Top 10 traditional Italian desserts you should try

Italian desserts

The Italian desserts and pastry cuisine is broad and nearly unsurmountable and holding a list down to just ten examples is quite unfair. However, this dessert list needs to turn into your “kill list” when you are in Italy. These are sweets that really represent Italy in the world. 


Here are some of the Italian dessert names:


Italian desserts - semifreddo

It looks like ice cream (one among other Italian sweets), but it is not exactly. You get it served however at -15º. Semifreddo (which can be translated as half-cold) is made of egg yolks, sugar, cream, and some other flavor… Absolutely yummy! It has variations, such as parfait and biscotto ghiacciato


Italian sweets - tiramisu

One of the most famous Italian desserts, many places are strong contenders for having brought it to the existence, among them the Northeastern small city of Treviso, and the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Since it really is a joy to try, and probably because its ingredients include ladyfingers dipped in coffee layered with a whipped mixture of eggs, sugar, and mascarpone cheese, flavored with cocoa, whoever invented it, got it perfectly right by naming it so (tiramisu can be translated as lift me up). Tiramisu can also be made with strawberry or limoncello: the sky is the limit for imagination as long as it is yummy.


Even though its name translates as “cooked milk”, this Italian sweet is not cooked at all: it receives just enough heat to get gelatin and sugar dissolved. Panna cotta hails from the Piedmont region, and its ingredients are sweetened cream that is thickened with gelatin and molded, plus flavorings such as coffee, rum, vanilla, etc. 


Italian dessert names

An Italian dessert, it shares citizenship also with Portugal. Chocolate salami (in Italian, salame al cioccolato) is made of cocoa, broken biscuitsbuttereggs, and sometimes alcohol such as port wine or rum. It’s become quite a thing around the world, and there are versions of chocolate salami, with shape-shifting names, in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and even South America.


The sole idea of thinking of ricotta inside or as a part of a sweet is mouth-watering, especially if this sweet is the world-widely famous cheesecake. To say it again the other way around, imagine a cheesecake… with ricotta instead of cream cheese. Nothing much more to add, rather go eat one now. If you are able to resist it, you’re just not human.


Cannoli (remember: it’s plural. Cannolo is the corresponding singular noun) are a staple of Sicilian cuisine but are well known on the mainland and absolutely loved among the Italian desserts all around the world. They are tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough that are usually stuffed with a sweet, creamy ricotta-containing filling. Cannoli have been literally in space since, in 2014, authorizations were collected to launch a weather balloon carrying one of these pieces of pastry that would look better on our tables or inside a bakery’s box than floating at 30,000 meters high.


Among TV football color commentators there is an expression for whether a player or a coach will have continuance with their team: “Non siamo sicuri che riuscirà ad arrivare al panettone” (We are uncertain that he will get to panettone time). Based on the player’s or trainer’s performance, that means, they may not finish the year with the team because panettone and Christmas go together like air and smog and, certainly, they may not have the greatest performance ever. The panettone is -in fact- a staple Christmas food in Italy and it has become a celebrity in the rest of the planet. It is basically sweet bread with candied fruits and raisins, and its origins trace us to Milan. Not to be confused with pandoro, which comes from Verona, has no fruit in its composition and it’s covered with icing sugar to make it resemble Christmas snowy mountains.


Sometimes called “lobster tail”, sfogliatelle (sing. sfogliatella) come from the region of Campania. Their origins go back to the 17th century when they were produced in the monastery of Santa Rosa. Sfogliatelle, so denominated because their pastry makes them resemble little leaves, can have orange-flavored ricottaalmond paste and candied peel of citron as filling. Sfogliatella can be riccia (curly, the traditional, Southern variant) or frolla, deprived of the trademark sfogliatelle’s layers.


Originally from France (for the sake of accuracy, Alsace-Lorraine), and with variants across Eastern Europe, this has become a very esteemed among the Italian desserts, particularly those Neapolitan specialties. Babà is a small yeast cake extremely dipped in syrup made with hard liquor (mostly rum, and occasionally with whipped cream or pastry cream inside. Regardless of the familiarities, the Naples version of this sweet has acquired a very characteristic look that makes it unmistakable. 


Last but not least, here we are this big champion of champions when it comes to succumbing to our own sweet tooth. Legend has it that Marco Polo returned from China with a recipe of sorbet, in the same way as rice is credited to be an Italian export to China, while the Asian giant in exchange had Italy discover none other than pasta. The cuisine is thus universal, and gelato has taken over the world by storm. It is known that Cosimo Ruggeri created the first gelato flavor, fior di latte, still very common and tasty.

Do you want to learn Italian? Sign up for our online courses!

Follow us on YouTubeInstagram and Facebook!