Italian desserts are varied and seasonal. Flavors vary from region to region, and dessert preferences highly depend on the climatic differences between the North and South. From small shops to Italian restaurants, the experience is very different.
Gelato （ice cream）
Gelato, also known as ‘freeze,’ is not to be confused with an Italian invention. It comes from China. This dessert was likely introduced to Italy through merchant travel in the 14th century. In the 18th century, gelato gained widespread attention among Italians, who loved the taste of this rich cream, fruit, and chocolate. Italy’s union with other countries is rumored to have been due to ice cream.
Tiramisu translates in Italian as ‘pull me up’ or ‘take me away. This frozen dessert is made from coffee-soaked finger biscuits accompanied by mascarpone cream cheese sweetened with whipped cream. There is much debate about its origins, but most people agree that it comes from the Veneto region of northern Italy.
Panna Cotta （Italian fresh custard）
Panna Cotta, which translates as ‘cooked cream in Italian, is the most famous pastry and originated in the Piedmont region, which is renowned for its abundance of dairy products. The original method of making this dessert was probably to cook the cream with honey and egg whites. Modern versions use the highest quality cream, slightly sweetened, held together with a gel from the fish cartilage, and left in a tiny, translucent mold. The best ricotta custards can be seen to be elastic when swinging when unmoulded. They are often served with fruit preserves, caramel, or chocolate sauce, allowing the ethereal texture to melt in the mouth.
Baba au Rhum （Baba rum cake）
Baba au Rhum, a high cylindrical yeast cake, is soaked in rum syrup (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) and sometimes topped with pastry custard or cream. This rich dough contains eggs, butter, and milk. It is thought to have originated in Poland and traveled through the Lorraine and Alsace regions of France to Paris and Naples, where the baba ganoush cake also became popular and is still a lot sought-after delicacy today. The sweet aroma of the cake spreads throughout the bakery streets. The light, syrupy Baba au Rhum is so good you’ll want to eat it all in one sitting.
Sicilian Cassata （Sicilian Cheesecake）
Sicilian Cassata, from Sicily, is a sponge cake made with layers of sweet ricotta and candied citrus peel. The cake is covered in marzipan, sweetened almond dough, and decorated with fruit shapes made from candy or marzipan molds. This dessert originated in the Middle Ages when Sicily was under Muslim rule. The authentic Neapolitan flavor would be slightly different, with layers of ice cream instead of ricotta and fruit, as in an ice cream cake. The whole cake is covered in a sugar glaze. Either version is worth eating and a treat for your taste buds.
Cannoli （Creamy Sweet Filled Pancake Rolls）
Cannoli is a Sicilian pastry dish rolled around a tube and fried. Individual cannoli or “tubes” are filled with sweet ricotta, slices of confectionery citrus fruit, and sometimes chocolate chips.
Semi-Freddo （Fresh Fruit Sorbet）
This dessert is called ‘semifreddo’ because the fresh fruit sorbet uses a range of frozen desserts, including ice cream, mousse or cream, and fruit biscuits or cakes. Although frozen, it is only served when it is not too hard to enjoy. It is best enjoyed at four degrees Celsius, just the right softness; it tastes even better with fresh fruit and jam.
Torta Caprese （Capri Cake）
Torta Caprese, a cake made of chocolate and almonds from the southern Italian island of Capri, is said to have been discovered by chance when the chef forgot to put flour in the dessert. The bread is made with chocolate, ground almonds, and locally produced olive oil, without flour or yeast. Sometimes the cake is filled with Limoncello or Strega, the local specialty.
Pandoro （Golden Bread）
Pandoro, from the northern Italian city of Verona, is a dessert between cake and bread, made with dried fruit such as oranges, lemons, and sultanas, and is ideal for sharing with the whole family during the festive season. The cake is made in the shape of a star and can be eaten on its own with vanilla icing, jam, hazelnut Nutella, or cream sauce.