Italian cuisine is probably one of the most simple yet satisfying, and when it comes to Italian cakes and pastries, what’s more, straightforward than flour, sugar, eggs, butter, and milk? But it’s what Italians can do with such simple ingredients that makes Italian pastries so unique. So let’s explore some of the best pastries you must eat when traveling to Italy.
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Best Italian Sweets and Pastries You Must Try
So when you’re on your travels, eyeing up all the delicious Italian cakes and pastries, and your mouth is watering looking in the windows of all the delightful-looking bakeries in Italy, how are you supposed to make your mind up about which one to choose? Our Italy travel advice includes, perhaps, eat them all!
Well, I am here to help with that. I have put together this Italian pastries list to show you which are my favorite 13 pastries in Italy. I will also be looking into the history of the treats, and learning about the Italian pastries names.
So in no particular order, let’s take a look at my favorite Italian pastry types.
The name Cassata originates from the Arabic qas’at, meaning “basin.” This is likely because of the rounded shape or the creamy ricotta filling. This Italian dessert dates back to the 9th century and is still a popular family favorite across Italy.
Cassata Siciliana is made using water, sugar, almond flour, and bright green food coloring, where it gets its statement appearance. It is baked by placing shortcrust pastry into a metal baking tray, then putting in the ricotta and chips, finishing with biscuits, and baking for around half an hour before cooling, turning upside down and finishing with powdered sugar.
It is a fun-looking, vibrant cake usually topped with fruit such as glace cherries and mandarin segments. For something a little more simple at home, try this Italian lemon cake recipe.
These Italian filled pastries are a massive part of Italian cuisine and can be found in cafes, restaurants, and bakeries all over the country. They originally came from Sicily.
These tube-shaped sweet snacks are usually filled with sweet ricotta cheese, and the pastry is made from sugar, butter, flour, coffee, and cocoa.
They range in size and are often served on the side of a cup of Italian coffee or as an entire dessert.
And, when it comes to what food Italy is famous for, this is probably one of the most well-known Italian pastries. One I certainly grew up eating in NJ.
This famous Italian-baked dessert was invented sometime during the 18th century. The chef who first created pasticciotto was called Andrea Ascalon. It’s a popular pastry from Italy and a typical Puglia food.
The traditional way to make this is using shortcrust pastry using lard, which makes it beautifully moist and crumbly. More often than not, they are filled with sweet ricotta cheese or egg custard.
These bite-size sweet treats are usually only about 1 inch thick, so they are perfect if you want to quickly cure a sweet craving. Generally, though, you will see them being served as an Italian breakfast pastry and are enjoyed fresh out of the oven.
These impressive Italian flakey pastries were traditionally seen around Italy during Easter. When eating in Naples, they are available year-round.
Sometimes they are referred to as lobster tails because of their shape; they are shaped like a curled shell, which is then filled with a sweet cream, which is more like the consistency of frosting rather than custard or whipped cream. If I was to compare them to anything, I would say they have a similar texture to that of a croissant.
Most places you visit in Italy that sell pastry like confectionery are likely to have these on sale, and quite often, they will differ in flavor and texture, though the concept will be the same. For example, some people use almond paste or custard with candied peel to fill their sfogliatella.
Italian Zeppole is a staple in places such as Rome and Naples and is believed to have originated in Rome around the 18th century. As they have become more popular over the years, they can now be found all over Italy, especially Sicily and nearby Malta. To me, it’s equally likely to have a zeppole memory from the NJ shore as it is from a small Italian town.
This Italian pastry is what you would call a deep-fried dough ball. They can vary in size depending on where you get them from, but generally, they tend to be around 4 inches.
The recipe is relatively simple, consisting of flour, eggs, salt, sugar, baking powder, and vanilla extract, plus a filling of choice, which can vary from jam and custard to butter and honey.
Also known as Angel Wings, Italian chiacciere is a pastry often enjoyed by locals during carnival times.
They are a sweet, light, and crispy snack that is made from dough that has been twisted into a ribbon-like shape. They are then dusted in powdered sugar and served as a tasty snack.
In some traditions, husbands are known to give their wives angel wings on Friday the 13th, so they don’t get any back luck.
Italian Panettone is something you will often see across Italy during Christmas, though because it’s such a popular dessert, some places tend to sell it all year round. The first time we ate panettone was when spending Christmas along the Italian Riveria over 20 years ago. We’ve also visited Italy in December and had panettone in Bologna, one of the best food cities in Italy.
The flavors are subtle, it’s incredibly aromatic, and feels luxurious and indulgent to eat.
It is made using flour, yeast, water, butter, egg yolk, caster sugar, honey, vanilla, and sometimes added citrus, candied peel, or raisins.
It is quite a complex dish to make and takes many steps and a lot of time, so unless you have a lot of patience in the kitchen, I would highly recommend buying this from a restaurant.
Biscotti, which also goes by the name Cantuccini in some parts of Italy, is a traditional Italian baked dessert originating from towns in Tuscany.
Biscotti are a slightly sweet Italian snack. They are often served alongside a hot drink such as creamy Italian coffee, making the perfect dunker.
They are a kind of biscuit/cookie often jeweled with nuts or dried fruit. They are also twice baked, making them extremely dry and almost dehydrated, which means they can be made in advance and stored for long periods.
Fiocco di Neve
This one is a much more modern Italian pastry snack that is becoming widely popular across the country.
The other name for Fiocco di Neve is the snowflake cake. This is because they resemble snowballs in appearance. They are dusted with powdered sugar and filled with a creamy white center like sweet, thickened milk.
The pasty is similar to a brioche, so they are pretty dense, but when they’re served warm, they instantly melt in your mouth.
This Italian pastry is often referred to by tourists as the Italian version of a donut. They’re hugely popular all over the country and can be found in almost any Italian bakery, cafe, or pastry stall.
Bomboloni originally come from Toscana, central Italy, and are thought to have been invented sometime during the 19th century.
It won’t surprise you to learn that the word Bomboloni stems from the word “bomb,” This is because when you first bite into them, they explode with oozing cream.
The fillings are made with sugar, vanilla, lemon, and egg yolk but sometimes with other ingredients depending on where you go.
Babà al rum
Babà al rum is a Neapolitan pastry in Italy that comes from Naples. It is a baked dough that is shaped a bit like a mushroom and then soaked in rum and syrup.
The name itself translates to rum-soaked grandmother, which makes sense since when you’re eating this dessert, you can taste just how much rum has been used, so probably not one to feed the kids.
These horn-shaped pasties are an indulgent treat that resembles the cannoli I discussed earlier. As you’ve probably noticed, they are even similar in name. The main difference is that the Italian Cannoncino is a bit smaller and fried.
You will come across these all over when traveling around Italy, and you will likely see them in a wide variety of flavors, such as pistachio, fruit, buttercream, chocolate, sweet wine cream, and almond paste.
It is usually served as a main dessert with fresh Italian fruit and whipped cream.
Another dessert originating from Naples, and goes back hundreds of years, is the Struffoli. The name comes from the word Strongoulous, which is a Greek word meaning round in shape.
Struffoli is a fried honey ball similar to a donut, so you can imagine how good they taste.
It is a religious and essential tradition that the best quality Nepalese honey is used when preparing these deep-fried balls of goodness.
They are made using flour, butter, sugar, orange peel, and aniseed liquor which is then made into bitesize balls and deep-fried. Once they are crispy and golden brown, they are drenched in honey and often topped with candied fruit.
Summary of the Best Italian Pastries
So if you’re planning a trip to Italy for food anytime in the future and want to make a list of all things you want to try while you’re there, then these 13 amazing treats can be added to your list immediately. It’s almost like creating a packing list for Italy, but of the best foods to eat.
Hopefully, I have provided you with everything you need to know and given you some helpful information, including Italian pastry names and their background about where the pastries came from.
Culinary Travel To Italy
Our Italy Travel Experience
Our first trip to Italy was in 2000, and since then, we’ve taken dozens of trips to Italy to almost every region. Our most recent trip was in 2022.
This is easier for us as we live in Europe. We’ve taken food tours, cooking classes, visited wineries, and dined at some of the best restaurants in Italy. We are experts at Italy travel and, more importantly, eating in Italy.
Check out Amber’s book, the Food Traveler’s Guide To Emilia Romagna, which is available on Amazon. In addition to being a culinary travel guide to the region, it walks through how many of the typical Italian food products are made, like mortadella, prosciutto, and Parmigiano Reggiano.