Looking for the Best Desserts In Italy? me too!
I am such a sweet tooth. If arguably you catch me in a bad mood, tired or just bored, then a confectionery will lift my spirits, which is why I am such a lover of dessert. In this post, I explore various desserts, mainly from arguably the culinary capital, Italy.
But first, let me take you through the origins and history of dessert.
So, what is a dessert?
The word Dessert comes from a French word meaning ‘to remove what has been served’ or deserve or as the French say desservir. The word can be traced as far back as 1539 in France, used to refer to what you ate after a meal had been cleared from the table. Though the origin of desserts is lost in history, it was initially a preserve of the rich in the Middle Ages. They ate desserts like jelly and preserved fruits. Sugar was an expensive commodity to the masses in the middle ages, hence why it was a preserve of the rich. However, poor people tried making their delicacies using honey, which was more readily available. Desserts can also be traced to the 15th century in Italy, where the Romans used eggs for binding and to make the custard.
Desserts appear in our menu and course meals because they compensate for low blood sugar. Sugar and sweets improve our presumed hormones of happiness. Hence, the craving for sweet things when trying to enhance our moods or are feeling low.
In other parts of the world, such as central and western Africa and most parts of China, there is no known traditional culture of serving dessert after a meal. However, in modern times, the interaction of cultures, urbanization, and globalization have made dessert a global product in most cultures around the world. These cultures have expanded their menus and for desserts, including some of their most cherished delicacies. So today, the best desserts may not necessarily be found in the origins of the culture in central Europe. However, this may be subjective and depends on one’s taste.
Nevertheless, I think we can all agree that the best desserts in the world are probably those on Italian menus. The Italians have perfected the art of pastry, wines, and confectioneries, among many other delicacies.
Today we examine the Top 10 Italian desserts and their origins:
Types of Desserts in Italy
This may be a reasonably new dessert that is credited to the 20th century Italians. It is probably the most popular dessert in recent times. It is a stacking of coffee dipped savoiardi (sponge finger biscuits) and a paste of sugar, eggs, and cheese, which is sometimes juiced up with liquor. It is a creamy, soft, and smooth dessert that is usually served in a cup or a glass and traditionally eaten with a spoon. Tiramisu is an Italian phrase that means pick me up, owing to the sugar, liquor, and coffee effect associated with the dessert.
The origins of Tiramisu are heavily disputed between Friuli-Venezia Giulia and the Veneto regions, with both fiercely claiming its origin. The recipe was first printed in the 1981 spring edition of the magazine Vin Veneto which was interpreted to mean that its origin is from Veneto. But Friuli-Venezia Giulia would get their revenge 37 years later when their recipe for Tiramisu was officially recognized and added to the list of traditional regional dishes. As if that was not the end of the scuffle, a Veneto local won the Tiramisu world cup later that year. So the saga continues.
the first viagra
Even more bazaar in Tiramisu’s history is its dalliance with Italian brothels in the early parts of the 20th century. As sweet and innocent as it looks, Tiramisu is considered by many as history’s first Viagra. Its checkered past begins in the town of Treviso, which was known since its medieval times as a town whose inhabitants were wild, epicure, and fun-loving people. Brothels were a thriving business, and farmers who had come from a long day of work would seek pleasure in these brothels. However, there was a challenge; most of these farmers would be tired and fatigued from a long day of physical labor. Therefore the prostitutes would serve a dish of what was then known as “sbatudìn.” An energetic mixture that many joked could raise the dead. The phrase “sbatudìn” means “gimme a shake; bang me.” This mixture would energize the men and keep them going all night, and subsequently, more money for the prostitutes. Later, the wives discovered the mixture and were apparently used to help young mothers recover their energies after childbirth and is even fed to children to help them grow strong. At the time, brothels were considered places where high-end people such as priests, politicians, and business people mingled. When the Italian government banned brothels in 1958, the recipe continued to be used and was the foundation for the modern-day Tiramisu. It comically gives a new meaning to the ‘lift me’ translation of Tiramisu.
One of Sicily‘s best creations. Crispy fried pastry tubes filled with ricotta cheese cream. Cannoli are believed to have originated in the 9th century in the town of Palermo when Sicily was under Arab rule. The nuns would prepare this dish in the monasteries during the carnival festivals. Cannoli has become popular not just in Italy but also in North America, where it was introduced in the 19th century by Sicilian immigrants. Some even attribute its popularity to the great movie ‘The Godfather,’ where one of its famous lines was ‘Leave the gun, Take the Cannoli.’
Although the Americans make it in different versions, the Italians still maintain the traditional recipe of the Cannoli. The crispy pastry shells are lined with cocoa, suet, and Marsala wine. The ricotta is sometimes enriched with chocolate, orange peel, or chopped pistachios.
It derives its name from canna, a cane reed that was usually cut into sections and used as a mold for frying the pastry shells. Metal cylinders have since replaced the cane reed. Of importance to note is that the pastry shells are always filled just before serving to avoid them getting soggy and ensure the shells remain crispy amid the creamy ricotta on the inside.
This is one of the most fabulous recipes to come out of Naples. Though Naples is known for its invention of the Pizza, it does have a long history of creating confectioneries and now desserts. And among those many inventions, Sfogliatelle deserves an honorable mention. It is a crispy, multi-layered shell of thin pastry shaped like the tail of a lobster and filled with ricotta cheese, candied fruits, semolina, eggs, and sugar. Just like the Cannoli, it was created by Nuns in a monastery who figured out a way to utilize the leftover semolina. What a Blessing!
This Italian dessert is made of cheese or cream and fruit in a crusty pastry. It resembles a pie filled with fruit. The most commonly used fruits are apricots, berries, cherries, or peaches. It can be prepared as an open desert or covered in a crust. Its most popular version in the south of Italy is the Crostata di ricotta, while the north of Italy prefers the creamy and fruity crostata that originated in Rome. There are other versions, such as the crostata al Limon (with lemon) or the crostata di marmalade (with jam).
5. Zuppa Inglese
How is an Italian delicacy named after England? Well, this dessert has quite a murky history that is short on documentation or evidence but filled with fanciful legend. It is not clear why it was named after England, and some say it is because it was initially made with rum, which was popular among English sailors, while others say it resembles the English truffle.
Its Recipe is typical. It has several coatings of sponge cake or savoiardi that are immersed in a bowl full of Alchermes (a pinkish liquor which replaced the rum) crema pasticcera (a lemon custard) and may at times feature a chocolate cream. It is usually set out in a see-through glass so that one can see the different colored layers and is sometimes covered with chocolate chips or crunchy almonds.
6. Crostata ricotta e visciole
A classic dessert born out from the Jewish relations with the Romans. It is traced back to the eighteenth century where a papal decision made it illegal for Jewish people to continue trading dairy products with Christians. The Jews then got creative with their Christian counterparts. The Jews would hide the ricotta cheese in the middle of two layers of cherries and pastry. Today the dessert is popular among Italian restaurants, especially in the Jewish quarter of Rome. The disparity between the pleasant taste of cheese and the acetic taste of the fruits, such as black cherries, is what makes the Crostata ricotta e visciole an unforgettable experience.
7. Torta Barozzi (Emilia-Romagna)
It was a gorgeous ‘black cake’ as was initially called before it was named after a famous regional architect Jacopo Barozzi in 1907. It is made of coffee, peanuts, almonds, and a version of black chocolate. Its origins can be traced to the small village of Vignola near Modena. It is credited to a chef in the late nineteenth century called Eugenio Gollini, whose namesake uncle owned a bakery known as Gollini bakery. He trademarked the name and kept the recipe a secret. The bakery still exists to date, and the dessert has become legendary and is one of the region’s most fabulous culinary creations.
8. Panforte di Siena
It is a traditional Italian dessert, also known as a Siena cake. The modern version is typically made with dried fruit, nuts, and a significant amount of spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom. The ingredients are then mixed with a sugary syrup, usually made of butter, honey, and sugar. The cake is then dusted with powdered sugar. This forms an unusually dense cake with a fascinating flavor combination.
Its origins can be traced to the 13th century in Siena, a city in Tuscany. The dessert was central in the battle of Montaperti when the dessert was regularly prepared for Sienese soldiers. However, the original panforte was made by Nuns, who would dust it with white pepper, which gave it a unique taste.
The recipe was then slightly altered to soften the flavors when the British Queen visited Siena in the 19th century.
9. Monte Bianco or Mont Blanc
A dessert made with sweetened chestnuts topped with lightly whipped cream. It was named after Mont Blanc, which is the highest mountain in the Alps because the dessert resembles a snow-capped mountain. The Alps are situated at the border of France and Italy. So just like everything at the edge, the origins of this dessert are disputed between the two countries.
The Italian version Monte Bianco is made with pureed boiled chestnuts flavored with cocoa, rum, vanilla, sugar, and a dash of salt, decorated with whipped cream. The French version, Mont Blanc, is enriched with a crispy meringue base.
The French claim bragging rights for the invention of the Japanese Monburan, which was created by a certain Mr. Sakota when on a trip to Paris, France. He was so impressed by its taste that he went back to Japan and opened a pastry shop in Tokyo, offering the Japanese version made with chestnuts in syrup. Nowadays, Monburan is standard in every Japanese pastry shop and is being provided in numerous colors due to additional strawberries, matcha tea, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes.
10. Baci di dama
These are traditional hazelnut butter cookies with a layer of chocolate-hazelnut spread sandwiched between them. They originated in Tortona, Piedmont, in the 19th century. The identity of these cookies comes from the resemblance they have to two mouths kissing or the mouth of a lady. Traditionally women never used to open their mouths while kissing as it was considered crude and uncivilized. Baci di dama are usually made our holiday cookies and have been severally referred to as the Italian version of Oreos.
Best Dessert in Italy
Even though Italy has so many desserts in various regions, my best dessert has to be my number one on this list, the Tiramisu. It is quite common around the world, and anyone who is on a culinary tour or journey is likely to find it in most cities. Its rich taste and combination of potent ingredients such as coffee and chocolate give it a distinct flavor that is quite memorable. I prefer the alcohol version since it helps me kill two birds with one stone. The feeling after you have had a glass of Tiramisu is one that is uplifting and gives me a sense of accomplishment. I would recommend the Tiramisu to anyone who is looking to experience a classic and self-fulfilling dessert.