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10 Italian Desserts

By December 7, 2022March 13th, 2023No Comments

Thinking about the top 10 Italian dishes, brought me to thinking about 10 Italian desserts. I’ll never pass up cannoli, sfogliatelle or gelato but how fun is it to discover new Italian desserts; ones that I had not eaten before living in Italy. Add them to your bucket list, and if you don’t have a food bucket list, start one.

1. Torta di Grano Saraceno (Buckweizentorte)

Buckwheat cake filled with lingonberry jam was my favorite dessert at the rifugi that we lingered at during our hiking trip to South Tyrol. I love the nutty, rich flavor of buckwheat. Buckwheat was historically a food for the poor. It provided energy for the hard day’s work. Enjoy this rustic cake with a cup of tea or coffee.

top 10 italian desserts

2. Buccellati

In December, holiday desserts flood bakery shelves. Mom makes date stuffed cookies every Christmas. In Sicily, homemade buccellati (Sicilian fig-filled cookies) are amongst my favorites. Today, despite pastry chefs making them year round, they are linked to Christmas festivities. Baked in a wreath ring or as individual cookies, they combine figs, dates, nuts and sometimes candied fruit; sustenance for chilly days.

top 10 italian desserts

3. Brutti ma buoni (ugly but good)

The origins of this ugly but delicious cookie are contested between Lombardy, Piedmont, Tuscany and Lazio. I came to know and love the chewy-crunchy treat in Rome. Simple, delicious and highly addictive, the main ingredients are hazelnuts, egg whites, and sugar.

top 10 italian desserts

4. Torta Caprese

In the 1920s torta caprese was created by accident. Three Italian-American “business men” were visiting Capri to buy a shipment of spats for Al Capone. Chef Carmine di Fiore, baked a chocolate and almond cake for them. He realized that he forgot to add flour. To his delight the result was a chocolate cake, that’s crisp on the outside and incredibly moist on the inside. Rumor has it that they loved it and asked for the recipe — and so Torta Caprese was born. The famous gluten-free chocolate almond cake is a perfect treat to indulge in any day of the year.

Torta Caprese top 10 italian desserts

5. Maritozzo con la panna

Tales have it that the first Friday of March, young suitors gifted a maritozzo pastry to their betrothed with a ring or gold treasure placed inside. A expression of their love, it ensured that they would become their marito (husband). In fact, maritozzo is an loving way of saying “husband.”

top 10 italian desserts

The most well-known version is maritozzo con la panna (a whipped cream-filled sweet bun). I prefer its predecessor, the Lenten treat Maritozzi Quaresimali. Studded with raisins, candied fruit and pine nuts, it was one of the few luxuries permitted during the 40-day fasting period.

Today the whipped cream-filled pastry prevails. It’s as common for Romans to indulge in one at breakfast as it is to eat one at after a night out at a late-night/early morning bakery.

6. Castagnaccio

When the first roasted chestnuts appear, it’s a sure sign that fall is here. Crisp fall mornings call me into the kitchen to brew coffee, write and bake. My favorite Italian desserts are more savory than sweet and relatively healthy; castagnaccio ticks all the boxes. 

castagnaccio: top 10 italian desserts

This chestnut flour cake is an ancient Tuscan dessert. Its name is derived from “castagna” the word for chestnut in Italian. The simplest version is made with chestnut flour, water, olive oil and rosemary. More luxurious versions add pine nuts and raisins to the batter. Not surprisingly the recipe changes from home to home. Regardless of the recipe, the hearty and healthy cake is sugar, gluten and dairy free.

7. Delizia al Limone

delizia al limone top 10 italian desserts

Love at first site, I spied her in a pastry shop in Cetara (a few kilometers west of Salerno). Created in 1978 on the Amalfi Coast, lemon fans: this is a dessert for you. Individual size sponge cakes are layered with Amalfi-lemon infused pastry cream and drizzled with a limoncello glaze.

8. Granita e Brioche

granita di caffè is one of many Italian iced coffee beverages

Technically granita and brioche are two desserts. In Sicily, they are a delicious match. I always order coffee flavored granita in the morning to wake me up. Soft and rich brioche sops up the icy cool granita, a sweet way to kick off a sweltering day in Sicily. In the afternoon, almond, lemon or mulberry are my picks. Don’t knock it until you try it.

9. Crostata di visciole

Crostata is served at breakfast, as a snack or a dessert. I prefer pie over cake so it’s no surprise that this Italian tart makes my list. A buttery luscious crust is all I need to be happy. If I could only eat one type of crostata it would be crostata di visciole (sour cherry pie) which is found in Roman bakeries. Its cousin, crostata ricotta e visciole (ricotta cheese and sour cherry pie) is a traditional Roman-Jewish dessert.

10. Cassata

cassata top 10 italian desserts

This may be the royal of Sicilian desserts. A sponge base filled with a sweetened ricotta and topped with candied fruit and frosting. Traditionally it is served around Easter and in the winter months when sheep produce the most milk. If you have a super sweet tooth, this is the dolce for you.

What are your favorite Italian desserts?

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