9 Great Italian Desserts

Italian sweets (Dolci) and pastries (Pasticcini) are a delicious option for both a sweet breakfast and a dessert following a delicious meal. The variety of sweets available can be overwhelming and the pressure of having to choose between fantastic options at your favorite restaurant can feel like torture. Take a look at my 9 Favorite desserts and pastries below and plan ahead how you want to enjoy the delicious treats that Italy has to offer.

Types Of Italian Pastries

Selection of Delicious Sweet Treats

Do Italians Eat Sweets For Breakfast?

It was a surprise to me, but Italians do, in fact, eat sweets for breakfast. This might seem shocking, but if you ask around you will learn that Italians enjoy preserves on toast, cookies, and your favorite hazelnut spread on bread.

Classic Sfogliatelle For Breakfast

Sfogliatelle For Breakfast

Classic Italian Pastries

Two offsetting characteristics of the sweet Italian breakfast that are important to consider are that the sweets in Italy are typically not as sweet as the sugar bombs you will find in the US. Secondly, these breakfasts are usually paired with a strong Italian coffee that is stronger (i.e. more bitter) than your typical cup of coffee in the US. The sweetness of the breakfast pairs well with the bitter coffee to create an amazing experience every morning.

There is also a size of the meal that needs to be adhered to. What I mean is when someone eats cookies for breakfast, they are not as sweet as in the US (as I mentioned above), but you also eat only a couple, not the entire bag. The breakfasts are considered light by US standards and really used to combine the sugar with the caffeine to give your body that jolt needed to start the day.

Types of Italian Pastries

Babà With An Espresso

Are Italian Desserts And Pastries the Same Thing?

Desserts and Pastries are not the same thing, but if you poke around online you will see various lists that combine or confuse the two groups. For me, I define a pastry as a type of baked good that includes flour, sugar, butter and possibly some fruit on top. It is possible to eat hot or at room temperature and can be enjoyed for breakfast.

Types of Italian Desserts

Fruit Crostata For Dessert or Breakfast

Types Of Italian Desserts

Desserts are different in that they contain creams, sugars, eggs and are typically a course offered at the end of a meal. They are usually cold, either refrigerated or frozen and sometimes include alcohol or can be paired with a dessert wine.

Names Of Italian Desserts

There are quite a few desserts offered in Italy, and specifically in Rome, that you will find on most menus. The quality of the restaurant will usually dictate the quality of its dessert, but it isn’t always the case. For me, the best desserts are homemade (fatto in casa) and usually include fresh fruit or a fruit compote. My favorite desserts are:

  • Tiramisu – This has been a favorite of mine for a number of years and I have successfully made it myself a few times. It is a layer mixture of Lady Finger cookies (Savoiardi) dipped in espresso, a layered mixture of cream cheese (Mascarpone) and zabaglione. It contains Marsala wine and sometimes some coffee liqueur.
  • Zabaglione – This is a major part of Tiramisu, but it is delicious on its own. It is a mixture of eggs, marsala wine and sugar cooked over a double boiler. It is served cold and is delicious.
  • Panna Cotta – This was one of my biggest and most delightful surprises since coming to Rome. I incorrectly thought it was some type of cake when in reality it is a creamy and sweet pudding that is typically offered with a topping of chocolate sauce, caramel or a compote or syrup of tree fruit (Frutti di Bosco), which include blackberries, raspberries and red currants.
  • Cannoli – This is a delicious deep fried pastry tube that is filled with a mix of sugar and ricotta cheese. This well known pastry originated in Sicily, but can be found all over Italy.
  • Semifreddo – This is a frozen dessert similar to ice cream, but its texture is a little lighter, more similar to a frozen mousse.

Names Of Italian Pastries

As I look at the list below, it becomes obvious that some of my favorite pastries are from Naples. Luckily these are easy to find all around Italy, but it is interesting to note that this is another reason, in addition to Pizza, that Naples definitely deserves a visit.

  • Sfogliatella –  This pastry is one of my favorite foods to come from Naples. There are two kinds, Riccia and Frolla. Riccia is the layered thin pastry that looks like layered leaves and is quite difficult to make. It is filled with a sweetened ricotta cheese and is also popular in the US. The Frolla version is not layered as it is prepared with a shortcrust dough and is much easier to make. I don’t remember ever seeing them in the US.
  • Lobster Tails – These are a variation of the Sfogliatella and are found in the US and Italy. They are larger than the typical Sfogliatelle in Italy, comparable in size to an actual Lobster tail, and are filled with a white cream.
  • Babà – This is a Rum soaked cake, which can be topped with pastry cream, that is popular in Naples. Variations of this treat can actually be found all over Europe, with some people attributing the creation to pastry chefs in France, but with regards to Italy, it is definitely Neapolitan.
  • Crostata – This is similar to a baked tart in that it is a crust filled with slices of apples, peaches or strawberries. These can be topped with pastry strips, but are usually open on top. One version that I think rises above the rest are the crostatas filled with sour cherries, known as Amarena. I wasn’t aware of these cherries, but I immediately fell in love with them and I enjoy any sweet treat that contains them.

There are many more classic pastries and desserts to choose from in Rome, but I thought this would be a good starting point for both breakfast (colazione) and dinner (cena), but now the choice is yours!

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