Features 2 minutes 14 January 2019

More Than Tiramisu: 11 Lesser-Known Italian Desserts

Italy has lots to offer when it comes to the sweeter things in life.

dessert Italian

Elizabeth Gilbert doesn’t hold back on the lavish descriptions about Italian food in her book Eat, Pray, Love. In one chapter, she savors pasta, artichokes and summer squash in Rome, while concluding the feast with a quintessential Italian dessert of tiramisu.

As a country famous for hazelnuts, cheese and chocolate, there’s an abundance of inspiration for Italian pastry chefs to create one classic dessert after another. Here are 11 classic Italian desserts you may not have heard of.


With a name hinting to bomba, the Italian word for bomb, bomboloni is The Boot's answer to the classic doughnut. Filled with strawberry jam, whipped cream or jelly, this small pastry surely tastes more explosive than its adorable look leads on.


A family treat mostly associated with Christmas, pandoro is a creation from Verona in Northern Italy. The bread-dessert hybrid is stuffed with orange, lemon, raisins and other dried fruits—but unlike its more famous cousin panettone, pandoro boasts a more fashionable star shape, with icing sugar sprinkled on top to reference the winter season.


Zeppole is the Southern Belle of Italian desserts, commonly found in the pasticceria on the streets of Naples and Rome. It’s also called zeppole di San Giuseppe as it was first invented to celebrate Saint Joseph’s Day. The dough is deep-fried and sprinkled with icing sugar, giving off a flavor and texture reminiscent of a doughnut. Zeppole is often filled with cream or chocolate, making them even more luxurious. 


True, there’s a lot to love about gelato, but you shouldn’t miss out on the frozen dessert that is semifreddo. With a layer of cake at the bottom and topped with a layer of chilled whipped cream, semifreddo offers a texture similar to a mousse. 


With its bright appearance coming from a coating of marzipan, icing sugar and fruit compote, cassata is as colorful as its birthplace of Palermo, Sicily. Citrus such as orange and lemon are the most iconic toppings, being the island’s signature agricultural products—but the goodies don’t end there. Once cut open, a sponge cake flavored with fresh fruit juice, Sicilian liquor and a thick layer of ricotta cheese are ready to make any dessert fan filled with glee.


Native to Siena, Tuscany, panforte means "firm bread" in Italian. Donning a flat, round shape, it’s durable and delicious. The filling is comprised of various nuts, cinnamon and nutmeg. It's also said that the Crusaders once carried it with them on their quests.


If there’s anything that elevates a dessert, it’s got to be alcohol—and Italians know this principle by heart. There’s rum in tiramisu, and in zabaglione—which is often served with biscotti and fruits—there's Marsala wine. This confection calls for a whisked egg yolk and sugar mixture as the foundation, and after adding the Marsala, it is transferred to a container and cooked in water and stirred until silky smooth. Another great place to taste zabaglione is Argentina (locally known as sabayon) thanks to the large of amount of Italian immigrants there.

Torta Caprese

Legend has it that the dessert hailing from the island of Capri was created out of a happy accident when a chef forgot to add flour to his pastry. Composed of ground almond, chocolate and olive oil, some like to elevate their torta Caprese by adding local liquors like Limoncello or Strega to it.

Brutti ma Buoni

Made in Prato in Tuscany, this quirky biscuit proudly wears its “ugly-but-tasty” name. Made with hazelnut and almond, it has a nice chew thanks to the addition of meringue, and a crunchy exterior. Find these in any family-run pasticceria in the region. 


Sharing ricciareli, almond biscuits with a history dating back to 14th century Siena, is a common Christmas custom in Italy. Thought to be created by Ricciardetto della Gherardesca—a member of the most powerful families in Pisa, after he returned from the Crusade—ricciarelli is made of a flour and ground almond dough and is dusted with icing sugar after baked. The nutty aroma is best paired with a glass of local sweet wine.


Naples-born struffoli is a small spherical fried dough enveloped in honey, cinnamon and citrus peel. Italians like to stack these balls into a tower to make them look more festive and share them with guests before dinner.

This article was written by Tang Jie and translated by Vincent Leung. Click here to read the original version of this story.


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