
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Idahoans are happy to share slices of huckleberry pie, which is made from their native wild blueberry-like fruit mixed with nutmeg and cinnamon. What they won’t share is where they harvest the berries. “People here in Idaho are protective of their huckleberry spots,” says Taste of Home Community Cook Cindy Ruark-Worth. There’s no doubt that huckleberry pie isn’t just one of the best desserts in the country, it’s one of the best pies in all 50 states.
Illinois: Chocolate-covered strawberries
At a gourmet store in Chicago in the 1960s, Lorraine Lorusso had a crazy-delicious idea. She took some fresh strawberries from the produce section and dipped them in melted chocolate from the store’s bakery. She let the chocolate coating harden before offering the jazzed-up berries to customers, who themselves were pretty jazzed. Pro tip: If you want to make them at home, make sure the berries are completely dry or the chocolate won’t stick to them. If you mess up, you can always recycle those berries into jelly or jam.
Indiana: Hoosier pie
Eggs were scarce in the 1800s, when Hoosier pie was invented, so this is the rare dessert without any. Its creamy filling is thickened with flour or cornstarch and poured directly into a pie crust. The flavor comes from vanilla extract and lots of sugar, hence its nickname: sugar cream pie. We just call it one of the best desserts around.
The Des Moines Register calls these “Rice Krispie Treats on steroids,” which means you start with Rice Krispie Treats and then layer on peanut butter, melted chocolate, and butterscotch. “These chewy bars are as Iowan as you can get!” says Taste of Home Community Cook Anna Miller.
The name is German for “pepper nuts,” but these bite-sized spice cookies often contain neither. “Pepper” refers to spice in general, and pfeffernuesse are usually made with star anise. The “nut” has to do with their size: The Mennonites who brought them to Kansas in the 1870s used their sewing thimbles to cut out the dough.
Kentucky: Derby pie
“Count on Derby pie at any Derby party worth its salt,” says Taste of Home reader Deb Sexton. “It pairs perfectly with a Kentucky bourbon.” The buttery filling has chocolate chips and walnuts folded into it. Some bakers even spike it with bourbon, but we bet it would go great with cold brew coffee as well.
Would a doughnut by any other name taste just as sweet? Absolutely. A New Orleans specialty, these French-inspired square puffs have no holes, but they do sport a generous dusting of powdered sugar. Just order a dozen, since any fewer isn’t worth it when you’re eating one of the best desserts.
Maine: Blueberry pie
Blueberries are one of the few fruits indigenous to North America, and they are all over Maine. The wild ones are smaller and sweeter than the cultivated varieties, making for a pie so scrumptious, it’s the state’s official dessert.
Maryland: German cookies
Marylanders have been fighting a cookie war for almost 150 years. On one side are fans of the thick, chocolatey Berger cookies, brought to Baltimore from Germany in 1835. On the other are those who prefer the thin, crisp cookies made by Otterbein’s, which arrived from the motherland in 1881. Which cookie makes it to the list of the best desserts? Marylanders, you tell us.
Massachusetts: Boston cream pie
Perhaps the most famous slice of false advertising in the history of desserts, this “cream pie” is really a custard-filled layer cake topped with a chocolate glaze. When JFK was president, his mother’s version was frequently featured at state dinners. It’s absolutely one of the best desserts, but you might call it one of the best American comfort foods too.
Michigan: Cherry pie
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Michigan produces 75 percent of the nation’s tart cherries, and many of them end up in pies. Taste of Home reader Bethann Muzio says cherry pie is “great with ice cream during the summer months.” We think it’s great served hot in the winter too.
You’ll find any number of treats tucked inside these Norwegian crepes: fruit spread, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and more. But the real surprise is that the dough is made from potatoes, which are riced and then “smothered in butter and sugar,” says Taste of Home Community Cook Julie Herrera-Lemer.
Mississippi: Mississippi mud pie
When it comes to chocolate desserts (aka the best desserts), this one takes the cake. A chocolate crust is filled with layers of chocolate mousse (or pudding) and then topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. A waitress who lost her home to a Mississippi River flood in 1927 is said to have coined the name, and it stuck (the way a bit of mud pie might stick to the roof of your mouth).
Missouri: Gooey butter cake
Among the happiest of accidents, gooey butter cake was created when a baker in St. Louis reversed the quantities of flour and butter (usually a 3:1 ratio) in a traditional yellow cake. The concoction came out less than an inch high, but its buttery gooeyness was so popular that nearby bakeries went for it too. Work off some of that delicious butter afterward with the best places to go apple picking in every state.
Montana: Huckleberry ice cream
Huckleberry in all its forms (syrup, jam, pie, vinaigrette, and even vodka) is popular throughout Montana. But in ice cream, the berry provides just the right amount of sweetness, not to mention a beautiful periwinkle hue.
Nebraska: Tin roof sundae
As a teenager, Harold Dean “Pinky” Thayer operated the soda fountain at his father’s pharmacy in Potter, Nebraska (population 328). One day in 1930, he scooped some vanilla and chocolate ice cream into a bowl and topped that with warm marshmallow cream, salted peanuts, and chocolate sauce. The shiny chocolate looked a bit like the pharmacy’s tin roof, and a new classic dessert was born. The sundae is still served inside that same building in Potter today, but you’ll also find the flavor sold commercially around the country.
Nevada: Basque cake
When settlers from the mountainous Basque region between France and Spain came here to mine for gold, they brought something golden with them. The buttery, almond-flavored gâteau Basque features a thick layer of either pastry cream (typical of Spanish Basque cake) or black cherry jam (typical of the French version).
New Hampshire: Apple cider doughnuts
Home to the oldest operating apple orchard in America, New Hampshire is known for its many apple recipes. You’ll find the fruit’s tangy, freshly squeezed juice in the state’s especially tender doughnuts (the acid in the juice makes them soft). They can be glazed or dusted with cinnamon sugar, but if you want to dunk one in your morning coffee at the best coffee shop in your state, plain is the way to go.
New Jersey: Cannoli
“New Jersey is known for our amazing Italian bakeries,” says Taste of Home reader Nancy Gridley. Even with all their hits—biscotti, pignolate, sfogliatelle—it’s hard to top cannoli. The fried tubular shells stuffed with creamy ricotta cheese can be studded with chocolate, ground pistachios, and more. This is one of the best desserts around, so good that people die for it—at least in The Godfather. After they shoot a disloyal compatriot, one movie mobster says to another, “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”
New Mexico: Biscochitos
These crunchy rounds are a kind of spicy shortbread cookie flavored primarily with anise and sprinkled with cinnamon. New Mexicans love the biscochito so much that in 1989 they named it their state cookie, making it the country’s first officially designated state sweet.
New York: Cheesecake
In 1929, Arnold Reuben (of sandwich fame) was so enchanted with cheese pie that he played with the recipe until he created what is now credited as the original New York–style cheesecake. The key to turning an otherwise plain cake into a miracle of creamy smoothness? Extra egg yolks and cream cheese. (Fun fact: A New York dairy farmer invented cream cheese in 1872.) New Yorkers serve their cheesecake au naturel—no fruit or other toppings. You might have other ideas about how to make cheesecake one of the best desserts, but do you know where to find the best deli in every state?
North Carolina: Sweet potato pie
Considering that a sweet potato is a vegetable, it’s not surprising that sweet potato pie wasn’t originally considered a dessert. But in North Carolina, where more than half the nation’s sweet potatoes are grown, the blend of sugar and spice (and sweetened condensed milk) has been perfected to the point where sweet potato pie has pushed pumpkin pie off the Thanksgiving menu, and many families now consider it one of the best desserts.
North Dakota: Caramel rolls
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Not to be confused with cinnamon buns or sticky rolls, caramel (pronounced “CAR-mull” here) rolls are baked sitting in a sauce of butter and brown sugar. Some even add vanilla ice cream to the mix. Once out of the oven, the rolls are flipped over so that the hot, gooey sauce runs down the sides and pools as a thick lake underneath.
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In 1964, Gail Tabor of Columbus set out to make an ordinary batch of chocolate-covered peanut butter balls. She put the peanut butter on a toothpick to dip it, which meant there was a spot on the ball that didn’t get covered with chocolate. In fact, the circle of beige surrounded by the ring of brown looked a lot like the seed from a buckeye tree, which happens to be the mascot of football-crazed Ohio State. Today, no tailgate would be complete without them.
Oklahoma: Fried pie
This single-serving dessert that you can hold in your hand is like an empanada. It can be filled with fruit (apple, cherry) or cream, which can be traditional (lemon cream) or decadent (peanut butter chocolate cream). Those are two options we would have trouble choosing between. Fortunately, finding the best diner in every state is a little easier.
Oregon: Marionberry cobbler
The Marionberry (a blackberry-raspberry hybrid) was developed by the Oregon State University Agriculture Department in 1948. Now “these berries are everywhere,” says Taste of Home Community Cook Darlene Brenden. That includes in one of Oregon’s best desserts, marionberry cobbler, where a bed of the purple berries is capped with a fluffy biscuit served warm and topped with vanilla ice cream.
Pennsylvania: Shoofly pie
This “pie” is really a molasses crumb cake baked in a pie crust, which makes it easier to hold while eating, according to Taste of Home Community Cook Susan Bickta. It comes in two versions: dry-bottom (which is baked fully) and wet-bottom (which is baked until it is just set, to give it a gooier, more syrupy texture). Both were created by the Pennsylvania Dutch, which is why this best dessert also has the best name.
Rhode Island: Del’s Frozen Lemonade
Franco DeLucia came to Cranston, Rhode Island, in the early 20th century and turned his father’s lemonade recipe from Naples, Italy, into a slushie empire. The two newest flavors: coconut and blood orange. Take your frozen lemonade to the best picnic spot in your state.
South Carolina: Benne wafers
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These crisp, crunchy cookies taste both sweet and nutty because they’re topped with toasted sesame seeds—benne means “sesame” in Bantu, a group of languages spoken in sub-Saharan Africa. Sesame seeds were brought to the southern United States by African enslaved people, who believed eating them would bring good luck. They definitely bring a great flavor.
South Dakota: Kuchen
The German word for cake, kuchen is typically made with a sweet dough and a fruit filling: peaches, apples, plums, figs, or berries will work. You can top it with custard too—or not. The German immigrants who brought kuchen to the Dakotas in the 1880s used whatever was on hand, hence all the different variations. Fortunately, they’re all equally tasty.
Tennessee: Banana pudding
The dessert equivalent of lasagna, banana pudding is actually vanilla pudding layered with banana slices and vanilla wafers and then topped with meringue or whipped cream. Beloved throughout the South, in Tennessee it’s honored with an annual festival. It’s worth visiting the Volunteer State to partake in the best desserts and the best BBQ, but if you can’t make the trip try one of the best BBQ joints in every (other) state.
Texas: Pecan pie
Pecan is the state tree and the state pie of Texas, so the pie “shows up at every holiday,” says Taste of Home Community Cook Joan Hallford. One secret to always having enough nuts on hand: “Keep your pecans in the freezer!” says Hallford. Fun fact: Pecan trees are alternate bearing, meaning they produce fruit every other year.
In the 1980s, Jell-O executives started targeting their advertisements to young families. It worked especially well in Utah, which was then the state with the highest birth rate and is now the state with the highest per capita consumption of Jell-O. Senator Mike Lee even hosted a weekly “Jell-O with the Senator” event in his DC office before the pandemic.
Vermont: Maple creemee
This is a combination of Vermont’s culinary signatures: a maple syrup–flavored dairy treat that’s frozen to the consistency of soft-serve ice cream. Vermonters insist the creemee is creamier. We just think it’s one of the best desserts.
Virginia: Chess pie
The name comes from—well, no one is certain anymore. Some claim that chestnut flour was an original ingredient. Others think it’s a misinterpretation of “just pie” said in a Southern accent. It really is “just” butter, flour, sugar, and eggs—sometimes flavored with vanilla extract or lemon juice. Of course, then you have to figure out the difference between white eggs vs. brown eggs.
Washington: Loganberry pie
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Named for James Harvey Logan, who was the first to cross a blackberry with a raspberry, loganberries have a short shelf life. They thrive on Whidbey Island near Seattle, where whatever berries the people can’t consume right away get put to good use in pie.
West Virginia: Molasses cookies
Many West Virginians relied on molasses until refined sugar became readily available after World War II. But these cookies, also flavored with cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg, are yummy enough to have stood the test of time.
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This dessert, which arrived with Danish immigrants in the 1800s, is like coffee cake, only flakier and filled with nuts, fruit, or cream cheese, or some combination of the three. Sometimes, it is topped with chocolate, which elevates it to one of the best desserts in the world, not just the country. Want to try it? Kringle is a best seller at Trader Joe’s stores around the country during the holidays. Speaking of, this is the best Christmas cookie in every state.
Wyoming: Cowboy cookies
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These jacked-up chocolate chip cookies are made with lots of butter and have rolled oats, pecans, and coconut added to the dough. They supposedly packed lasting energy for long days out in the Old West. More recently, Laura Bush’s cowboy cookie recipe beat Tipper Gore’s gingersnaps in the 2000 Family Circle Presidential Cookie Bakeoff. Phew! There’s probably less competition in the debate about who invented pizza.