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18 Iconic American Desserts to Fix Your Sweet Tooth

These desserts are some of the most popular treats in the US, whether they originated here or abroad.

This list of the most popular desserts in America will make you hungry. While putting it together, I had more dessert cravings than normal, and I already want dessert twice a day.  

popular desserts assortment

So many American classics are on this list, some we enjoy more during certain seasons or holidays, and others we eat as treats any time of year. 

The list includes iconic desserts like Boston cream pie and S’Mores. One dessert, Rice Krispie Treats, started with Kellogg’s recipe for their classic puffed rice cereal and became popular because it was delicious and easy to make. 

Most of these desserts don’t require brand-name products and have simple ingredients, like the banana split and chocolate chip cookies.

Doughnuts also made this list, even though many see them as breakfast food. Eat them after a meal, and you’ve had a delicious dessert. 

Most Popular Desserts in America

I hope you enjoy the sweet treats on this list.


Doughnuts

Doughnuts, often also spelled donuts, came to the US in the 18th century with Dutch settlers arriving in New York.

They made a baked good called an oil cake that became American doughnuts

The doughnut’s popularity skyrocketed during the first World War when soldiers got doughnuts while fighting in France.

Doughnut franchises found their footing in the early 20th century, giving rise to companies like Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts. 

While many people like doughnuts and other pastries with coffee for breakfast, they make a great self-contained dessert or something sweet to eat while driving in the car. 

Check out the best donut shops across the US!


Pumpkin Pie

It’s hard to imagine an American Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie.

This pie is one of the most popular desserts in America, even though many people only enjoy it during the fall, pumpkin-picking season. 

For years, cooks made pumpkin pie by cooking down the chopped pumpkin and combining it with milk, eggs, sugar, and spices.

Thanks to commercial canning, pureed pumpkin is easy to find in grocery stores to make pie-making simple and a lot less time-consuming. 

I love pumpkin pie and will eat it any time, but it’s especially delicious in November with all the other fall foods and treats. I think Libby’s pumpkin pie recipe with evaporated milk is the best.

Check out other popular pie flavors and variations or the best pie shops in America to try them!


Baked Alaska

A baked Alaska sounds, looks, and tastes complicated, but it’s a simple recipe with thin slices of sponge cake surrounding ice cream and topped with meringue.

As the meringue firms and caramelizes in the oven, the dessert sets. 

The trick to a great baked Alaska is not letting the ice cream melt while cooking the meringue.

If you cook it too long, it will melt too much, but the right amount of time means the ice cream only starts to soften and soak into the cake. 

Despite its name, this dessert didn’t originate in Alaska but first appeared in New York City courtesy of chef Charles Ranhofer. He created the dessert to commemorate the Alaska Purchase in 1867. 


Buckeyes

The first buckeyes came from Ohio in the 1960s when Gail Tabor decided to dip sweetened peanut butter balls into chocolate.

Leaving about one-third of the peanut butter uncovered makes the balls look like buckeyes. 

Buckeyes are a tree nut enjoyed  in the state, so much so that the tree they grow on is the state tree.

Ohio is often called the Buckeye State, and the Ohio State University football team is called the Buckeyes. 

This candy is easy to make at home with dozens of slightly different recipes depending on your taste and available ingredients. It’s usually present on trays of Christmas treats, but it’s delicious any time. 


Cannoli

One of the most iconic Italian desserts, cannoli is really popular in America and worldwide because of its simplicity and rich, decadent flavor. 

Cannoli is a dish with pastry dough baked into tube shapes and filled with a mixture of sweetened ricotta cheese.

I love this dessert as much as I love cheesecake, so I think sweetened creamy cheeses need to appear in more dessert recipes. 

You might find fancy varieties with flavored fillings, fruit syrups, and compotes drizzled over the top if you purchase cannoli from a bakery.

But plain cannolis with nothing but pastry shells and sweetened ricotta are easy to make at home and as delicious as any variation. 


Rice Krispie Treats

Kellogg’s Rice Krispies went on the market in 1928 as a puffed rice cereal that made fun sounds (snap, crackle, and pop) when submerged in milk.

The product became popular fast, and by 1941, Kellogg’s printed their now iconic Rice Krispie Treats recipe directly on each box. 

The recipe appeared in newspapers before that, but with it on the box, people had it at their fingertips when it was time to make what became one of the most popular desserts in America. 

The only ingredients required are puffed rice cereal, butter or margarine, and marshmallows.

This easy dessert is so popular that Kellogg’s started selling pre-packaged Rice Krispie Treats in 1995. 


Pecan Pie

Though some of the most popular desserts in America have origins elsewhere, pecan pie first appeared in America.

Pecans are native to North America and were a crop used by Native Americans.

Printed recipes for pecan desserts go back to the 1870s, and scholars believe the earliest pecan pie recipe like what we eat today came from a St. Louis cookbook in 1898. 

A commercial product, Karo Syrup, made the pie’s creation easier with fewer ingredients, so more cooks embraced this classic holiday dessert in the 1920s.

Some recipes call for syrup, while others use sugar with butter, vanilla, eggs, and pecans in a traditional pie crust. 


Carrot Cake

This cake recipe came from England during World War II when many staples like sugar, butter, and coffee fell to rationing for the war effort.

The natural sweetness of carrots lends itself well to a cake, and the carrot cake was born. 

One of America’s most popular desserts is a thick, spice-cake batter with grated carrots and a sweet frosting like cream cheese icing. 

Surprisingly, it became more popular during the 1980s when, despite the high calories and sugar content, many people thought a vegetable in the dish made it healthier.

I’ll enjoy it occasionally whether it’s healthy or not because it’s so delicious. 

Check out our other favorite cake flavors!


Banana Split

Would you like some healthy fruit and some indulgent ice cream? You can split the difference with one of the most popular desserts in America. 

The banana split recipe won a 16-year-old an award from Pillsbury in 1952. The classic banana split is a banana cut in two lengthwise, with one scoop each of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla ice cream between the sides. 

Drizzles of sweet chocolate or caramel sauces, maraschino cherries, and crushed nuts are optional toppings and whipped cream.

Many recipes call for pineapple, different kinds of nuts, marshmallows, sprinkles, and other additions. 


Key Lime Pie 

The origin of key lime pie is uncertain, but most agree that it springs from Florida, probably in the late 19th or early 20th century.

It’s the official Florida state pie, and many believe that someone called Aunt Sally made it for the first self-made millionaire in Florida, William Curry, in the late 1800s. 

Whether Aunt Sally made the pie or it started with one of the other theories, there’s no question that it’s delicious. 

The light, lime-flavored filling, topped with whipped cream or meringue, is a refreshing summer pie and one you shouldn’t miss if you get a chance to have it in a Florida restaurant.

Since it’s the state pie, every cook takes special pride in creating several delicious varieties. 


Red Velvet Cake

Red velvet cake is a rich, moist chocolate cake dyed red with food coloring for its elegant appearance.

The Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York is famous for its recipe, but it originated in the late 19th century with a recipe called velvet cake. 

This velvet cake had a more delicate crumb that made it fancier than coarser cakes made with cheaper ingredients. 

I love red velvet cake, especially with cream cheese, but regular buttercream or royal icing will do. 


Boston Cream Pie

Boston Cream Pie appeared first at Boston’s Parker House opening in 1856.

The Boston establishment is still there, called the Omni House, and the popular pie that started there is still with us, too. 

Even though Fig Newtons and the chocolate chip cookie originated in Massachusetts, this pie is the official state dessert.

I love this uniquely American treat, even though I’d argue it’s more of a filled pastry or cake than a pie. 

The dessert consists of thin layers of sponge cake with pudding-like pastry cream and chocolate icing on the top. Chocolate lovers will enjoy this dessert, whether it’s technically a pie or not. 


Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ruth Wakefield started selling chocolate chip cookies in her Massachusetts restaurant, Toll House, in the 1930s.

She put the recipe in her cookbook in 1938 and meant the cookies to accompany ice cream, but they became popular as a stand-alone dessert. 

Most people have heard of NESTLÉ’s Toll House cookie recipe and the cookie dough they sell in grocery stories.

The company bought the rights to use Toll House and her chocolate chip recipe in 1939. 

NESTLÉ prints the famous Toll House cookies recipe on their bags of chocolate chips.

Even though many variations exist now, this classic is still one of the most popular cookies in America.


Black and White Cookie

Two schools of thought exist about the origin of black and white cookies.

Some say they came from a bakery in New York, while others believe that a bakery owned by Bavarian immigrants in Manhattan first made the cookies. 

Even though the specifics are fuzzy, the cookies came from New York to become one of the most popular desserts in America. Almost every bake shop in New York and the Boston area sells these cookies. 

The cookies are cake-like with icing or fondant in two colors, so one half is white, and the other is frosted black. 


Fudge

The late 19th century was the first time someone made fudge in Baltimore, MD, and it’s since become one of the most popular desserts in America. 

Fudge requires classic candy-making techniques of cooking sugar syrup to the proper temperature and mixing in chocolate before letting it cool and set.

What started with chocolate fudge became dozens of flavors and consistencies, including butterscotch, mocha, and peanut butter. 

Though fudge is delicious any time, I love it as part of the holidays when people often give Christmas fudge as gifts or bring it to parties. 


Brownies

Whether a housewife made a chocolate cake that fell in the oven into a dense dessert or a cook created the recipe, brownies are an American staple. 

The first recipe appeared in a cookbook in 1906, but they didn’t become the popular dessert they are today until chocolate and cocoa became more readily available and affordable in the 1920s. 

Brownies made from scratch and brownies from a box mix are equally fun and delicious desserts.

Some people prefer cake-like brownies, while others want them dense and chewy.

Whichever is your favorite, you can find a recipe or mix to match it. 


S’Mores

If you love S’Mores, thank a Girl Scout. The first recipe with a roast marshmallow, graham cracks, and chocolate bars appeared in a 1927 guidebook for Girl Scouts. 

The dessert, originally called “Some More,” kept appearing in the guidebooks and became S’Mores in the 1970s. 

This unassuming treat is perfect for camping or making over a firepit in your backyard.

A roasted marshmallow smashed between graham crackers, and a piece of chocolate is a gooey treat perfect for eating with your fingers outside. 

You can also find recipes for making S’Mores and similar recipes in the oven and on a stovetop if you’d rather enjoy your desserts indoors. 


Cheesecake

Ancient Greeks get credit for creating the first cheesecake over 4,000 years ago.

Americans and people worldwide embraced this cross between a thick custard pie and a cake, changing its name depending on the fruit or other ingredients on top

Cheesecake includes sugar, cream cheese, vanilla or other flavorings, and eggs to bind everything together. It bakes into a thick, creamy dessert. 

My favorite homemade variation is a Bavarian cheesecake with a crust made with vanilla wafers, a standard cheesecake layer, and a top layer of sweetened sour cream. 


Most Popular Desserts in America

  1. Doughnuts
  2. Pumpkin Pie
  3. Baked Alaska
  4. Buckeyes
  5. Cannoli
  6. Rice Krispie Treats
  7. Pecan Pie
  8. Carrot Cake
  9. Banana Split
  10. Key Lime Pie 
  11. Red Velvet Cake
  12. Boston Cream Pie
  13. Chocolate Chip Cookies
  14. Black and White Cookie
  15. Fudge
  16. Brownies
  17. S’Mores
  18. Cheesecake

Final Thoughts

The most popular desserts in America include everything from the classic chocolate chip cookies people have regularly enjoyed for almost 100 years or holiday staples like pumpkin and pecan pie. 

Most popular sweet indulgences are cakes, pies, or cookies, but some treats like S’mores and Rice Krispie Treats defy easy categorization. Brownies may have started with a fallen chocolate cake or an expert recipe, but they’ve earned a special category among delicious desserts. 

It doesn’t matter if you want to eat at home, enjoy a restaurant dessert, or make something you can take on the go. There’s a dessert on this list that fits the occasion. 

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.