Classic Italian Desserts

Image courtesy of Rebecca Siegel

With its beautiful weather, fresh natural ingredients and rich culinary history, Italian food is famous across the world for its incredible tastes, with classic Italian dishes such as pasta, pizza and salumi among the most popular. However, it’s not just savoury food that Italy does well – the country is responsible for a mouthwatering variety of delicious desserts and sumptuous sweet treats. From creamy confections to tasty biscuits, Italy offers something for everyone – here’s our pick of classic Italian desserts you have to taste for yourself.

Image courtesy of Karen Neoh

Tiramisu

Translating as ‘cheer me up’, tiramisu is one of the most popular Italian desserts around the world. The recipe has been transformed and adapted to many variations over the years, but the classic tiramisu features lady’s fingers dipped in coffee, layered with a whipped mixture of eggs, sugar and mascarpone cheese, flavoured with cocoa. 

The original recipe is said to date back to the 1960s in Treviso, and is believed to have been created by a confectioner named Roberto Linguanotto, owner of "Le Beccherie" and his apprentice, Francesca Valori, whose maiden name was Tiramisu.

Image courtesy of Terren

Gelato

While many people think that gelato is simply the Italian name for the usual ice-cream that is enjoyed all over the world, there are some distinct differences between the two. Italians are passionate about gelato and it is a dessert that dates back centuries — Sicilians used to bring ice from the mountains and mix it with fruits for a delicious indulgence – meaning the Italian gelaterias have had a long time to perfect the art. 

Gelato is required by Italian law to be lower in fat than ice-cream and it omits the extra air whipped into ice cream, so is denser, smoother and richer. In addition it is also served a degree or two warmer than ice-cream, resulting in a more immediate yet satisfying melt and flavour.

Panettone

If you mention Christmas to any Italian there’s sure to be one dessert that they all speak fondly of – panettone.

Hailing from Milan with origins dating as far back as the Roman Empire, this sweet bread loaf is made with great care and over a longer period of time than most other cakes – the dough is cured and proofed over several days and is made to rise three times before cooking, giving the panettone its distinctive fluffy texture. The cake also includes candied orange, citron, lemon zest and raisins, and is traditionally served as part of Italian Christmas and New Year celebrations.

Image courtesy of Cindy Kurman, Kurman Photography

Panna cotta

If you’re after a dessert that’s creamy, delicious and goes well with more fruity treats, you’re guaranteed to love panna cotta. The recipe involves combining gelatin with sweetened cream, which is often flavoured with rum, coffee or vanilla, before being left to set in a mold and served cold.

Panna cotta is usually served with a coulis of berries or other fruits, liquers or chocolate sauce, resulting in a dessert that is refreshing and sweet. The official origin of panna cotta is often disputed, although it is mostly agreed that it is a traditional dessert of Piedmont and it was not mentioned in Italian cookbooks before the 1960s.

Image courtesy of Ben Dalton

Amaretti Biscuits

Amaretti biscuits are perhaps the most indulgent of Italian treats, as it is impossible to eat just one! Not too sweet, with a captivating bitterness and a texture that is crisp on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside, amaretti biscuits make a delicious after-dinner treat.

Consisting of crushed almonds, sugar and egg whites, this simple recipe is associated with the small town of Saronno and has a charming story. In the early 18th century, a Milanese bishop surprised the town of Saronno with a visit. A young couple welcomed him and paid tribute with an original confection that formed the basis for traditional amaretti. These pleased the visiting bishop so much that he blessed the two with a happy and lifelong marriage, resulting in the preservation of the secret recipe over many generations.