An Introduction to Italian Dessert
The classic Italian dessert can have a light sweet flavor, but it can also be bitter. There is a wide range of flavors in this part of a traditional Italian meal. When it comes to tradition, the dessert goes best when served with Italian wine. If you're looking for some of the most traditional Italian choices for dessert, you'll find some of them right on this page. You should also look into other regional favorites that might not be listed. If you aren't big into the rich, indulgent dessert, then you'll love the fact that it's also common for traditional Italian meals to simply serve fresh fruit at the closing of a meal. One example of this might be fresh fruit tarts. You'll find every kind of Italian dessert you can think of, from cookies to cakes for adults made especially with liquors and wine.
Italian Cookies and Biscotti
Biscotti are also called biscotti di Prato. It is a cake that has been baked twice and it comes from Prato in Italy. The "cakes" are actually almond biscuits, which become dry and crunchy when they are hot and then baking them again. Biscotti are most often served with some kind of drink for dunking because they are usually very dry. The traditional Italian serving suggestion is vin santo, but in the US, they often go with coffee or lattes and even black tea.
Cakes - The Traditional Italian Way
Tiramisu might just be the most popular Italian cake. It consists of biscuits which have been dipped in coffee and are then layered with a mixture of mascarpone and whipped egg yolks and is then flavored with cocoa and liquor. The recipe itself has been changed over time to go into many other desserts, but real tiramisu is a dessert of layers, with the Savoiardi biscuits soaked in coffee and the mascarpone cheese and egg mixture alternating. Traditionally, you will find sifted cocoa powder on top of this cake and added to offset the sweetness of the cheese mixture. There are many different recipes for tiramisu.
Zuppa Inglese is a traditional Italian dessert that is more of a custard than a cake. It originated in the towns of Bologna, Ferrara and Reggio Emilia at the end of the 1800's. Since then, it can be found all around Italy and is most often served with a white wine that is local and has been chilled. Most often, this dessert is homemade, but it can now also be found in many cake shops and is often used at birthday parties. Zuppa Inglese is also frequently used as a Gelato flavor.
Zabaglione is made of sugar, sweet wine, and egg yolks. Most commonly, a Marsala wine is used, but the original recipe calles for Moscato d'Asti, as well as the occasional whole egg. This is a very light tasting custard that is whipped to offer plenty of air. Most often, you will find that Zabaglione is served with fresh figs, but if served alone, it is often warm and comes with a glass of Marsala wine. You might find that this goes well with almost anything, though, including fresh fruit.
Italian Holiday Sweetbreads
Panettone is sweet bread that was found first in Milan and is made during the Italian Christmas and New Year holiday. It has become a symbol of Milan. If you're in the country during this season, you'll find boxes of this cake in bakeries and cafes and you will likely find it in all corners of the world. Served in slices cut vertically and served with beverages that are sweet and hot or sweet wines like Asti Spumante, this is a favorite of the country. In some regions, Panettone is often accompanied by dried or candied fruit, Crema di Mascarpone or Amaretto.
Panforte is an Italian dessert favorite. Made up of fruits and nuts, it is similar to fruitcake. This is a dessert that is steeped in tradition and has even been found to date as far back as the thirteenth century. Panforte originated in Siena, Tuscany. Historians have found documents showing that this dessert was offered to local monasteries as a way to tithe or tax. Panforte literally means "strong bread" and likely has to do with the spicy flavor of this traditional dessert. Italians like to enjoy this dessert with a dessert wine that is sweet, such as Vin Santo.
Pandoro is an Italian dessert that is more like bread than what Americans commonly think of as dessert. Specifically, it is yeast bread that is sweet. It's most commonly found around the holiday season in Verona. Pandoro most often has the shape of a frustum and has a section with an eight pointed star. This traditional dessert is usually served dusted with icing sugar that looks like the snowy peaks at Christmastime. Newer twists in making Pandoro include taking out part of the soft middle and filling with vanilla gelato or Chantilly cream. In many cases, the Gelato or cream is also served as a garnish to a slice of Pandoro.
Gelato and Sherbets - More Than Just Desert
Gelato is essentially Italian ice cream. Americans rave over it and can't get enough. Like ice cream, gelato has many similar ingredients such as cream, sugar, milk, and fruit and nut purees as the main ingredient. The difference with gelato is the lower amount of butterfat in it. Instead, gelato is most often flavored with cocoa and purees with fresh fruits and pastes of nut.
Sherbet is essentially sweet water that has been flavored with fruit juice or puree, wine or liqueur. It is then frozen to make a light dessert. It is thought that sorbet is an invention of the Romans or it came from the Middle Eastern drink called carbet, which is sweet fruit juice mixed with water. Unlike ice cream, which has dairy products, sorbet contains none of that, so it's thick and extremely tasty, as well as being refreshing and light. It is often used as a non or low-fat option instead of ice cream.
Traditional Italian Tarts and Pies
Crostata is a traditional Italian dessert that you might have heard of. It is a baked tart and is considered to be a type of pie. Traditional Italian dictates that it's made by folding dough over a marmalade or jam filling. This gives it the look of a tart instead of the round shape of a pie. Common jams that are used for filling include berries, apricots, cherries or peaches. Crostata might also have fresh fruit and pastry cream as a filling, but this changes the name to torta di frutta. One recipe that comes from central Italy uses ricotta mixed with sugar and cocoa or chocolate pieces with anisetta instead of fruit. Then the crostata is called crostata di ricotta.
A Mont Blanc (Italian Montebianco) is also a tart. It has whipped cream and pureed chestnuts on a base of meringue. The meringue looks similar to the Mont Blanc Mountains. This Italian dessert also has a French version called Mont Blanc aux marrons, which means Mont Blanc of chestnuts. The Italian version is literally the name of the mountain. A Mont Blanc is often sprinkled with sugar or cream like a snow topped mountain.
Pastries the Italian Way
Cannoli is a favorite among Italian-Americans, as well as Italians in the country itself. It comes from Sicily. Cannoli tubes are a kind of pastry and are fried then filled with sweet ricotta cheese and a fruit extract called Succade. Many Americans know cannoli tubes as a type of Italian pastry, but in Italy, they are called "Cannoli Siciliani" because of where they originated. Throughout history, Cannoli tubes were made for treats during carnivals or special occasions, but these days they can be found year round.
If you're interested in making a traditional Italian dessert, you'll love the way they incorporate all kinds of sweets, including cookies, chocolates and sweet fresh fruit as well as liqueur and sweet wines. The flavor can range from sweet to just a little bit bitter. Most Italian desserts aren't too sweet and they are made to go with a good Italian wine. You'll find Italian dessert recipes for every kind of dessert lover.