Catalonia has a sweet tooth—there's no doubt about it. On Sundays, for instance, it’s customary to finish lunch with a generous dessert. And on every other day of the week, you’ll find a large number of pastry shops, and pretty much every restaurant menu, offering all kinds of sweets: Cakes, pastries, and all manner of recipes involving chocolate, cream, and fruit. The most popular dessert in town is the crema catalana, a soft dessert involving burnt sugar that is similar to creme brulée. (But here's a warning: never tell a Catalan that crema catalana and creme brulée are the same thing; this is a very sensitive subject.)
One way to discover the sweet side of Barcelona is to lose yourself in the Barri Gotic neighborhood, trying places like Xocoa and Caelum o la Monserratina, casual spots serving great chocolates and other confections. But if planning ahead is more your style, here are my top 5 desserts in the city.
This is probably the best pastry shop in town. The owner, Christian Escribà, is highly esteemed baker in Barcelona, and his level of care shows everywhere in his flagship store, in the heart of Las Ramblas. It’s difficult to recommend just one treat (everything is outstanding), but I’m going to give it a try: I love the brazo de Gitano and the bulgaro, two dishes made with chocolate and a delicious sponge cake.
It might seem odd for me to include a restaurant, but the dessert menu at Abac is uniquely exceptional (the food menu is pretty great, too). I love the Begonia’s Pink Panther made with fresh strawberries, the chocolate “rocks,” and the incredible cheese selection, but try the Irish ice cream: you’ll be very happy for the rest of the day.
This molecular-gastronomy restaurant is pretty inimitable. Since 2000, Espai Sucre has served only sweet dishes: they call themselves “the only dessert restaurant in the world.” Be that as it may, it's still hard to decide what to pick from their menu, so my advice is to ask for the five-dish sampler menu. The cakey sobao and the caramel sponge cake, with a touch of black olives, are not to be missed.
This is Mey Hofmann’s home and easily one of the best places for croissants in town—in fact, it’s the best one, if you ask me. Hofmann is a cake master who has had a long love affair with this city: she has both a cooking school and a well-earned reputation. In addition to the croissants, try the macarons, which are delicious.
There’s no better place to get a sweet souvenir to take home. Everything in Bubó is packed with sturdy elegance: items such as the almonds or the filled chocolates prove that the owner, pastry master Carles Mampel, does his job thoroughly but with panache. The chocolates are my favorite, but I have to confess that I can’t go to Bubó and not ask for the plumcakes.