A baker's dozen of dessert words.

Wordymology is a series in which the editors at The Free Dictionary explore the origins of the names of things.
Get ready to satisfy your sweet tooth with a baker’s dozen of dessert etymologies!

This Takes the Cake

Delicious though cake may be, its name comes from the not-so-appetizing Old Norse word kaka. Kaka is akin to the German word for “cake,” kuchen, which is also baked into the word “quiche.” (“Quiche” comes from küche, a diminutive of kuchen.)

Koekjes and Milk

The English word “cookie” is not too far removed from its namesake, the Dutch word koekje. And koekje itself is a piece of cake, as it comes from koek, the Dutch word for “cake.”

A Tough Doughnut to Crack

Well, maybe not. The spelling “doughnut” makes this sweet treat’s etymology pretty obvious. “Doughnut” combines “dough” (duh) with a now-obscure definition of “nut,” meaning a small rounded cake. Many people simplify the spelling to “donut,” a perfectly acceptable variant.

Lightning in a... Pastry?

In French, the word éclair literally means “lightning.” The cream-filled puff pastry was likely given this name because it does not stay fresh for very long.

Mousse Tracks

Mousse owes its name to its characteristic fluffy texture. In French, the word mousse means “foam” or “froth.”

A Literal Pick Me Up

The word tiramisu literally means “pick me up” in Italian, maybe in reference to the dessert’s use of coffee- or rum-soaked sponge cake, though that’s not definitively known. What we do know is that “tiramisu” gets its name by combining three Italian words: tira (“pick”), mi (“me”), and su (“up”).

Cannoli, Cannolo

Cannoli” is the plural form of cannolo, an Italian word meaning “tube,” seemingly alluding to the dessert’s distinctive shape. Cannolo ultimately derives from the Latin word canna, meaning “reed,” which, cane you believe it, also gave us the English word “cane.”

Macaroony and Cheese

Though “macaron” and “macaroon” refer to two distinct cookies, both names come from the same Italian word: maccarone (a variant of the standard spelling, maccherone), which, yes, means “macaroni.” Macarons, macaroons, and macaroni might all be #blessed because maccherone likely has its roots in the Greek word makarios, meaning “blessed” or “favored by the gods.”

Perfectly Good-Good

The French sometimes use their sweets’ names as free advertising. Parfait means “perfect” in French, while bonbon is literally “good-good.”

Pizzelle Party

With its wafer texture and, often, anise flavor, the Italian pizzelle cookie doesn’t seem like it has much in common with pizza. But that’s where you’re wrong—pizzelle is actually the diminutive form of the word pizza, which means “pie” in Italian. (This also means that you can save the term “pizza pie” for March 14, because it actually means “pie pie.”)

That’s How the Cake Crumbles

Long story short, the shortcake’s height deficiencies are not the source of its name. Rather, “shortcake” refers to an older use of the word “short,” meaning crumbly.

Snail Noodles

Snickerdoodle, with its cinnamon flavor, likely gets its name from the German word for “cinnamon roll”—schneckennudel. However, schneckennudel literally translates to “snail noodles.” Yum? Schnecke means “snail,” alluding to the cinnamon roll’s coiled appearance, while “noodle” here just refers to strips of dough. (The word “noodle” doesn’t have to refer to the pasta noodles we so readily associate with it.) Believe it or not, snickerdoodle isn’t the only baked good named for the snail—there’s also “schnecken,” a spiral-shaped sweet bread.
You know, we actually gave you the origins of 15 different desserts—but who would say no to extra dessert? Now, go on and share some of these sweet treats with your friends!
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