Delicious traditional Italian desserts
There are as many traditional Italian desserts as Italian cities and towns, often the result of cultural stratifications occurred over the centuries.
It is therefore impossible to list all desserts you could bump into from the north to south of Italy.
As per many Italian products, some traditional desserts are often known only within a few miles. They are rare gems... even among Italians.
If you are more interested in cooking... feel free to skip directly to the
The famous ones
Let’s begin with what is undoubtedly the most famous Italian dessert ever, tiramisù (lift me up!). Everyone has tried tiramisù at least once. If you haven’t, please address it as soon as you can.
Those biscuits soaked in coffee, layered with soft, creamy and liquored Mascarpone and dusted with cocoa powder are a great choice at most Italian restaurants. Tiramisu is often home-made in many restaurants, which is a big bonus. Or you can try at home this
And who didn't try gelato on a hot summer day? I can’t call it “Italian ice cream”, gelato is something more than ice cream, it defines you. Chocolate and vanilla gelato? An evergreen. Strawberries and lemon? The summer mix. Chocolate and pistachio? Trendy.
From the Alps to the Po valley
In that part of Italy where German is as well spoken as Italian, you can find this unsophisticated yet genuinely amazing cake called strudel. It consists of a pastry roll filled with apples, raisins and pine nuts flavored with cinnamon. It is perfect with vin brulè (mulled red wine) in a cold winter day.
Going a bit southwards towards Milan, you can’t miss Panettone, the Christmas Italian dessert by definition. A dome shaped cake with raisins and candied fruits whose dough requires nearly 20 hours to rise and be ready for baking. It's not Christmas without Panettone or its fluffier brother Pandoro from Verona. Pandoro (golden bread) is plain and usually the best choice if you don't like candied fruits or raisins.
And now something you may have never heard before, torta sbrisolona from the city of Mantua in Lombardy. It is a cookie-like cake made of almonds, butter, grated orange zest, flour and cornmeal, salt and brown sugar. Nothing too original you may say. Actually, it has its peculiarity…be prepared for tons of crumbs spreading everywhere. It can be annoying but definitely part of the fun.
My favorite Italian dessert is definitely
usually consumed with Mascarpone cream. This cake is typical of Vignola in the province of Modena, and is deliciously made of dark chocolate, espresso coffee, almonds and vanilla. Vignola is my home town, so I can't help but being slightly partial...
The folksy grandma’s cakes from Central Italy
Among the best Italian desserts I can’t help but name a few cakes, rustic I'd say, but very much defining Italy’s intimate features.
Torta della nonna
Let’s start with perhaps the most popular cake, torta della nonna (grandma’s cake, because Italian food as always something to do with grandmas). This pastafrolla (shortbread) cake has a custard heart and pine nuts, with dusted icing sugar. Basic and delicious, as most Italian food.
Have you ever heard of ciambella romagnola? It's a very simple breakfast doughnut, although not ring shaped, from the region of Emilia Romagna. It's made of basic ingredients such as flour, sugar, butter, eggs, milk, baking powder, grated lemon zest and granulated sugar as decoration.
It's perfect to dip into Albana or Cagnina, respectively sweet white and red wines typical of the region.
If you are lucky enough to travel to Central Italy in autumn, you can’t miss Castagnaccio. Originally a dish for poor people, this cake is made with chestnut flour, pine nuts, raisins, walnuts and…rosemary.
The unforgettable experience of cakes from southern Italy
Traveling south along the boot (peninsula), Italian desserts change considerably and acquire a unique taste that makes them an unforgettable experience. From the Easter cake of Naples, Pastiera Napoletana, to the fresh and light Lemon Sorbet and Arabic-style almond paste of Sicily, these desserts are deeply rooted to the history of southern Italy.
Pastiera Napoletana dates back to the pagan days when it was made to celebrate the coming of spring. Nowadays it's still a spring cake, hardly missing on Neapolitans’ Easter tables. It's a shortbread cake filled with a paste of ricotta cheese, boiled wheat, eggs, spices and candied fruits. The spices used on the original recipe are cinnamon and orange blossom water.
If you love chocolate and almonds you can’t miss a typical dessert from the island of Capri, Torta Caprese. A flour-free thin, crusted outside and deliciously soft inside. You simply can’t help but fall in love with this dessert.
If in Naples there is Pastiera for Easter, Sicily just keeps up with Cassata Siciliana. Cassata summarizes, even in its name, the double roots of southern Italian culture, the Arabic and the Latin. The traditional recipe is made of sweet goat ricotta cheese, sponge cake, almond paste (known as 'royal paste'), candied fruits and icing sugar. Yet several versions exist based on local traditions. Pistachio, cinnamon, pine nuts, chocolate or maraschino (a cherry liquor originally from Dalmatia) are some common alternative ingredients.
If you go to Sicily you should also try Cannolo, made of a tube-shaped shell of fried pastry, filled with sweet ricotta cream and candied fruits. You must definitely be trained to have it as a dessert after a sumptuous Sicilian meal. More likely you will have it as a gorgeous breakfast treat.
If you can’t cope with a Cannolo, you can try a refreshing Lemon Sorbetto. It can be served in an ordinary cup or glass, but is quite another story in a hollowed out scented Sicilian lemon.
Sicilians are also the best in Italy to make
a cross between a frozen drink and a flavoured ice.
I hope you enjoyed this sweet tour of my favorite Italian desserts... feel free to try great
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