Sunshine and Sugar: Lima’s Dessert Scene

Now, I know at home in Kentucky it’s time to celebrate blue skies and sunny days. In Lima though, we’re headed into a cool, very grey winter. No wonder Peruvians have houses painted in blues, reds, and yellows! The weather gets so monochrome it feels like you’re stuck in Dorothy’s Kansas.

Fortunately, Ivo knows just how to bust up a dull day: “Today, we’re skipping lunch,” he announced, and pulled out a thin box from la Pasteleria San Antonio. Inside, there were two gorgeous strawberry tarts. Talk about a burst of sunshine. Mine was a gorgeous pile of buttery shortbread crust, cream cheese filling, and strawberries glazed with a mint-sugar syrup. Divine. Ivo’s was… in his stomach before I even laid eyes on it. But I’m sure it was gorgeous too.

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Given just how grey it is, and considering how sweet those strawberries were, I feel like looking at more pretty, sugary desserts.

In the States, we sort of approach desserts with a wonderful child-like simplicity. Does it have buttloads of sugar and butter? WE LOVE IT. Exhibit A: 10 Most Popular Desserts in America. When I studied abroad, the States regularly caught flak for this, but the only thing we’re really guilty of (on this front) is dealing in desserts so delicious we can’t stop eating them.

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                     Monkey Bread is worth every month those sweet, buttery cinnamon balls strip off my life span.

Peru has a slightly different approach. Desserts are usually lighter (compared to what I’m used to) and definitely tend more towards being sweet than buttery or milk/cream-based. In the States, we dig through huge, heavy desserts. In Peru, they treat desserts like shots. Bites of straight-up sugar, straight to the system. That being the case, Peruvians don’t really go in for thick ice cream or dense cakes and pies the way we do in the States. Instead, they seem to like fluffy, petite cookies and sweetness rooted in natural fruits.

My two other “top picks” from the San Antonio bakery are definitely their alfajores, which are little shortbread-esque deals with a dulce de leche center, and their version of lime pie. I know that Key lime pie is supposed to be a big thing down south in the States, but I’m telling you: Peru has us beat on this one. Those little sweet limes that I go on about so much? They’re gorgeous just in drinks and cooking. Imagine what they do when whipped into a pie filling. The filling itself is so good at San Antonio, the bakery doesn’t even bother with the pomp and nonsense of a meringue topping — I always hated that stuff anyway.

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In this case, smaller is better.

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Alfajores. I would sleep in a bed of these little bite-sized gems if I wasn’t positive I’d suffocate on the powdered sugar dusted on top. Still, there are worse ways to go.

Not too long ago, after a particularly embarrassing incident involving a clinic visit (details to come later, everyone’s fine), Ivo took me and my crippled dignity out for breakfast at La Tiendecita Blanca in Miraflores. We sat outside to enjoy the last of some warm weather, but the inside is adorable. Since this blog is definitely an excuse for eye candy, check it out.

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There, we shared a unique take on traditional cheesecake. While cheesecake as we think of it in the States is more like cream cheese pie, this was much more accurately a cake with a hint of sweet cream cheese. Fluffy yet textured, light yet creamy, the enormous hunk of heaven was served on top of drizzled chocolate and with a big spoonful of homemade strawberry sauce alongside. That little orange “flower” is actually the one fruit I’m not a fan of here. That said, the aguaymanto “berry” still makes for nice plating.

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I’ve had ice cream in Peru too. Yes, they seem to prefer little balls of vanilla as a topping more than an actual dessert, but ice cream is still (fortunately!) almost impossible to escape in the Western world. My number one highlight is lucuma ice cream.

Whenever Ivo and I make the trip to our friend’s place in Mala, we have to take the Panamericana, a highway going through the mountains all the way up the side of South America. Along this seemingly endless highway, there’s a little ice cream… shack? Mobile hut? Cart? Whatever you call it, I’m endlessly thankful Ivo knows to stop there — because I never would have.

The lady working the cart sells fresh lucuma ice cream and tops it with a lump of pecan ice cream when Ivo asks. Lucuma is a sweet fruit, but it has a nutty sort of taste too, so it the two pair perfectly. In the rest of the world, the top three flavors are chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. In Peru, lucuma very justifiably boots strawberry off the list.

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Ivo has also taken me to one of the most popular ice cream joints in Miraflores, the 4D Gelatería. This place is popular for two reasons: its fun span of flavor selections and its daaaaaaaamn good “ice cream” (technically gelato). Ivo is a big fan of the lime ice cream and the coffee ice cream, but I was feeling nostalgic so I went for cookies n’ cream.

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Here’s the thing: The “ice cream” (gelato) from 4D was fantastic quality, clearly. But it was also gelato, which for me, will always come in second best (albeit a VERY close second best) to genuine ice cream. What can I say? I grew up on Graeters in Cincinnati. Where gelato is soft and fruity, ice cream is dense and creamy. While I could almost drink some gelato with a straw, I’m used to breaking spoons in ice cream.

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                    Come to me, my love.

Of course, this all might indicate that Peruvians don’t know how to indulge. Ridiculous! The Sofa Café next door to our Barranco apartment  sells a knockout traditional cheesecake. Café Café offers a pretty good version of a chocolate volcano, and its carrot cake is technically high quality — I take issue with the carrot cake because it was warm and not dense enough.

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Carrot cake should be chilled, dense as a brick, raison-free, and slathered in sloppy cream cheese icing. Café Café serves it warm, light, and with precise velvety icing.

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That’s more like it. It’s not chocolate until it’s drenched in more chocolate.

Even the little food fairs that are held on a regular basis in our neighborhood nearby the Puente de Suspiros put out some hefty homemade treats. Last time we visited, I pointed to a crumbly sweet graham cracker pie crust stuffed with a lucuma filling and crunchy chocolate flakes. The lady behind the table promptly handed me the WHOLE PIE on a plate. Even with Ivo’s help, I could barely finish half.

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Finally, I’ve got to mention Café Haiti. Unfortunately, as big and lush as their cakes look, they have not impressed me. However, this place definitely offers the best cappuccinos I’ve ever had. Go figure though: they’ve been making them for about 50 years.

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It might still be grey outside, but I definitely feel better! Also, I’m getting a sudden and inexplicable urge to go visit the café downstairs… and if I get a coffee, I should probably get something to with it, right?

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