Taste the States: 50 Iconic American Desserts
After reading about every US state's iconic sweet treats, you'll want to take a road trip based solely on dessert. While you've likely had your state's fair share of the dessert it's known for, you're about to discover a whole new world of confections across America that you'll want to add to your food-focused bucket list. Keep reading to find out what each state is known for, and remember your favorites for the next time you're in the area. Spoiler alert: there's lots of pie involved.
— Additional reporting by Anna Monette Roberts
Alabama: Lane Cake
A lane cake, or Alabama lane cake, is a traditional Southern cake that was invented in Alabama and has been made for generations. It's not the quickest or simplest cake recipe out there (there's a lengthy list of ingredients — including bourbon! — and multiple layers are involved), but the results are undeniably outstanding, making it a trip-worthy dessert.
Alaska: Baked Alaska
If you've never had a baked Alaska, you're missing out. It's the best of both worlds for those who can't decide between ice cream and cake: an ice cream cake topped with a browned meringue.
Arizona is known for its sopapilla, or a Latin American fried bread that can be served savory or sweet. For dessert, you'll find it drizzled with honey and topped with powdered sugar for an irresistibly sweet and salty treat.
Arkansas: Fried Pie
Like any great Southern state, Arkansas appreciates all things fried, especially pie. Arkansas is known for these handheld, portable treats that are crispy on the outside and loaded with apple, apricot, peach, raspberry, or even sweet potato.
California: Meyer Lemon Cake
Meyer lemons are a cross between oranges and lemons, and they're grown in California. Meyer lemon cake was popularized by iconic chef Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, and now it's a staple Californians can find all over.
Colorado: Pot Candy
No surprise here . . . pot brownies aren't the only weed-filled dessert you'll find in Colorado. The state dessert is pot candy, a THC-infused treat that you can enjoy legally if you're at least 21 years old.
Connecticut: Spice Cookies
Connecticut is known as the nutmeg state and therefore claims spice cookies as its official dessert. Similar in flavor to a ginger snap, spice cookies are made with molasses, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, resulting in a rich and chewy cookie.
Delaware: Jersey Cow Milk Ice Cream
Delaware has a large population of Jersey cows, and as a result, the must-eat dessert is ice cream from one of many dairy farms across the state. Made in small batches, the locally sourced ice cream ranges in flavors from basic vanilla to fresh raspberry chocolate chip.
Florida: Key Lime Pie
Yep, there's an official state pie in Florida, and it's key lime. Tart, sweet, creamy — there's really no other pie like it.
Georgia: Peach Pie
Franciscan monks introduced peaches to Georgia's coast in 1571, and since then, Georgia has been famous for the sweet, fleshy fruit. Buttery, flaky, and oozing with juices, peach pie is the way to cook overly ripened fruit.
Hawaii: Shave Ice
Hawaii's favorite sweet treat to cool down with is shave ice. Sipping on this is like eating fruity snow; the ice flakes melt in your mouth as the sweet syrup (which comes in every flavor imaginable) seeps in and flavors the snow cone.
Idaho: Huckleberry Pie
Yes, Idaho is the potato state, but that's not the only thing the state is good at cooking. Idaho's state fruit is the huckleberry (it's one of the few areas where the berry is grown), making huckleberry pie the dessert the state is most known for. Similar in taste and looks to a blueberry, a huckleberry is both tart and sweet, making it the perfect filling for a crispy pie crust.
Ever wonder where brownies were invented? The story goes that brownies were invented in Chicago when chefs of the Palmer House Hotel created a dessert for the World Columbian Exposition of 1893. As such, the state of Illinois gets to claim one of America's favorites as its own.
Iowa: Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
It's only fair that after baker Louise Piper won a blue ribbon award at the 1997 Iowa State Fair for a strawberry rhubarb pie that it would become the state's most-known dessert. You can even re-create the magic by making Louise's own pie recipe at home.
Kansas: Dirt Cake
Dirt cake might sound gross, but it's basically every Oreo-lover's dream, and it's what Kansas is known for. It's a no-bake dessert that's essentially a pile of pudding mixed with Cool Whip and topped with crushed Oreos — see, anything but gross.
Kentucky: Bread Pudding
Bread pudding might be popular in several Southern states, but nowhere does it quite like Kentucky: with bourbon, that is.
Louisiana: Bananas Foster
Leave it to New Orleans to invent a completely irresistible boozy dessert: bananas foster. If you find yourself in Louisiana, be sure to seek out a restaurant with this on its dessert menu — it'll be as good as it gets.
Maine: Blueberry Pie
Wild blueberries are indigenous to Maine, so the state is the country's leading producer of the fruit. Unsurprisingly, blueberry pie is the official state dessert of Maine.
Maryland: Smith Island Cake
Smith Island is an island on Maryland's Chesapeake Bay, and it's known for having its own dialect as well as its own regional cuisine. That includes Smith Island cake, which is basically a larger version of a classic you know and love. It's eight to 10 layers of yellow cake filled and topped with chocolate frosting, a state dessert so popular there's a Maryland bakery that ships across the US.
Massachusetts: Boston Cream Pie
Despite the fact that it's really a chocolate-frosted cake filled with custard or cream, Boston cream "pie" is unquestionably the state dessert of Massachusetts. The story goes that the chef at the Parker House Hotel in Boston first created the beloved cake in 1856.
Michigan: Cherry Pie
Michigan grows the majority of tart cherries in the US, and the locals love to bake cherry pies. Make like Michiganders and stock up on tart cherries when you spot them, as their season is cruelly short. In a lurch? Frozen or canned are a good stand-in for fresh options, especially when cooking them down, as in a pie.
Minnesota: Seven-Layer Bars
You might know Minnesota's state dessert as "magic cookie bars" or "seven-layer bars," but no matter what you call them, the finger-licking ingredients don't change. A buttery graham cracker crust holds layers of chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, pecans, and coconut, resulting in what can best be described as a chocolate chip cookie on crack.
Mississippi: Mud Pie
Mississippi mud pie gets its name because the dessert resembles the muddy banks of the Mississippi River. The classic dessert contains a cookie crumb crust, chocolate pudding or cake filling, and whipped cream or ice cream topping.
Missouri: Gooey Butter Cake
Gooey . . . butter . . . cake. What more could you ask for in a dessert? Missouri is the lucky state that claims this traditional Midwestern cake, which is incredibly easy to re-create if a craving strikes (there's not much to it beyond flour, sugar, and butter).
Montana's name is derived from the Spanish word montaña, meaning mountain, so it makes sense that the official camping dessert (s'mores, of course) is also the dessert for which the state is known.
Nebraska: Popcorn Balls
As the country's leading popcorn producer, it makes sense that Nebraska is known for popcorn balls.
The word on the street is that Nevada's state dessert is fondue because it's the most mountainous state in the country, and fondue is one of the most common foods in the Swiss, French, and Italian Alps. Las Vegas even has multiple all-fondue restaurants, where you can make a meal entirely out of sweet and savory variations.
New Hampshire: Whoopie Pies
Whoopie pies (aka two soft cookies filled with frosting) are a New England classic. New Hampshire claims to be the birthplace of the dessert, and while visiting the state, you'll even come across bakeries specializing solely in gourmet variations of the regional dessert, like Whoop It Up Whoopie Pies.
New Jersey: Salt Water Taffy
A lot of states do salt water taffy, but perhaps not as well as New Jersey. It's the Jersey Shore's most iconic food, dating all the way back to the 1880s.
New Mexico: Bizcochito
When in New Mexico, eat bizcochito: a lard- or butter-based cookie that's typically flavored with cinnamon or anise and similar to a shortbread cookie.
New York: Cheesecake
It doesn't get any more classic than New York cheesecake. Rich, fresh, creamy, and sweet, traditional NY cheesecake is unlike any other state's — you'd be hard pressed to find a bad slice at any good restaurant in the state.
North Carolina: Sweet Potato Pie
Sweet potato pie is about as classic as traditional Southern desserts get — you'll find it on Thanksgiving tables and restaurant menus all over North Carolina. Part spice (nutmeg and cinnamon) and part creamy filling (fresh sweet potatoes and butter), it's a sweet treat that's enjoyed most commonly during the holiday months.
North Dakota: Krumkake
Not like the other dessert you may be familiar with (crumb cake), North Dakota's krumkake is a traditional Norwegian cookie similar in texture to a waffle cone. It's like a thin, rolled-up crepe that you eat like a waffle cone, without the ice cream filling.
Ohio: Buckeye Candy
The Buckeyes are not only Ohio State University's football team, but they're also the tree that the state is known for. The buckeye candy is named for its resemblance to the nut of the tree, and the appearance is re-created by partially dipping a peanut butter ball in chocolate, leaving a small circle visible.
Oklahoma: Carrot Cake
Besides being known for fried pies (no surprise that there are multiple states that deep-fry pie!), Oklahoma is home to some of the best carrot cake in the country.
Oregon: Marionberry Pie
The marionberry is a hybrid berry developed by the USDA and Oregon State University in 1956. Half of Oregon's blackberries are this varietal, making it the most common blackberry type grown in the US. The best way to enjoy its deep purple color and rich flavor is by making a marionberry pie.
Pennsylvania: Banana Split
While there's a bit of a rivalry between Pennsylvania and Ohio, the banana split is said to have been invented in the early 1900s in Latrobe, PA, by a man who split a banana open before topping it with three scoops of ice cream, marshmallows, pineapple slices, crushed nuts, and cherries.
Rhode Island: Doughboy
Rhode Island is known for doughboys, which are typically deep-fried squares of pizza dough topped with powdered sugar.
South Carolina: Coconut Cake
Chef Robert Carter of the Peninsula Grill in Charleston, SC, can claim the ultrapopular "Ultimate Coconut Cake," a cake for which the Southern state is known. It's a layered coconut cake with coconut filling and frosting.
South Dakota: Kuchen
The foods known to South Dakotans draw their inspiration from both Norwegian and German-Russian culture. One local sweet favorite is the German kuchen, a coffee-cake-like dessert with a filling that combines custard and often a fruit such as apple.
Tennessee: Mountain Stack Cake
The Tennessee mountain stack cake is a thin, multilayered cake with a dried apple filling between the layers. This is no easy cake to bake, as it requires rolling out the dough into cookie-thin disks. When the entire cake is assembled, it must be chilled for 24 hours so the apple juices soak into the cake.
The labor was originally divided between the women in the community, as the stack cake was the traditional wedding cake in the Appalachian mountain range. Each neighbor brought a layer of cake, and it was said that the more layers of cake the bride had, the more popular she was.
Texas: Pecan Pie
The pecan tree is officially Texas's state tree, so it comes as no surprise that pecan pie is the state's official dessert.
Utah: Jell-O Pretzel Salad
Jell-O is the state snack of Utah, and while there are a myriad of ways to eat the jiggly snack, this Jell-O pretzel salad is an intriguing salty and sweet dessert. It features layers of crushed pretzels, cream cheese, and a berry Jell-O.
Vermont: Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream
Ben & Jerry's ice cream originated in 1978 when two friends got together, opened an ice cream shop in Vermont, and started blending unusual toppings in their favorite flavors of ice cream. While most people enjoy pints at home, you can still go to one of many Ben & Jerry's ice cream shops around the world.
Virginia: Chess Pie
A game of chess is way more complicated than chess pie. Virginia's classic Southern dessert can best be described as "pantry pie" — there's not much more than sugar, cornmeal, flour, and milk involved, proving that sometimes simple really is best.
Washington: Nanaimo Bars
Legendary nanaimo bars can be traced back to the 1950s in Vancouver, British Columbia, so it's no surprise that the south-of-the-border state of Washington is known for them, too. Nanaimo bars are no-bake, chocolaty, fudge-like bars that have a fan base for good reason.
West Virginia: Shoofly Pie
When in West Virginia, order shoofly pie — aka pie that's filled with molasses and attracts flies that need to be shooed away. Sweet, sticky, and unique in flavor, shoofly pie is a traditional Amish dessert that's become a popular dish to make at home.
When in Wisconsin, you must try a kringle. Traditionally a Danish dessert, a kringle is a tender and flaky pastry with a custard filling. It's taken so seriously in Wisconsin that bakeries have won kringle awards for decades in a row.
Wyoming: Cowboy Cookies
Some classics shouldn't be messed with, which is the case with the official dessert of Wyoming: cowboy cookies. Hearty enough for a cowboy, cowboy cookies are soft, chewy, and crunchy at the same time thanks to their secret ingredient (maple granola).