Italy is home to some of the best food in the world. Italian food is what most European dreams are made of! It’s no shock if you think about it: rich farmland, a robust food culture exploding with artisans and chefs. If you come to Italy, you must try delectable local specialties, traditional pizzas and pastas but you must also indulge in the sweet desserts that are famous in Italy and all over the world! You may only have a day in Italy or a few, but you must cram in at least one famous Italian sweet. Or you can try to extend your ticket instead. 🙂 Don’t fret about calories, you’re on vacation. And if you are on a long-term stay in Italy? Well, you live in Italy so treat everyday like a holiday!
When you are in Italy, you may become overwhelmed by the selection and plethora of sweets in the pastry shops. You may be wondering which one is the best caloric investment, what they are called and what is in them. Don’t scratch your head- just take our suggestions! Let’s say you are here for a week- so try a new Italian dessert a day. Someone once said “an apple (pie) a day keeps the doctor away,” right? Here is what we consider to be the top 7 best sweets to taste in Italy:
The maritozzo is a sweet, fluffy bread found in central Italy but most popular in Rome and is filled with sweet sultanas and pine nuts. It’s origins date back to Ancient Roman times. In the medieval times, this sweet was prepared especially during Lent, thus being the only sin of gluttony allowed on this period of restriction. Today in Rome, the Maritozzo is devoured best with fresh whipped cream (panna) on top. Try this sweet on our Rome Bike Tour with Food Tasting and you’ll discover the best bakeries that produce this historical sweet bread.
Also known as biscotti, Tuscan cantuccini are little cookies baked with almonds. These cookies are baked without yeast, conditioners and usually without butter. It is a simple recipe of flour, sugar, almonds, baking powder and a pinch of salt. In Tuscany, they are a famous sweet because they are usually paired with a dessert wine called Vin Santo, which is a dessert wine with notes of caramel made from dried grapes with a high alcohol and sugar content. You will find many Florentines dunking these cookies in a dessert wine glass after dinner. The Italy Segway staff takes you to taste them on our Florence Food Walking Tour.
Panforte literally means “strong bread” and it is a traditional fruitcake made in Siena. The texture is pretty hard more than what you usually expect of a fruitcake as it is cooked down honey, sugar, spices, fruit and nuts mixed with flour and cooled into a round form and topped with powdered sugar. Each sweet purveyor in Siena boasts their own secret recipe and legend says that this pane should always have 17 ingredients. Our suggestion is to try a slice of CHOCOLATE panforte with a coffee at a beautiful cafe in Siena.
Most specialty shops outside of Italy by now sell Panettone during the holiday months but did you know that this sweet bread originates from Milan? This bread is quite luxurious and has a soft, pillow-like, buttery texture laden with candied orange, lemon zest, fresh raisins, citron and sometimes touched with amaretto. The rising process of this bread can take several days so it is important that you are getting your panettone from a reputable bakery. Nowadays, you can find industrial-produced, quick-risen panettone but we highly suggest getting the real stuff from a bakery without it being loaded with preservatives and cheap fillers like dried lemon instead of fresh lemon zest, for example. One of the best parts about this sweet is that it is best enjoyed with a slightly sweet bubbly like Moscato D’Asti (did someone say wine? yes, please!).
Babà Napoletano, it may sound like a mouthful and it is one of the most wonderful sweets there is! Not only because it comes from Naples, basically the surgeon of all things sweets and pastries, but because it is soaked in BOOZE! Yes, this super soft richer than brioche cake is not only a cake but it is soaked in rum and stuffed with cream. How can you get anything any more decadent than that?? Again, don’t get your baba’ from just any ol’ bakery. Ask a local, make sure you’re getting the real (and fresh) deal.
Holy cannoli! You better not leave Italy without trying a real cannolo! If you have spent any time on the East Coast (America), you’ll probably have seen or tasted this marvel in any traditional Italian deli or bakery. It is the ICON of Sicilian sweets and quite possibly one of the best (and most caloric) sweets on earth. Basically, its is a small sheet of fried pastry dough, rolled into a cylinder and then stuffed with sweet ricotta scented with orange flower water. This sweet filling is sometimes found studded with cassata (candied citrus peel and cherries), pistachios or chocolate! Sometimes you can find a cannolo shell dipped in chocolate- but we think that could be almost too decadent. You can find cannoli all over Italy but of course they are best enjoyed on their home turf. Make sure you find an authentic Sicilian bakery or gelateria should you be in search of a cannolo outside of Sicily.
The beloved Tiramisù…I bet most of you have heard of this one. Espresso soaked lady finger cookies layered with rich, marsala whipped marscapone custard and dusted with dark cocoa- this is a quintessential Italian dessert that you all will inevitably be delighted with during your time in Italy. The name literally means “lift me UP” (tira-mi-SU!) and how can it NOT lift you up? It is a dessert filled with strong espresso, wine (marsala), sugar and a creamy filling- a recipe meant for euphoric side effects!