13 Italian Dessert Recipes to Try at Home


If you’re looking for something sweet for a special occasion or a weeknight meal, you can try Italian dessert recipes, which vary from tiramisu and cannoli to affogato and gelato.

5 Common Italian Desserts Ingredients

There are a few ingredients that you will use when making Italian desserts. The following comprise just a few of the traditional ingredients in classic Italian pastries and cookies:

1. Candied fruit: In Italy, canditores turn dried fruit into confections. Desserts like panforte traditionally feature bright green candied citron, candied melon, and candied orange peel.

2. Flour: Type 0 flour—which contains 11–12 percent protein—is what Italian generally use.

3. Nuts and drupes: Desserts can feature many types of nuts and drupes, such as unpeeled whole almonds, walnuts, and ground hazelnuts.

4. Spices: Some desserts include spices, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, red or black pepper, coriander, cloves, star anise, ginger, allspice, and chili powder.

5. Sweeteners and flavorings: Honey, vanilla, sugar, and caramel are common sweeteners.

List of Italian Desserts

You can make many classic Italian desserts and Italian pastries at home by following easy recipes with ingredients you can find at the grocery store. Choose from the following traditional Italian desserts and easy Italian desserts, like a creamy tiramisu recipe or a crunchy biscotti cookie, to make for a post-dinner treat or for special occasions like Valentine’s day.

1. Affogato: Affogato al caffè, or affogato for short, is an Italian dessert consisting of a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream or gelato. The term “affogato” means “drowned” in Italian, which is an apt name because when the hot espresso hits the ice cream, the desserts melts and forms a latte-like mix of espresso and cream. If you have an espresso machines, you can easily whip up affogato al caffè.

2. Biscotti: These cookies are typically twice-baked and dunked in espresso drinks. You can make your own biscotti recipes at home or try variations like almond biscotti or hazelnut biscotti.

3. Cannoli: Hailing from Sicily, a biscotti is a crispy, tubular shell stuffed with a creamy filling, typically ricotta, mascarpone cheese, or both. Several variations of cannoli exist, including shells dipped in pistachios and chocolate chips. You can find the necessary ingredients to make cannoli at the grocery store, but seek a specialty shop for cannoli shell molds. If you opt to make the dessert ahead of time, store the filling in the refrigerator and the fried sheels in an airtight container at room temperature.

4. Gelato: To make this frozen dessert—which has a thick, creamy consistency and rich flavor—combine milk, cream, and sugar. Gelato, which you can find around the world, usually features the same base ingredients, but regional differences can make for different recipes. For example, in northern Italy and the United States, you will find gelato with more cream and egg yolks to thicken the final product and prevent ice crystals from forming. The south of Italy uses cornstarch as a thickening agent.

5. Granita: Originating in Sicily, granita is a simple Italian dessert made of sweetened fruit purée that you freeze and shave into an icy, crystalized treat. While you make granita from the same base ingredients, these frozen treats differ slightly in texture. Sorbet has a smooth, creamy quality, reminiscent of gelato or ice cream, while granita has a flaky texture comparable to a snow cone. This Italian staple is a dairy-free and gluten-free dessert that requires only a few ingredients including fruit, sugar, and water.

6. Italian Christmas cookies: This dessert is a combination of pantry staples, like flour, a leavening agent, sugar, butter, and vanilla or anise flavoring. Italian Christmas cookies have a soft, cake-like texture, and they fall apart in your mouth.

7. Italian meringue: To get this meringue, beat egg whites to firm peaks, then slowly whisk in hot sugar syrup to produce a dense meringue with a satiny texture similar to a mousse that you can use as-is to top cakes and pies or as a base for buttercream frosting. Learn how to make Italian meringue.

8. Lemon ricotta cake: Ricotta cake is an airy, Italian-inspired dessert similar to cheesecake that owes its rich flavor and moist, tender texture to the addition of creamy ricotta cheese, a soft, white cheese made from cow’s milk and leftover whey—the watery part of milk that’s separated from the curds during cheesemaking. This classic lemon ricotta cake recipe features the bright, acidic flavor of lemon for a simple, not-too-sweet dessert that you can serve for breakfast or brunch. Top slices of this buttery lemon cake with a dollop of homemade whipped cream and fresh berries for a summery confection your dinner party guests will love.

9. Panforte: A fruitcake made with nuts, spices, and candied fruit, panforte is a Christmas holiday treat. The word “panforte” means “strong bread,” a fitting name for this dense cake, which you can serve with tea or coffee.

10. Panettone: Panettone is an Italian sweet bread loaf originating from Milan, traditionally produced during the holiday season on Christmas and New Year’s. A panettone—which translates to “big bread loaf”—is a large, dome-shaped sweet bread that you leaven with yeast. It has a light and airy texture, with a rich and buttery taste.

11. Panna cotta: Panna cotta, Italian for “cooked cream,” is a dessert made with lightly sweetened milk and cream, which you then chill and set with gelatin in small bowls or ramekins. The creamy dessert has the consistency of an airy custard or pudding. Before you serve panna cotta, invert it onto a small plate—though you can also eat it straight from the ramekin with a spoon. The cream base of the panna cotta can incorporate any number of additional flavorings (vanilla is the most common). Panna cotta toppings can include everything from fresh fruit coulis to a drizzle or coating of caramel sauce, similar to a flan or crème caramel.

12. Tiramisu: Tiramisu is a no-bake Italian dessert. Classic tiramisu features alternating layers of ladyfinger (savoiardi) sponge cake biscuits dipped in espresso and a thick, creamy blend of nutty mascarpone cheese with egg yolks, sugar, whipped cream, and, occasionally, liquor (like a coffee liqueur or marsala wine). Dust the final layer with bittersweet cocoa powder or fine chocolate shavings.

13. Zuppa Inglese: Zuppa Inglese is a decadent trifle dessert consisting of layers of velvety vanilla and chocolate pastry cream (crema pasticcera) and airy ladyfinger cookies soaked in a specialty Italian liqueur called alchermes. This cousin of tiramisu is also similar to a traditional English trifle. (Its name, after all, translates to “English soup.”) This trifle’s distinct color and flavor comes from alchermes, a potent, sweet, and spicy aromatic herb liqueur recognizable by its bright red tone. Learn how to make zuppa Inglese.

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