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15 Popular Italian Desserts For Your Sweet Tooth

Try these sweet treats from Italy to finish your meal.

After enjoying a bowl of pasta at your favorite Italian restaurant, you might think you are full. But then the waiter or waitress brings out the dessert menu, and it is impossible to resist those beautiful, traditional Italian desserts.

Traditional italian dessert tiramisu on a white plate on a marble table

Not only do these desserts look and smell delicious, but they are little works of art. 

Dolci, or sweets, are just as important as pasta and pizza in Italian culture. Pastries such as cannolis and desserts such as tiramisu are Italian staples.

When you think of Italian desserts, these two things usually come to mind. But, there is a long list of other desserts that are popular in Italian culture as well.

From creamy gelato to cream-filled pastries, there are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to Italian desserts.

Traditional Italian Desserts

No Italian meal is complete without a sweet finish. Here are some of the most popular Italian desserts that are available in bakeries and restaurants today.


Tiramisu

Tiramisu is rather new when it comes to Italian desserts. There aren’t any records of the current tiramisu that we know and love existing before the 1960s.

Although, there were other variations of it before this. 

Tiramisu means “pick me up”, due to its inclusion of espresso in the original recipe, created by Carminantonio Iannaccone. 

The ingredients of tiramisu include:

  • Sweetened mascarpone pastry cream
  • Coffee/espresso and brandy-soaked ladyfingers
  • Cocoa powder for dusting

The finished product consists of layering the mascarpone cream and coffee and brandy-soaked ladyfingers.

The top layer will end up being mascarpone cream, and cocoa powder will dust the top.

If you are a coffee-lover, it is one of the most delicious desserts you will ever have. I know it sounds like a simple dessert, but it is tasty!


Panna Cotta

Panna cotta is another Italian dessert that is quite new and didn’t show up until about a century or two ago.

Panna cotta is an Italian word that translates to “cooked cream” in English. 

It is essentially a pudding dessert that you can flavor any way you want. You can use a variety of extra ingredients ranging from fruit to chocolate.

You could even make a dinner panna cotta if you wanted to by adding salty and savory ingredients. 

Typical panna cotta ingredients include:

  • A pudding base of cream, milk, and unflavored gelatin powder
  • Sugar or honey
  • Flavorings such as vanilla extract

Traditional panna cotta is silky smooth and tastes like a sweet vanilla pudding. It is a small yet delightful dessert, and I highly recommend you give it a try.


Cannoli

Cannolis are a favorite dessert among many people across the world and have a variety of flavoring options. Although, the base, or traditional cannoli, is quite simple.

Traditional cannoli ingredients include:

  • Fried pastry dough shells
  • Sweetened ricotta filling with spices

The shells look like a little roll-up, and then they get filled with the ricotta filling using a pastry bag.

Most bakeries and restaurants top the ends of the cannolis with mini chocolate chips. However, there are plenty of other ways to flavor cannolis too. 

Some bakeries put flavoring in the filling itself, such as chocolate or lemon. And others use different toppings on the ends such as nuts and fruit. Dipping the cannoli shell in melted chocolate is also quite popular.

Cannolis are one of my favorite Italian desserts. There’s nothing like crunchy, soft, and sweet all rolled up into the perfect tube-shaped dessert. 


Gelato

When you think of gelato, you probably think of ice cream. Yes, the Italian word “gelato” translates to “ice cream” in English, but the two have some differences

Gelato is an Italian type of ice cream that uses more milk than cream and has less butterfat compared to ice cream. Gelato and ice cream have similar ingredients, but the ratios are much different.

These differences are what make gelato denser than ice cream. The flavors in gelato are also usually more intense compared to ice cream.

Gelato ingredients usually include:

  • Milk 
  • Cream
  • Sugar
  • Flavorings such as chocolate, fruit, etc.

Gelato is the perfect creamy, frozen dessert to enjoy on a hot day. Chocolate gelato is always a winner for me.


Bonèt

Bonèt is an old Italian dessert that is similar to a creamy pudding or custard. Sometimes it has a layer of caramel over the top.

Typically, people make bonèts in small baking dishes or ramekins. Doing this allows there to be individual servings.

This also decreases the chances of cracking or breaking the desserts when removing them from their baking pans or dishes.

A traditional Bonèt usually contains:

  • A custard base (milk, sugar, and eggs)
  • Rum
  • Cocoa powder
  • Amaretti cookies

This dessert has crushed amaretti cookies inside it and whole cookies on top for garnish. Amaretti cookies are little cookies that have an almond taste due to almond extract.

Almond and chocolate are two flavors that go together perfectly. This combination is one of my favorite flavor profiles. I love this dessert.


Panettone

Panettone is a dome-shaped cake heavily rooted in Milan, Italy. It is almost a cross between bread and cake due to the use of yeast.

Think of it almost like an Italian fruit cake. Panettone traditionally comes out around Christmas because it is a feast day pastry, and ingredients can vary.

A traditional panettone contains:

  • A dough base containing yeast
  • Dried or candied fruit

There are other variations of panettone where people might add chocolate or nuts. But, the traditional panettone only has fruit.

It is very light in your mouth, and it has a buttery taste. It reminds me of sourdough bread but a little sweeter.


Cassata

Cassata is a cake of Sicilian descent, and you will often see it labeled as a Sicilian cassata due to its origin.

It is traditionally a sponge cake filled with ricotta cheese and candied fruit. Green marzipan, a sugary almond paste, usually covers the entire cake, with fruit as garnishes.

Then when you cut it open, you will see layers of cake and a ricotta mixture.

Traditional cassata ingredients include:

  • Liquor-soaked or fruit juice-soaked cake
  • Sweetened ricotta cheese
  • Candied fruit
  • Marzipan

This cake is quite sweet and tends to be on the fruitier side of desserts. It might sound strange, but I think it is a pretty tasty cake!


Torrone

Torrone is very similar to candy and is under the category of an Italian nougat. It is a very popular sweet all around Italy.

Nougat is usually a candy made of sugar paste that has nuts mixed into it. Torrone is similar but differs slightly, and you can choose from soft torrone or hard torrone.

Torrone ingredients include:

  • Sugar paste base of sugar, honey, and egg whites  
  • Nuts
  • Candied fruit

If you like sugar, you will definitely like torrone. Considering the base is honey and sugar this Italian nougat is very sweet. But it is still one of my favorite Italian candies.


Canestrelli

Canestrelli is a type of cookie or biscuit. They are usually a flower shape with a hole punched through the middle.

The base dough is similar to most cookies, however, there is one strange ingredient. Instead of raw eggs, the recipe calls for hard-boiled egg yolks. This might sound a little odd, but I promise it isn’t.

Canestrelli ingredients include:

  • Primary cookie ingredients such as flour, sugar, butter, and vanilla extract
  • Hard-boiled egg yolks

Although the hard-boiled egg yolks might sound strange in cookie dough, canestrelli cookies are delicious.

They taste like a buttery shortbread cookie but are less dense. They are one of my favorite Italian cookies. I could eat a whole batch myself!


Pastiera Napoletana

Pastiera napoletana is a creamy tart, but you might confuse it for a pie due to its traditional lattice design on top.

If you have ever had a ricotta pie or rice pie, pastiera napoletana echoes this taste and texture. It is almost like a combination of ricotta and rice pie.

However, pastiera napoletana has more of a fruity essence to it because of the addition of orange blossom water.

Pastiera napoletana ingredients include:

  • Pastry dough
  • A sweetened ricotta filling with wheat berries and orange blossom water

Crostata

A crostata is like a flat tart or pie. To make it, you roll out the dough, add your filling, and then flip the edges over to make a crust.

It is similar to a rustic tart. Usually, this dessert goes onto a baking sheet rather than in a pie or tart pan because it isn’t meant to be a perfect circle. However, the taste is very similar to a pie or tart. 

Crostata ingredients include:

  • Pastry dough
  • A fruit filling, usually fresh fruit, combined with flour, sugar, butter, and spices 

Fresh fruit and pastry dough are always a delicious combination. I think crostatas are the perfect dessert, especially if you are looking for something more fresh-tasting.


Torta Barozzi

Torta Barozzi is a dessert named after architect Jacopo Barozzi. The dessert comes from Pasticceria Gollini, and the recipe is still hidden in secrecy.

For the most part, we know that it is a flourless chocolate cake with nuts, rum, and coffee. But, the rest is a mystery.

From what we can guess, Torta Barozzi ingredients are similar to a flourless chocolate cake recipe, with the addition of rum, coffee, and almonds. So, the ingredients should be:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Cake ingredients such as butter, eggs, and sugar
  • Rum
  • Ground coffee
  • Almonds

Flourless chocolate cakes are the most decadent desserts out there. The coffee and rum in this add a little zip to the chocolate. I think the almonds were a great touch as they add a slight crunch.


Torta Caprese

A Torta Caprese is similar to a Torta Barozzi, but for this recipe, we know all of the ingredients.

You will notice the word “Caprese”, and you might be able to guess what that means. Caprese relates to the island of Capri, hinting that this is where the dessert comes from.

Torta Caprese is essentially a flourless chocolate cake with almond or hazelnut flour. Yes, it is still flourless since these two flours are just ground nuts.

Torta caprese ingredients include:

  • Bittersweet chocolate
  • Cake ingredients such as butter, eggs, and sugar
  • Almond or hazelnut flour

I’m a chocolate-lover so, in my eyes, you can never go wrong with this cake. This cake is so dense and filling, yet you won’t be able to stop eating it!


Biscotti

You’ve probably heard of biscotti, as they are widely available around the world.

You can even buy them in the supermarket. Although, they’re not as good as a bakery or homemade biscotti. 

Biscotti are crunchy cookie slivers. You can throw a variety of things in the base mixture to create different flavors.

Some common extra ingredients include nuts and chocolate, which are my favorites. Sometimes bakeries will even drizzle or dip the biscotti in chocolate. 

Biscotti ingredients include:

  • Primary cookie ingredients like flour, sugar, and eggs
  • Sometimes almond or anise extract
  • Extras such as almonds or chocolate chips

Biscotti are so simple and delicious, I would recommend them to anyone looking to dip their toes into Italian desserts for the first time!


Pizzelle

Pizzelle are another Italian dessert you can find widely available. Pizzelle span back many centuries and are circular, thin waffle cookies.

The pizzelle batter is very similar to a waffle batter. Pizzelle even have an iron to cook them in, similar to waffles. However, their thinness can differ a lot.

Pizzelle ingredients usually include:

  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Baking powder
  • Butter 
  • Eggs
  • Vanilla extract

Traditional pizzelle usually have anise, a licorice-tasting plant and spice, in their batter. But, if you aren’t fond of that flavor, you can leave it out. 

These thin, crispy masterpieces are always a lovely dessert. I think pizzelle are truly beautiful with their stamped iron design. Not only are they pretty to look at, but they taste just as great.


Traditional Italian Desserts

  1. Tiramisu
  2. Panna Cotta
  3. Cannoli
  4. Gelato
  5. Bonèt
  6. Panettone
  7. Cassata
  8. Torrone
  9. Canestrelli
  10. Pastiera Napoletana
  11. Crostata
  12. Torta Barozzi
  13. Torta Caprese
  14. Biscotti
  15. Pizzelle

Final Thoughts

Italian desserts are an essential part of Italian cooking and baking history. Some of these Italian pastry and dessert recipes are hundreds or thousands of years old. And they will continue to play a role in Italian culture for years to come.

The next time you’re at an Italian restaurant or bakery, make sure to check these popular Italian desserts out. Or maybe you’re feeling brave and want to try baking one of them yourself!

Either way, these desserts are sure to please!

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.