What’s not to love about Italian food? From pasta to pizza and everything in between, Italian food has it all. And then there are the incredible traditional Italian desserts. Here are some of the best Italian dessert recipes, all of which you can make at home.
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What Is Italian Food Really?
For us, it’s the best food in the world. Growing up in New Jersey we were exposed to Italian food at an early age. Our first trip to Italy in 2000 opened our eyes to a whole new level of Italian food. And even after 20+ trips to Italy our love of all things Italian food continues to grow.
With a handful of regions still yet to explore, we can’t help but head back to our favorite region, Emilia-Romagna. Considered the best culinary region in Italy, its capital city of Bologna is a must for any food lover. For us, no trip to Emilia-Romagna is complete until we enjoy authentic lasagna, proper ragu, and of course some mortadella and Parma ham.
The thing about Italian food, really, is that it is so regional. What’s eaten in the North is not eaten in the South. What we think of as Italian food in the US is often not really traditionally Italian. The same thing goes with traditional Italian baking and desserts!
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Italy’s Regional Cuisine
Many people don’t know that Italy was a highly regionalized country until its unification in 1871. The country was until this time divided into dozens of independent states. Among many things, this division had an enormous effect on Italy’s food. Recipe, ingredients, and cooking techniques stayed within regions. Even to this day, what’s popular to eat in Lombardy isn’t popular in Puglia.
In addition to Italy’s past political divide, Italy’s climate plays a huge role in its regionalized cuisine. In northern Italy close to the Alps, you are going to find heavier dishes made with creams, cheeses, and earthy ingredients like nuts and mushrooms.
Travel south to Sicily or Calabria where summer temperatures can reach into the 90s, and you’ll find an entirely different offering. Dishes in southern Italy are lighter featuring olive oil, garlic, and of course tomatoes.
The regionality of Italy’s food is great giving food lovers a wide pallet of food to experience. But it can get a little out of hand. In our favorite region of Emilia-Romagna, one of the local breads is referred to by different names. If you are from Parma you call it torta fritta. If you are from Modena you call it gnocco fritto. The two cities are only 35 miles apart yet with two different names. Just makes me love Italy even more.
What Are Italian Desserts?
My first experience with Italian desserts were these delicious Italian cookies we would get from our local Italian bakery. To this day I don’t remember the name of the cookie but can still taste them. They were light yet filling. Buttery and not overly sweet. They were perfectly balanced. This balance is indicative of the range and variety of Italian desserts.
Italy’s location in the heart of the Mediterranean has had the biggest influence on its cuisine including desserts. Traders from Africa, the Middle East, and as far as Asia brought spices and ingredients to Italy. Over the centuries, cinnamon, vanilla, and other commonly used dessert ingredients were brought to Italy and found their way into many popular desserts. Desserts like sfogliatella and cannoli owe their existence to the spice trade and outside influence.
The desserts of Italy are mind-blowingly good. In all of our travels to Italy, I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface on Italian desserts. I also feel like there’s a dessert for everyone. If you like cold desserts, there’s semifreddo. Prefer a crunchy dessert, biscotti. Is cake your dessert of choice? In Italy cakes like Italian Sponge Cake, Italian Chocolate Cake, and Italian Apple Cake are waiting to be sampled. And let’s not forget all the incredible pastry of Italy. Hungry yet?
Traditional Italian Desserts
Here are some of the most traditional Italian desserts. You can find the specific Italian dessert recipes at the bottom of the post.
Aside from Ferrari and pizza, there is no other Italian word more recognizable than tiramisu. Arguably the most famous of all Italian desserts, it’s sweet without being overly sweet. Served cool, it’s refreshing after a proper Italian dinner feast. And, it seems like everyone has “the best” tiramisu recipe.
An interesting aspect about tiramisu is that the recipe is fairly new. Unlike many other famous Italian dessert recipes, the recipe for tiramisu dates back to the 1960/70s. There’s debate as to exactly when and where tiramisu was first made. Some say it was created at a restaurant in Treviso, northern Italy. Some say it is an older recipe dating back to the city of Siena in the 17th century. Regardless of when and where, let’s rejoice that we have it.
Like all great desserts, tiramisu only has a handful of ingredients. This lends people to get creative with their recipes. Don’t be surprised if you come across a tiramisu recipe without eggs, tiramisu cheesecake recipes, or a tiramisu trifle.
One of my favorite Italian desserts, panna cotta is a light, creamy dessert made using only a handful of ingredients. The ingredient that gives panna cotta its distinctive form is gelatine. When the panna cotta mixture of dissolved sugar, cream, and flavoring is poured into a mold, the gelatine helps it set.
The origins of panna cotta are grey at best. Believed to have first been made in the Piemonte region of northern Italy, when this happened isn’t clear. Some say a woman in the town of Langhe first made panna cotta back in the early 1900s. What brings this into dispute is that no Italian cookbook before the 1960s mentions panna cotta. There are similar dishes with different names, like “latte Inglese” in older Italian cooks but these recipes call for egg yolks which panna cotta does not.
Panna cotta is an adaptable dessert both in terms of how it can be flavored. Vanilla, coffee, and rum are the most popular ways to flavor the sugar and cream mixture. Several panna cotta recipes call for fruits, nuts, and figs as toppings when serving.
Italian Lemon Cake
Known in Italian as Ciambellone, this sinfully delicious cake is also referred to as Italian Lemon Pound Cake or most commonly as Italian Lemon Cake. One of the most recognizable cakes from Italy, regional variations of this cake can be found throughout Italy.
At its heart, Italian Lemon Cake is a ring-shaped cake made using flour, eggs, milk, and baking powder. The regional variations come into play with some versions using honey instead of sugar to sweeten. Other versions substitute Kamut flour for standard flour. While others substitute butter for oil.
The regional variations don’t stop at the main baking ingredients. While it’s called a lemon cake, it’s coming to see versions using oranges, hazelnuts, or mixed berries. In some parts of Italy like Calabria and Emilia Romagna, small versions are turned into donuts like pastries particularly around holidays like Christmas.
Like making desserts at home? Check out these recipe round ups:
Traditional Irish Dessert Recipes
The Best Spanish Dessert Recipes
Dessert Recipes Made With Coffee
Dessert Recipes from Italy
Our list of dessert recipes includes traditional Italian dessert recipes as well as ones with a modern twist. We’ve tried our best to include as many easy Italian dessert recipes as possible. As we find and test out new recipes, we will continue to update.
Best Italian Dessert Recipes
What’s not to love about Italian food? From pasta to pizza and everything in between, Italian food has it all. And then there are the incredible Italian desserts. Here are some of the best Italian desserts recipes, all of which you can make at home.
Panna Cotta Without Gelatin
This delicious and festive dessert seems complex, but it’s actually quite simple. This easy and delicious recipe is the best panna cotta without gelatin you’ve ever tried!
The Best Chocolate Panna Cotta
Don’t you love recipes that make it look like you spent hours making something that really took minutes? This Chocolate Panna Cotta (a dark chocolate twist in the classic) requires a mere 10 minutes of active time!
Easy Torta di Mele (Italian Apple Cake)
This moist and delicious Italian Apple Cake couldn't be easier to make but it's a failsafe dessert of Italian grandmas everywhere.
Easy Tiramisu Recipe Without Eggs
This tiramisu without eggs recipe is made in individual glasses for effortless summer entertaining. This classic Italian dessert made with ladyfinger biscuits, Kahlua, and creamy mascarpone cheese is epic!
Affogato Recipe - An Italian Drink Dessert
This easy Italian affogato recipe requires just a few minutes and few ingredients. The result is the most delicious classic Italian dessert!
Best Italian Christmas Cookies
Italian Christmas desserts don't have to be just for Christmas. Here's a Christmas cookie recipe you can make all year long! My mother's recipe that we make for all our family holidays, birthdays, weddings, and celebrations. Change the color of sprinkles to match your celebration!
Gluten Free Italian Easter Pie – Pastiera di Grano
Gluten free Italian desserts don't have to be boring. You will love this delicious Gluten-Free Italian Easter Pie! Pastiera di Grano is an Italian dessert traditionally served at Easter but can be enjoyed year-round.
Chocolate Zuccotto Cake
Zuccotto al Gelato is a Classic Italian dessert from Florence, made with an Italian Sponge Cake and 2 or 3 of your favorite ice cream flavors. Adding a chocolate drizzle brings it to the next level!
Italian Lemon Ricotta Cake
This Lemon Ricotta Cake makes the perfect light dessert or afternoon tea cake. The one-bowl Ricotta Cake with Lemon has such a light and fluffy texture - it's like bitting into a cloud!
Sfogliatelle Italian Pastry Recipe
A delicious Neapolitan traditional dessert, Sfogliatelle is a puff pastry that has about the same texture as a croissant - kind of. But its shape is that of a shell or a lobster tail filled with a special yummy custard.
Classic Italian Tiramisu Recipe
This authentic tiramisu recipe with ladyfingers dipped in coffee and rum and layered with a whipped mixture of eggs, sugar, and mascarpone cheese, an easy and authentic homemade Italian dessert.
Italian Chocolate Custard (Bonet alla Piemontese)
An authentic North Italian dessert, ‘Bonet Alla Piemontese’ is an Italian custard dessert sure to impress your friends. A perfect balance of sweet and bitter flavors in every spoonful – it’s not that hard to prepare; it just looks like it!
The Best Tiramisu Recipe You Will Ever Make
Your friends and family will love my tiramisu recipe. It's easy to make and I guarantee it will be the Best Tiramisu you've ever had! Can you believe that this classic dessert can be made in 30 minutes?
Baked Italian Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake
This Italian ricotta cake is super creamy, light, fluffy, and packed with flavors - you would never guess it's a baked cheesecake! It is a crowd-pleasing dessert the whole family will love.
Creamy Vanilla Panna Cotta Recipe
Panna Cotta one of the most delicious Classic Italian Dessert Recipes. A delicate and creamy chilled vanilla flavored treat. Serve it with this easy berry sauce, it makes the perfect Entertaining or Family Dessert.
Italian Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake
This super-rich, creamy, tangy, no-frills, crustless Italian-style cheesecake is easier than you’d think to prepare at home! It’s always a HUGE hit with everyone at the table. Perfect for holiday desserts, dinner parties, and celebratory meals.
Italian Chocolate Mousse Recipe
Chocolate Ricotta Mousse– easy and delicious 5-minute dessert made with ricotta cheese and cocoa powder. This creamy mousse will be your go-to dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth.
FAQs – Best Italian Desserts
Is all of them a correct answer? Some of the most popular Italian desserts include panna cotta, gelato, and of course tiramisu. Italian cuisine is arguably the most popular cuisine in the World thanks in part to its delicious desserts.
With 20 different regions making their own pastries the list of famous Italian pastries is long. At or near the top of that list would be cannoli, biscotti, and sfogliatella.
In Italy, dinners have multiple course including an antipasti, primi (usually pasta), secondi (usually meat), and then dessert. While it’s perfectly ok to eat dessert after pasta, it’s not typically the case in Italy.