Brownies, tiramisu, key lime pie: The ten best cities for desserts

CHICAGO, US

The origins of the chocolate brownie are disputed, but one plausible account is it came about in 1893. Socialite Bertha Palmer asked a pastry chef at her husband's Palmer House Hotel to concoct something ladies could include in a boxed lunch when visiting the Chicago World's Columbian Exhibition. Brownies to the original recipe are still served in the lavishly decorated Palmer House Hilton. See palmerhousehiltonhotel.com

LISBON, PORTUGAL

It seems we have the monks to thank for pastéis de nata – Portugal's famous custard tarts. Those at the World Heritage-listed Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon's heritage neighbourhood, Belém, needed lots of egg whites for starching clothes, and had plenty of leftover yolks to use up. The nearby Antiga Confeitaria de Belém has been selling them since 1837, and given the number of people that queue for them, it isn't going to stop any time soon. See pasteisdebelem.pt

VIENNA, AUSTRIA

The apple strudel is something of an Austrian national obsession – there's a recipe dating back to 1697 safely ensconced inside the City Hall's State Library. And it's an obsession the Austrians are keen to share. So much so that at the Schönbrunn Palace's Cafe Residenz, a pastry chef hand-bakes one every hour as part of a public demonstration on how to do it right. See cafe-residenz.at

TREVISO, ITALY

As with most food origin stories, there is fierce debate over tiramisu – and a lot of it comes down to who has made their story stick best. The winner on this count is confectioner Roberto Linguanotto, who owned Le Beccherie in Treviso, just outside Venice. The original version has no liquor or egg whites, but Le Beccherie still serves the recipe Linguanotto created in the 1960s, while also providing an option of the more familiar take on the dish. lebeccherie.it

BAKEWELL, ENGLAND

The Bakewell tart – with its shortcrust pastry, raspberry jam, frangipane and flaked almond topping has become a favourite, often morphed into the cherry bakewell with icing and a cherry on top. The one place not so happy about this is Bakewell in Derbyshire, where they insist the tart is a rip-off of their much-loved Bakewell pudding. The pudding tends to be round, have a flaky base, with jam laid on top, and an egg-almond mix poured over in the middle. Why not just enjoy both?

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM

The company that bridges the divide between the great Swiss and Belgian chocolate traditions is Neuhaus, which was set up by Swiss immigrant Jean Neuhaus in 1857. The store's still there in Brussels' prestigious Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, and his grandson – also called Jean – made a breakthrough in 1912 with the Belgian praline. The combo of soft centre and harder shell has gone around the world since, with all manner of different fillings. See neuhauschocolates.com

FLORENCE, ITALY

The story goes that gelato was the concoction of Bernardo Buontalenti. He supposedly introduced it at a feast for the all-powerful Medici family in 1600. These days the gelato epicentre is Bologna, where the "Gelato University" – offering training courses and a museum – is run by gelato machine manufacturer Carpigiani. See gelatouniversity.com

SOUTH AFRICA

There's a strong shout for South Africa being the world's most outrageously overlooked travel destination, and surely this is the main reason for malva pudding not making its richly deserved global breakthrough. Sweet, spongy and caramelised, with a texture similar to sticky toffee pudding, the secret ingredient is apricot jam. Once tried, fully expect to be basing future South African restaurant choices around whether malva pudding is on the menu.

KEY WEST, US

The key lime is a hybrid take on a lime originally native to Southeast Asia, but it grew prodigiously in the Florida Keys. Key lime pie, the dessert made using key lime juice down in the Florida Keys, has murky origins. But there's a strong chance it came from the local sponge fishermen, who spend many days on boats where fresh milk wouldn't keep. So hence the pie is made with yolks and condensed milk. The lime should always be yellow, never green, according to Keys locals.

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BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA

There's little doubt where the Lamington got its name from – Lord Lamington served as governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901. But quite who made it is a different matter. One account says it was a servant who accidentally dropped sponge cake in melted chocolate, and another credits it to French-born chef Armand Galland, whose wife was from Tahiti and knew all about how coconut could improve a cake. Either way, it's likely it was first served at Old Government House, and they're served at the on-site Pantry Cafe. See pantrycafe.com.au

The writer has been the guest of the Chicago, Queensland and Vienna tourism authorities.

See also: Ten endangered species you shouldn't eat

See also: The world's ten most divisive foods

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