By Athena Hessong

Many books have been written about desserts, understandably so. The subtypes of this delicious meal course differ in service, texture and flavor, but all desserts share one common quality: sweetness. And these treats, which are, luckily, absolutely abundant, are meant to satiate even the sweetest tooth.

Festive dinner
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For anyone with a sweet tooth, dessert is the best part of any meal.

Custards and Puddings

Chia seeds pudding with oat, banana and almonds with mint
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Custards are creamy, cooked desserts, thickened with eggs.

Creamy custards and puddings typically include a thickened dairy base. The thickener used determines whether it's a custard or a pudding. Generally, custards are cooked and thickened with eggs. Crème brûlée and flan are both baked custards. Puddings are thickened with starches. Two common types of puddings are rice and tapioca. Variations on puddings include vegan puddings and instant pudding.

Frozen Desserts

Frozen Yogurt on a pier with background blur
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Frozen desserts include ice cream, gelato, sorbet, frozen yogurt and sherbert.

Nothing beats the heat on a blazing summer's day like a cooling ice cream. Ice cream consists of cream slowly stirred in a churn to freeze it to a creamy consistency. Gelato uses a milk base instead of cream and has less air mixed into it than ice cream. Frozen custard uses a cooked base of egg yolks. For a dairy-free dessert, try a sorbet, which is made from churned fruit purees. Frozen yogurt uses yogurt rather than the heavier cream base of ice cream, which also makes it a lower calorie treat.

Cakes

sweet white buttercream cake with pink flowers on top
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Cakes have their origins in sweet breads.

Cakes are not just for birthday parties. These desserts resemble tender, sweet breads. Examples of cakes include angel food cake made with egg whites, sponge cake, flourless cakes like the sachertorte, German chocolate cake, pavlova cake made with a meringue base, pound cake and fruitcake. Petits fours, cupcakes and snack cakes are single-serve sizes of larger cakes.

Cookies

Oatmeal sugar free cookies on a white plate
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Cookies emerged from testing cake batter.

Cookies originated as small cakes. The name cookie, comes from the Dutch word "koekje" meaning "little cake," according to the Nibble's website. They were spoonfuls of cake batter cooked to test the oven temperature before ovens had thermometers. Cookies vary in size, shape and texture, but many share variations of basic ingredients such as sweetener, eggs, butter or shortening and flour. Varieties include chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, gingersnaps, tender shortbread, chewy oatmeal cookies, crispy meringues and cake-like bar cookies.

Pies

Raw vegan blueberry pistachio cake
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Pies, and their fillings, come in all shapes and sizes.

The simplest form of pie involves a crust with a filling. The crust can be on the top and bottom or just the bottom, made from pastry or graham cracker crumbs. Pie fillings include custards, puddings, nuts and fruits. Chocolate cream pie, lemon meringue pie, shoo-fly pie, pecan pie, apple pie and tarts are just some pie variations. Tarts use a baking pan with straight sides and don't have a top crust.

Chocolates and Candies

Coconut covered chocolate almond ball dessert on a natural wood grain cutting board
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Fudge is a rich, dense chocolate candy with tiny sugar crystals.

Chocolates and candy involve the crystallization of sugar. The size of the sugar crystals determines the texture of the candy. Rock candy has large sugar crystals and a crunchy texture, but fudge contains small sugar crystals, giving it a smooth taste. Candy and chocolate desserts include fudge, caramel, lollipops, taffy, marshmallows, fondant, pralines and cotton candy.

Pastries

cinnabon with coffee
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Flaky or rich dough are easy indicators of pastry desserts.

The same flaky pastry used to make pie crusts is applied to other desserts such as cream puffs, baklava, eclairs, Danish pastries and palmiers. Profiteroles consist of an unleavened dough with a high amount of fat. During preparation, the pastry dough is handled lightly to keep the finished pastry light and airy in texture.

Other Desserts

Sweet cheesecake with strawberries
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Is it a cake or a tart? Some desserts fit into more than one dessert category.

Some desserts don't fit nicely into just one category. Cheesecake is an example. Though it's called cake, it more closely resembles a tart, but the filling is basically a custard. Desserts featuring simply prepared fruits also don't fit well into other categories. Flaming bananas foster and cherries jubilee are fruity desserts with a syrup and alcohol sauce. This sauce is lit at the table before eating as a flashy presentation to end the meal.