Often inspired by local produce or immigrant culture, each of the US States has an iconic dessert of its own. So, as the next in my series about the best desserts around the world, I present Iconic State Desserts of the United States.
Table of Contents
Visit Alabama to try Alabama Lane Cake, a southern bourbon layered cake containing coconut and candied fruits.
This Native American fry bread is drizzled with powdered sugar and honey. I wonder if this is where the concept for the ubiquitous fair food of funnel cakes and fried dough came from?
Deep in the hills of Arkansas, you will find blackberries growing, so it makes sense that you should eat the fruit when you visit the state. You can eat the berries simply, covered in sweetened condensed milk, or made into a cobbler.
Growing up in southern California I was surrounded by farm stands and strawberry fields each summer. Our favorite thing to do was to add some vanilla ice cream and angel food cake to transform the sweet, red berries into a heaping strawberry shortcake and eat it poolside.
Chocolate-Covered Trail Mix
A visit to Colorado needs to include a lot of time hiking or skiing through its wilderness, so its dessert needs to be portable. When I lived in Colorado, my choice to grab was a chocolate-covered trail mix from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Company.
Apple Cider Donuts
If you lucky enough to be visiting Connecticut in the fall, be sure to visit one of its many apple orchards. There you will find one of New England’s best sweets- apple cider donuts. The best ones come straight from the fryer. These apple cider infused donuts are crispy and covered with granulated sugar.
Peaches have long been an agricultural staple of Delaware, which proclaimed peach pie as its official state dessert in 2009.
Key Lime Pie in Key West, Florida
by Noel Morata of Travel Photo Discovery
What would be more iconic to eat in the Florida Keys and Key West, you might ask? A nice big slice of delicious key lime pie, and usually, the servings you get are huge when you try one in the Keys. Key lime pie is typically made with key lime juice, lime zest egg yolks and condensed milk and the Keys version has an extra-large meringue topping for more goodness. This dessert became popular with the abundance of key limes that have become naturalized throughout the Florida Keys. Now you’ll find the popular dessert in practically every restaurant you go to in the Keys and definitely have to order it for dessert. It’s so good that you’ll practically want to eat the entire dessert by yourself, so have it! If you’re traveling through the area, check out my post on a Miami to Key West road trip here for inspiration of things to do and see along the way to Key West – it is a spectacular road trip to do once in a lifetime!
Georgia State Banana Pudding since 2015. The event includes a Pudding Path, where you can sample different puddings, as well as an individual contest, the winner of which goes to the National Banana Pudding Festival in Centerville, TN, to compete for the national title.
From Sarah of Borders & Bucket Lists
While there are tons of must-try foods in Hawaii, shave ice is definitely towards the top of the list. At its most basic, shave ice consists of very small chunks of ice topped with flavored syrups. This frozen, fruity treat is a Hawaii classic.
Unlike snow cones, shave ice has smaller pieces of ice, making it softer and more flavor-infused. And “shaved ice” is NOT the same as “shave ice” either. If you visit Hawaii and find a place selling “shaved ice,” know that it’s not authentic. If it says “shave ice,” on the other hand, you’ll likely get a much better version of this refreshing treat.
The best place to get shave ice across all of the Hawaiian Islands is Ululani’s Shave Ice. With dozens of flavors all made from real fruit and the softest ice texture, it really can’t be beat. Ululani’s has several locations across Maui and one location on the Big Island of Hawaii.”
By Nikki of She Saves She Travels
When traveling to Hawaii, get your spoon ready for the best dessert you’ll probably ever eat in your life. Maybe that’s an exaggeration (there’s a ton of amazing desserts on this list)… or maybe not.
Hula pie is a delicious assortment of sweets piled so high it’s hard to believe it doesn’t topple over. Pro tip – get it to share! One slice is perfect for 4-6 people, especially if you’ve just eaten a meal.
The base layer of hula pie is chocolate cookie crust – think Oreos! Then is the giant layer of macadamia nut ice cream, which is super sweet but not overly nutty. It’s topped with a thin layer of hot fudge, some strategically placed whipped cream and crushed macadamia nuts. Perfection!
Hula pie was developed by a restaurant chain on the islands and is definitely the dessert to eat for ice cream lovers. You can find hula pie at several restaurants on Kauai, Oahu, and Maui.
from Tatiana of Family Road Trip Guru
Only found in Oregon and Idaho in the mountains during late summer, this tart berry makes an excellent pie to try when you are in Idaho.
By Michelle Price of Honest and Truly
Brownies are such a classic and iconic dessert. Did you know that they were invented in Illinois? The very first brownie ever served came from the Palmer House Hotel in downtown Chicago during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The hotel still makes and serves the brownies to this day. Over the years, recipes have diversified the traditional brownie to make it more cake-y or more fudgy. Some have nuts or fruit baked in, while others combine them with cookies to make brookies. A classic brownie is a gift, however – chocolate-y and moist, with only a sprinkle of powdered sugar on top to finish if off. Check out my favorite brownie recipe.
Sugar Cream Pie
Reflecting its Quaker roots, this simple sugar filling in a pie crust can be found at restaurants around Indiana.
Did you know there is an actual Blarney Stone in Iowa? You can find it in Emmetsburg in the northern part of the state. Iowa continues to celebrate its Irish immigrant history with a dessert version of the Blarney Stone as well- pound cake covered in white frosting and peanuts.
Driving through Kansas, you will see fields of corn. You will also get some of the best barbeque in the US. Follow your barbeque with cornbread drizzled with honey.
Bourbon Ice Cream
Did you know whiskey can only truly be called bourbon if it is made in Kentucky? The taste of bourbon is ubiquitous around the state of Kentucky. The best bourbon flavor is at Crank and Boom Ice Cream, as you get the taste of bourbon without the burn.
SnoBalls and Beignets
Before I visited New Orleans, I had never heard of a snoball, but then was told it is a not-to-be-missed food. A snoball is a finely ground snow cone, but a bit more mature. My favorite had a fresh grapefruit and basil syrup on it. There are many snoball restaurants in New Orleans, mainly outside of the French Quarter.
New Orleans is a mix of cultures, so while you are in Louisiana, you should also try the French powdered-sugar covered donuts, beignets with a cup of chickory coffee.
Mainers love whoopie pies so much; they are the official state sweet! A whoopie pie is sort of like a cross between a homemade cake and an Oreo cookie. In the most common variation, an uber-sweet white filling is sandwiched between two chocolate cakes. As they have gained fame, many places now make them in many unusual varieties, including pumpkin spice and red velvet. The most massive whoopie pie, weighing over 1000 pounds, was made and eaten in South Portland.
Old Bay Seasoning Chocolate Crabs
No taste in more Maryland than the Old Bay Seasoning spice, commonly used on crab. They also use it in chocolate crabs and ice cream.
Boston Cream Pie
By Heather Trimm of Trimm Travels
The magic of Michigan lies upstate on Mackinaw Island. While you are there, get their famous fudge.
Great Lakes Pie, Minnesota’s North Shore
From Martha of Quirky Globetrotter
When exploring Minnesota’s North Shore, a customary stop for locals and tourists alike is Betty’s Pies. The pie shop is nestled off of Highway 61 near Two Harbors. Out the outside, the small diner doesn’t seem as if there’s much to boast about. But inside, you can tell there’s a magical history and charm to the place. The hideouts best-kept secret? The Great Lakes pie.
Great Lakes Pie is a fruit pie made out a mixture of apple, rhubarb, blueberry, strawberry and raspberry topped with a crumbled topping. The pie is made of fruits all harvested during Minnesota’s lush summer months. It’s a delicacy that all locals enjoy before winter hits.
Great Lakes pie is sweet and tangy and best when served with a scoop of traditional vanilla ice cream and hot tea. The Great Lakes pie is a local favorite so much sure to order your pie before your food — we’re serious — so it doesn’t run out. Around her, ordering dessert is just plain common sense.
The quaint pie shake is a great getaway on a rainy day or just to unwind after the scenic drive. It’s guaranteed to add a sweet spark to your day.
Mississippi Mud Pie
Chocolate crust, chocolate filling, topped with chocolate sauce resembling the dirt of the Mississippi River and served with a side of ice cream. What is not to love about Mississippi’s dessert?
Gooey Butter Cake
The absolute best dessert to try in St. Louis, MO is gooey butter cake. Gooey butter cake is unique to St. Louis and was first created by a St. Louis-area German American baker in the 1930s. The cake was said to have been accidentally made by mistaking the portions of the flour with the butter. Gooey butter cake is either served as a coffee cake and not a formal dessert. You can find gooey butter cake at almost any bakery in St. Louis and of course, all of the grocery stores carry their own variety. One of the best spots to try gooey butter cake is at Park Avenue Coffee. They make all their cakes from scratch and have a wide variety to choose from.
by Priya Vin from Outside Suburbia
Did you know Nebraska has a strong Czech immigrant history? They even have a festival to celebrate the Kolache, a fruit-filled puff of yeast dough.
Miners flocked to Nevada during the gold rush, including Basque immigrants, bringing this cake made of vanilla, butter, sugar, and almond extract.
When you visit New Hampshire, you need to spend time camping in the White Mountains. This is the perfect place to roast s’mores over an open campfire. S’mores are fire-roasted marshmallows in a graham cracker sandwich with chocolate on it.
New Jersey, along with New York, has the highest population of Italian-Americans, so it is the perfect place to hit up an Italian bakery. We especially love zeppole, a cream-filled hand cake available around St. Joseph’s Day.
A brandy- or apple cider-containing Christmas cookie brought over from Spanish settlers, Biscochitos are New Mexico’s state cookie.
Frozen Hot Chocolate
New York is best in wintertime. That is the perfect time for a frozen hot chocolate at the magical restaurant Serendipity 3. Read more about visiting New York City.
Sweet Potato Pie
From Christina Riley of NC Tripping
North Carolina produces the most sweet potatoes of any other state accounting for more than 60% of what the US consumes, so it is no wonder that they made a pie out of it! With more than 400 sweet potato growers across the state, sweet potato pie started out as hardy breakfast fuel for the fishermen along the coast. Now, sweet potato pie is celebrated and earned it’s badge as a dessert! Less sweet than pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie is traditionally made with evaporated milk to bring out the flavor of the tubers. Check out this delicious slice from Winston-Salem’s aptly named restaurant Sweet Potatoes-Well Shut My Mouth!
Think locals hanging around in the middle of fields, congregating to enjoy each other’s company and enjoy the offerings of the ubiquitous cows of Ohio. My stop at Young’s Dairy is why you must try the ice cream when you visit Ohio.
By Stephanie Craig from Oklahoma Wonders
Growing up in Oklahoma, our cuisine is influenced heavily by all the regions that surround us. We have lots of German casseroles from the midwest, we go bananas for Tex-Mex coming up from Texas, and we have a lot of Southern-style foods because of our proximity to the south. Outsiders might be a little confused by what “Oklahoma cuisine” actually is, because it’s a little bit of everything!
If you make a visit to Oregon, your top priority should be to taste Oregon’s famed “Marionberry.” The berry, a genetic mix of two different blackberries, was actually invented in Oregon at Oregon State University, and is an Oregon stable! In fact, the Marionberry can ONLY grow in Oregon! You can find it in grocery stores and Farmer’s Markets, but your best bet is to head to a local bakery to taste it freshly baked into a cake, pie, or tart.
From Jennifer at Sidewalk Safari
Amish Pie is the best dessert you’ll have in Pennsylvania. Many Amish (aka Pennsylvania Dutch) reside in Lancaster County within striking distance of Philadelphia. The Amish eschew technology and are well known for simple dress and simple living. When it comes to baking, that translates to bread, cakes, and pies created from scratch with wholesome ingredients and often baked in wood-burning stoves.
You’ll find fresh Amish pies and other baked goods at Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. The Amish are present at Reading Terminal Market every day of the week except Sunday. Amish cherry pie is my favorite with a tart cherry filling and a perfect buttery and flaky crust. Amish pie is an extra-special and comforting treat when visiting Philadelphia in the winter.
Carts and kiosks selling this ubiquitous frozen lemonade, made with real lemons, can be found all around the state of Rhode Island once summer hits. Its roots can be traced to Italy like much of the culture of Rhode Island, but it was first sold here in 1948.
Even saying the name of these candies made from pecans, sugar and cream will make you feel at home in South Carolina.
South Dakota’s state dessert comes from its Germanic roots. Kuchen is a cake with custard and fruit.
Mountain Stack Cake
Tennessee is famous for its mountains and its Mountain Stack Cake, a multilayered apple spice cake.
By Michelle from That Texas Couple
You cannot have a list of the best desserts to try in the U.S. and not include the pecan pie from Texas. I mean, the pecan tree is Texas’ official state tree, and one of our towns, San Saba, is the self-proclaimed ‘pecan capital of the world” so it only makes sense that we create a delicious dessert from this nut.
Popular in the south, the pecan pie that the French invented the Pecan Pie after settling in New Orleans as pecan trees lined the riverbanks there. While there is no direct proof of this, there is proof that the first pecan pie recipe appeared in Texas cookbooks as early as the 1870s.
Most people enjoy pecan pie around Thanksgiving, but here in Texas, we think you can eat pecan pie any time of year. The perfect pecan pie will have a delicious flaky crust topped by a gooey filling made with eggs, butter, sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla. On top of all of this is a nice crunchy layer of delicious southern pecans. Serve up your pecan pie warm with your choice of ice cream or whipped cream on the side.
Strangely enough, Jello is the dessert most associated with Utah. The state’s history is most related to the Mormon church and for many reasons that leads us to jello.
Vermont is known for sugar shacks, usually wood cabins where sap is taken from maple trees and turned into syrup. Vermonters also take the syrup, add it to soft-serve ice cream making maple creemees. One of my favorite maple creemees can be found in the perfectly New England town of Woodstock, Vermont at Sweet and Salty.
Do you know some of the best peanuts in the world are grown in southern Virginia? Virginians then make them into a tasty peanut pie.
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
Washington state is the US’ leading grower of rhubarb, a vegetable that looks a bit like purple celery that imparts a slightly bitter flavor. While in the state, be sure to try it baked up in a pie.
Paw Paw Ice Cream
The southern United States has a unique fruit called a paw paw. West Virginia even has a town named after it and sells paw paw ice cream.
Milwaukee Frozen Custard
By Hannah & Adam Lukaszewicz @GettingStamped
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is known for its beer and cheese, but you’re missing out on a delicacy you must try when you’re in town. Frozen custard is a true staple of Wisconsin and the ultimate comfort food. And we have just the place for the best in town!
Kopp’s Frozen Custard is a local favorite, with several locations throughout the city. It’s one of the best restaurants in Milwaukee, they are known for their butter burgers and of course, custard. They always have the traditional flavors of vanilla and chocolate, but they are really known for their flavors of the day. Usually, they have two specialty flavors a day, plus rotating specialty shakes and sundaes. A few favorite flavors include Red Raspberry, Tiramisu, and German Apple Streusel. You can’t go wrong with a stop at Kopp’s!
Believe it or not, Wyoming is blessed with chocolate truffles stuffed with western flavors such as prickly pear and whiskey. Not a bad way to end the list.
What is your favorite US dessert? Which state is it from? Don’t forget to stay tuned for me in the best desserts around the world series. Next up, Canada.
15 thoughts on “The Best American Sweets: Iconic State Desserts”
What a fun list! I’m from Nebraska and kolchaes are definitely a favorite of mine. I can;t wait to try these as I go through the states.
What a fantastic post! Who doesn’t love dessert? You make my mouth water just looking at the pictures. Thanks for a fun flashback – this is great!
Ice cream, of course! Have you had cheese curds at Young’s?
What a great list you have in this post. I loved learning about the history behind each one of them. Now to make plan to visit all the state to try them all.
I am working on that. I have 10 left.
Okay, now I’m hungry! Glad to see Florida’s was key lime pie – it’s my favorite.
My dad’s too!
I’ve been to American quite a bit and now I’m hungry! I have to say strawbery short cake is my favourite, so light and fluffy,
Definitely one of my favorites too, but I am from California.
Our maple creamees are definitely TO DIE FOR. If you ever make it to Vermont, you should try them. 🙂 This is a great list!
OH my, those apple cider donuts look absolutely delicious! I can’t belie I live in Southern Cali and still have not had amazing strawberry shortcake. It is one of my favorite desserts and I have yet to find the best one here. I need to keep tasting my way around the city 🙂
I often made my own.
I had so much fun reading this post! So much diversity and I love how heritage has influenced certain areas as well. Funny, I lived in Alaska for 10 years and never had a Baked Alaska. I saw it on the menu, but never had any desire to order it. I had my first butter cake as my cousin raved about it as she used to live in Misourri. It was on a menu in a Boise, Idaho restaurant and I had to give it a try. Wow! Loved it! \
I live in California and had no idea Strawberry Shortcakes were iconic here. I LOVE strawberry shortcakes, especially the light, and airy ones. Now I’m gonna be on a mission to find the best ones here that are similar to my favorites in Japan 🙂
One of my favorite things about living in California are the strawberry fields in the summer- such good strawberries!