One of the best things about any holiday, to me, is the desserts. Gathering around a big table with family is its own special treat but that treat is always made better when there are plenty sweet delicacies.

This year I'm looking at some recipes for the classic Latin desserts that we share for Easter, like arroz con leche and pan dulce, but I'm also pining after a dessert that's a new take on some old favorites (and is completely making my mouth water), carrot cake cupcakes with dulce de leche buttercream.

There are plenty of delicious chocolates and candy that you can have during Easter, but if you're looking for something that'll impress the whole family, then these Latin Easter desserts are for you.


Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche Buttercream (recipe courtesy of Joy the Baker)

Ingredients (Carrot Cake Cupcakes):
4 cups peeled and finely grated carrots
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, pod reserved for another use (or 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract)
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, well drained
1 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions (Carrot Cake Cupcakes):
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 standard muffin tins with paper liners. In a bowl, whisk together carrots, eggs, sugar, oil, buttermilk, vanilla seeds, and coconut, pineapple and nuts if desired. In another bowl,  whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Stir flour mixture into carrot mixture until well combined.

2. Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each 3/4 full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until testers inserted into centers come out clean, 23 to 28 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks, 10 minutes. Turn out cupcakes onto wire racks, and let cool completely. Unfrosted cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen for up to 2 months in airtight containers.

3. Frost cupcakes with dulce de leche or cream cheese frosting. Frosted cupcakes can be refrigerated for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature, and sprinkle with toasted coconut (press gently to adhere) before serving.

Ingredients (Dulce de Leche Buttercream Frosting):
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
3 Tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt
3/4 cup prepared dulce de leche

Directions (Dulce de Leche Buttercream Frosting):
Cream together softened butter and powdered sugar on low using an electric mixer.  Add cream and vanilla and beat on medium speed until smooth and no lumps appear.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the prepared dulce de leche and beat to incorporate.  Frost cooled cupcakes using a knife or a pastry bag and tip.  Top with toasted coconut.

Arroz Con Leche (recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen)

1 cup long-grain white rice
2 cinnamon sticks (I had very large canela sticks — see bottom for more info — so I only used one)
2 strips of lemon or orange zest (can use a peeler to get a larger piece)
3 whole cloves or a tiny pinch of ground cloves
4 cups water
1 egg
3 cups whole milk (updated to note that many people, including my mother, successfully made this with lower fat milks)
1 (12-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (I realized after the fact that my can had been 14 ounces, had no averse effect)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

1. Soak the rice, cinnamon sticks, lemon or orange zest and whole or powdered cloves in the water in a heavy saucepan for 1 hour.

2. After soaking, bring the rice mixture to a boil on high heat, uncovered. When it starts to boil (about 5 minutes), lower the heat to medium and cook for 10 to 12 more minutes or until water is almost evaporated.

3. While rice is cooking, beat the egg in a bowl. Add the milk and stir well to mix. Add the egg mixture, condensed milk, salt, vanilla extract and raisins, if using, to the rice and cook over medium-low heat, stirring carefully, until it thickens slightly or until desired consistency about 25 to 35 minutes (see notes that follow).

4. Remove citrus zest and cinnamon sticks. Let cool uncovered, then chill the rest of the way in the fridge.

NOTES: About cooking time: Many reviewers said 25 to 35 minutes was way too much cooking time for them, and that 15 to 20 minutes would have been better. I was all ready to pull my pot off early, but actually needed almost 30 minutes. Still, want to give you a heads up that yours might be done sooner. About "desired consistency": I cooked mine until all but 10 percent of the liquid had been absorbed, which yielded a creamy, not-too-thick pudding. If you like your arroz con leche thinner, pull it off the stove when more liquid is left. This pudding does most of its thickening as it cools, but the end result should still be thinner than traditional rice pudding. Mexican cinnamon: A long time ago, I bought a jar of canela (Mexican "soft cinnamon") sticks from Rancho Gordo and this was the perfect time to bust it out. The cinnamon flavor is just a little different than we're used to, a little less loud and one note, a little dynamic. It smells exactly like a cross between a cinnamon stick and apple cider. Seriously! When simmered with the pudding for almost an hour, the pudding had an almost spicy edge to it and an unmistakable flavor I associate only with arroz con leche.

Pan Dulce (recipe courtesy of My Diverse Kitchen)

Ingredients (Starter):
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp warm milk
2 tsp instant yeast
1 cup all-purpose flour

Ingredients (Dough):
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp butter
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients (Topping):
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup soft unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (or food colour of choice)

1. Put all the ingredients in a bowl, mix them together and let them rest for about an hour, until the mixture is bubbly.

2. Add the dough ingredients to the bubbly mixture. Mix well and mix and knead everything till the dough is elastic but a bit sticky. It is important that the dough is sticky. If you add too much flour, your "conchas" will not be soft.
Allow the dough to double in size (about an hour). This might take a bit longer, so give it the time it needs.

3. In the meanwhile, mix all the ingredients for the topping together to form a cookie-like dough. Keep aside. Refrigerating it for about half an hour will make it easier to shape it when required.

4. Once the dough has doubled, transfer it to a lightly greased or floured work surface. Divide the dough into 10 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball.
Also divide the topping dough into 10 equal portions.

5. Using your palm and fingers, flatten the topping dough into a thin circle/ disc about 3" in diameter. It should be big enough to cover the top of the roll and a bit of the sides too.

6. Place the balls of dough onto greased or parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving space between them. Place a circle of topping dough onto each roll, ensuring the roll is covered well on top and a bit on the sides. Flatten each roll slightly

7. Allow the rolls to rise for about 30 minutes, covered. Just before baking, use a pan dulce cutter to press a "concha" pattern into the topping. Press down firmly, through the topping and into the dough. Alternately, use a sharp knife and cut the pattern (shell-like, criss-cross or whatever you choose) through the topping right to the dough.

8. Bake the rolls at 200C oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until they're golden brown. Serve the rolls warm, with jam.

What is your favorite Easter dessert to make for the family?

Images via Joy The Baker, C. Strife/flickr, darioalvarez/flickr