Last updated on November 6th, 2023
You’re probably familiar with the Italian classics like tiramisù, gelato and panettone, but Italian desserts encompass so much more than what typically comes to mind.
Desserts in Italy are typically small in size but perfectly sweet. For Italians, less in more when it comes to eating desserts.
And like most Italian food, the desserts vary from region to region. What you find in Piedmont will greatly differ from what is served in Sicily.
Whether you are baking at home, planning your next trip to Italy, or simply want to drool on your desktop, this is the article for you! I will cover Italy’s most delicious desserts, how to pronounce them and where to find them.
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Delicious Italian Desserts
|Name||Description||Region to eat it|
|Bonèt||chocolate creme caramel||Piedmont|
|Zabaione||sweet cream made with wine||Piedmont|
|Maritozzi||sweet bun filled with whipped cream||Lazio (Rome)|
|Tiramisù||lady fingers dipped in coffee and layed with mascarpone cream||Veneto/Friuli-Venezia Giulia|
|Torta novecento||a mousse between chocolate cake||Piedmont|
|Gianduia||chocolate hazelnut spread||Piedmont|
|Gianduiotto||creamy hazelnut chocolates||Piedmont|
|Gelato||Italian ice cream||everywhere|
|Panna cotta||chilled sweetened cooked cream||Piedmont|
|Tartufo di pizzo||a molten chocolate filling encased in two layers of gelato||Calabria|
|Delizia al limone||sponge cake filled with lemon custard||Campania|
|Sfogliatella||puff pastry filled with a semolina and ricotta filling||Campania (Naples)|
|Struffoli||balls of deep fried dough coated in honey||All regions but Campania specifically|
|Torta della nonna||custard filled tart||Tuscany|
|Cantuccini||twice-baked, crunchy almond cookies||Tuscany (Prato)|
|Babà napoletano||A soft sponge cake soaked in citrus syrup||Campania|
|Torta ricotta e pera||A hazelnut sponge cake layered with a ricotta cream and pear filling||Campania (Amalfi Coast)|
|Pandoro||A light and fluffy sweet bread dusted with powdered sugar||Veneto|
|Panettone||A brioche bread dotted with candied fruits and raisins||Lombardy (Milan)|
|Zeppole||Deep fried dough balls filled with pastry cream||Campania (Naples|
|Pasticciotto||custard flavored with black cherries baked into a pie crust||Puglia|
|Strudel||Crisp pastry wrapped around spiced apples||Trentino-Alto Adige|
|Zuppa inglese||sponge cake soaked in Alchemers liqueur and layered with pastry cream||Emilia-Romagna (Ferrara)|
|Sbrisolona||crunchy, crumbly, buttery cake made with lots of nuts||Lombardy (Mantua)|
|Pan di spagna||a simple sponge cake||Ligura|
|Granita con brioche||flavored shaved ice served with a brioche bun||Sicily|
|Cassata siciliana||sponge cake flavored with liquor, chocolate and ricotta cream topped with a thin layer of marzipan||Sicily|
|Torta setteveli||layers of chocolate sponge cake, praline crunch and hazelnut Bavarian cream||Sicily|
|Cannoli||dried pastry shells filled with either a sweet ricotta filling||Sicily|
|Schiacciata alla fiorentina||a light and airy vanilla cake sometimes filled with chantilly cream||Tuscany (Florence)|
|Castagnole||fried dough balls||Everywhere|
|Chiacchiere||Crispy fried dough dusted with powdered sugar||Everywhere|
|Semifreddo||Frozen whipped cream and meringue|
|Affogato||a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of cream flavored ice cream||Everywhere|
|Crostata||shortcrust pastry filled with jam||Everywhere|
|Ciambella||simple ring cake that is sometimes flavored with lemon zest or vanilla||Everywhere|
|Millefoglie||puff pastry filled with pastry cream||Everywhere but especially Tuscany|
This is a type of chocolate creme caramel made with amaretti cookies traditionally made into a ring mold. Today, it is made in different shapes and either spooned out, sliced or served in individual ramekins. This is my favorite Piemontese dessert!
Where to Eat It: “L’Acino” in Turin
(Pronounced zah-bi-oh-neh in Italian)
A custard cream made with egg yolks, sugar and sweet wine. It’s often eaten with a spoon and/or served with cookies such as savoiardi or krumiri for dipping. It’s also used in many other Italian dessert recipes.
Where to Eat It: Piedmont
(Pronounced mah-ree-tohz-zee in Italian)
A sweet bun that is sliced in half and filled with whipped cream. Roman’s like to eat them for breakfast with coffee. Maritozzi translates to “almost-husband” referring to the young grooms-to-be who would give these treats to their fiancées.
Where to Eat It: “Pasticceria Regoli”, “Roscioli Caffe” or “Il Maritozzario”, all in Rome
(Pronounced Teer-ah-mee-soo in Italian)
Its name means “pick me up” and that is exactly what this coffee-based dessert is intended to do. Lady finger cookies are dipped in strong coffee and layered between a sweet mascarpone cream.
Make It: Check out our authentic recipe for Authentic Italian Tiramisù Recipe – The Only One You’ll Ever Need (+ Tips)
(Pronounced tohr-tah noh-veh-chen-toh in Italian)
Meaning “nine hundred cake”, this is a cake made from chocolate mousse sandwiched between two layers of chocolate cake. The recipe was a secret for years until 1972 when the recipe was sold to the Pasticceria Balla in Ivrea.
Where to Eat It: “Pasticceria Balla” in Ivrea, Piedmont
(Pronounced jahn-doo-yah in Italian)
The famous chocolate maker Michele Prochet used pulverized hazelnuts as a way to stretch his chocolate when Napoleon put a ban on British goods entering French occupied territories. And so gianduia was born. Today, Nutella is the most commonly known gianduia on the market.
Where to Eat It: Piedmont
(Pronounced jahn-doo-yoht-toh in Italian)
A smooth chocolate made from cocoa, sugar and hazelnut paste. Many commercial brands make their own versions of these chocolates that you can easily find at supermarkets throughout Italy but the artisan ones are so much better!
Where to Eat It: “Baratti & Milano” in Turin, Piedmont
(Pronounced jeh-lah-toh in Italian)
Italian gelato is one of Italy’s most world-renowned desserts and for good reason: it’s simply the best. It is made with less cream and more milk than American ice cream and served at a higher temperature, making it more creamy. Look for hole-in-the-wall joints with flavors that are made in small batches, not mounds of brightly colored gelato piled high in the store front.
Where to Eat It: “Gelateria Alberto Marchetti” (Turin), “Gioletti” (Rome) or “Gelateria della Passera” (Florence)
(Pronounced pahn-nah coht-tah in Italian)
Literally meaning “cooked cream”, this dessert is made by cooking sweetened cream in a water bath until just set. It’s then chilled and unmolded. It’s sometimes served with berries or chocolate. A simple but amazing Italian dessert in our humble opinion!
Where to Eat It: Piedmont
Tartufo di Pizzo
(Pronounced tahr-too-foh dee peez-zoh in Italian)
This dessert is made by encasing a molten chocolate filling with two layers of gelato and rolled in cocoa powder. Nowadays you will see many varieties that use different gelato flavors with almonds or walnuts. This is an absolute must try for everyone who visits Calabria.
Where to Eat It: “Bar Gelateria Ercole” in Ercole, Calabria or head to “Tre Scalini” if you are in Rome.
Delizia al limone
(Pronounced deh-lee-zee-ah ahl lee-mohn-eh in Italian)
A dome-shaped sponge cake filled with lemon custard and covered in a limoncello glaze. It’s either made in one large cake and cut into slices or as individual servings. If you want to eat this, order it but don’t make it at home: it’s way too complicated for anyone’s liking!
Where to Eat It: Campania
(Pronounced sfohl-yah-tehl-lah in Italian)
Meaning “leaf layers”, these small pastries are a true labor of love as they are made from hundreds of layers of puff pastry filled with a semolina and ricotta filling. These are great for breakfast with a cup of espresso.
Where to Eat It: “Sfogliatelab”, “Sfogliatella Mary” or “Antico Forno delle Sfogliatelle Calde Fratelli Attanasio”, all in Naples.
(Pronounced stroof-foh-lee in Italian)
Many regions have their own recipe for this Italian classic made from dough that is formed into small balls, deep fried and covered in warm honey. They are sometimes formed into a ring or piled high in a pyramid mound and decorated with colored sprinkles.
Where to Eat It: Campania
Torta della nonna
(Pronounced tohr-tah dehl-lah nohn-nah in Italian)
This classic custard filled tart is found throughout bakeries in Florence and on almost every menu in Tuscany. The tart is finished with toasted pine nuts and sliced up in large wedges.
Where to Eat It: Tuscany
(Pronounced cahn-tooch-chee-nee in Italian)
Also known as cantucci, cantuccini are small, twice-baked, crunchy almond cookies originated in Prato and are traditionally served with Vin santo, a sweet dessert wine made from white grapes. These little cookies are meant to be dipped into the vin santo to soften them up and prevent you from breaking your teeth!
Where to Eat Them: Tuscany, specifically at “Biscottificio Antonio Mattei” in Prato
Make Them: Learn to make cantuccini at home by following our step-by-step instructions to Authentic Cantuccini Recipe (Italian Biscotti).
(Pronounced bah-bah nah-poh-lee-tahn-oh in Italian)
A soft sponge cake soaked in citrus syrup (sometimes also in liquor) that originated in Eastern Europe but made its way across borders to southern Italy where it became even more popular!
Where to Eat It: Campania
Torta ricotta e pere
(Pronounced tohr-tah ree-coht-tah eh peh-reh in Italian)
A hazelnut sponge cake drizzled with a pear brandy syrup and layered high with a ricotta cream and pear filling served on the Amalfi Coast.
Where to Eat It: try “Sal del Riso” in Minori, Campania
(Pronounced pahn-dohr-oh in Italian)
Meaning “bread of gold”, this sweet bread is made yellow from all the egg yolks used in the rich brioche-like dough. When you purchase it, you will also be given a small bag of powdered sugar which you are meant to sprinkle on the top before serving.
Where to Eat It: “Pasticceria Perbellini” in Bovolone, Veneto and “Pasticceria Biasetto” in Padua, Veneto.
(Pronounced pahn-eht-toh-neh in Italian)
This is a very popular sweet bread made from a rich brioche dough dotted with raisins and candied fruit. This bread is enjoyed for breakfast, as an afternoon snack or even as dessert with a mascarpone cream and is a common gift to give among friends and family during the Christmas holidays.
Where to Eat It: Milan
(Pronounced zehp-poh-leh in Italian)
Deep fried dough balls (although you can find them baked), and filled with pastry cream, chocolate and sometimes both!
Where to Eat It: “Scaturchio” in Naples.
(Pronounced pah-steech-choht-toh in Italian)
A creamy custard flavored with black cherries and baked into a flaky pie crust. Many locals eat this sweet treat for breakfast!
Where to Eat It: “Caffé Alvino” in Lecce, Puglia
This Germanic/Austrian dessert is made with thin sheets of pastry dough wrapped around sweet, local apples flavored with various warm spices, sugar and sometimes raisins.
Where to Eat It: Trentino-Alto Adige
(Pronounced zoop-pah in-gleh-zeh in Italian)
Literally meaning English soup, this Italian dessert is made from sponge cake soaked in Alchemers liqueur and layered with pastry cream, giving it a distinct pink color.
(Pronounced saree-soh-loh-nah in Italian)
This is a crunchy, crumbly, buttery cake made with cornmeal, flour, sugar, butter, nuts and plenty of spices. Because it’s so crumbly and impossible to slice, the cake is served in broken pieces, often with grappa or other sweet wines such as Malvasia, Vin Santo, or Passito of Pantelleria.
Where to Eat It: “Panificio Pasticceria Pavesi” in Mantua, Lombardy
Pan di Spagna
(Pronounced pahn dee spahn-yah in Italian)
This light sponge cake made from eggs, sugar, flour, and flavorings such as vanilla or lemon zest is used as a base for many other Italian desserts. It’s said that an Italian baker had traveled to Spain in service to his country and prepared this cake for the King of Spain, hence its name.
Where to Eat It: Liguria
Granita con Brioche
(Pronounced grah-nee-tah cohn bree-osh in Italian)
Leave it to Sicily to make it tradition to eat a giant fresh brioche with a bowl or cup of granita. Granita is frozen crushed ice flavored with sugar and some kind of fruit juice or coffee. There is nothing more refreshing in the Sicilian summer heat. The top granita flavors are limone (lemon), caffè (coffee) and mandorla (almond). And don’t forget to order coffee (espresso to be precise) with it!
Where to Eat It:“Pasticceria Costa” in Palermo, Sicily
(Pronounced cahs-sah-tah see-shee-lee-ah-nah in Italian)
This is a real masterpiece to look at: sponge cake is flavored with liquor, chocolate and ricotta cream which is then topped in a thin layer of marzipan and decorated with a green ring of frosting and citrus fruit.
Where to Eat It: Sicily, specifically “Caffe Sicilia” in Noto
(Pronounced tohr-tah seht-teh-veh-lee in Italian)
Meaning “seven veils” in English, this chocolate and hazelnut Sicilian birthday cake is really something special. The first layer is a chocolate sponge cake followed by a layer of praline crunch, hazelnut Bavarian cream, chocolate sponge cake again, hazelnut Bavarian cream, chocolate mousse, and lastly, glazed in chocolate.
Where to Eat It: “Pasticceria Cappello” in Palermo, Sicily
(Pronounced cahn-noh-lee in Italian)
Rooted in Arab tradition, these dried pastry shells shaped into a cylinder are filled with either a sweet cow’s or sheep’s milk ricotta filling. The trick to identifying the good ones is if they fill them on the spot with the ricotta cream (if they are pre-filled they get soggy!). They often come in various flavors and with toppings such as pistachio, hazelnut and chocolate.
Where to Eat Them: Sicily
Schiacciata alla fiorentina
Schiacciata alla fiorentina is a dessert eaten for Carnival throughout Tuscany but originally from Florence. It’s a light, airy cake topped with powdered sugar and served as a sheet cake. The best way to eat it is with chantilly cream inside. Try ordering it at a bar for breakfast with an espresso.
Where to Eat It: Tuscany (Florence)
(Pronounced cah-stahn-yoh-leh in Italian)
Sweet fried dough balls, rolled in powdered sugar and sometimes filled with various fillings such as pastry cream or chocolate. They are crunchy on the outside, yet soft and light on the inside. They are best when they are still warm!
Where to Eat Them: Everywhere during Carnival
(Pronounced kee-ahk-keer-eh in ItaliaN)
This is Italy’s most popular dessert made during Carnival and every region calls it something different: bugie, cenci, frappe, sfrappole, galani, frittole, lattughe and crostoli are just some ways. They are made by quickly frying stips of dough until they are crisp and generously covering them in powdered sugar. You will find them sold at bakeries throughout the country from January through March to take home and eat in company.
Where to Eat Them: Everywhere during Carnival
(Pronounced seh-mee-frehd-doh in Italian)
This ‘half-frozen’ dessert is made by folding whipped cream with meringue which has been flavored with things such as fruit, nuts or chocolate. This mousse-like dessert is then frozen until it sets up before being sliced and served. Light and airy, this frozen dessert is perfect after any big meal!
Where to Eat It: Most regions but especially Tuscany
(Pronounced ahf-foh-gah-toh in Italian)
Considered both a dessert and a pick-me-up, this dessert will certainly keep you awake so be fair warned! Cream flavored ice cream is topped with a shot of freshly brewed espresso, slightly melting the ice cream, making for a heavenly way to end your meal.
Where to Eat It: “Vivoli” in Florence or “Fiocco di Neve” in Rome.
Make It: In just 5 minutes make this amazing dessert following our Affogato Recipe
This is a classic dessert you will find throughout Italy made from shortcrust pastry that is either filled with cream or jam and topped most commonly with a lattice top crust.
Where to Eat It: “Pasticceria Boccione” in Rome or “Sforno” in Florence.
(Pronounced chahm-behl-lah in Italian)
The Italian Ciambella is a very simple ring cake that is sometimes flavored with lemon zest or vanilla. The texture is light and airy, ideal for an afternoon snack or for breakfast. Each Italian region has their own recipe as well as every Italian nonna!
Where to Eat It: every region, preferably homemade by an Italian if you have the chance.
(Pronounced meel-leh-fohl-yeh in Italian)
This is Italy’s version of the French “thousand layer cake” made from puff pastry that is filled with pastry cream and sometimes finished with fresh berries. This is a go-to celebration cake in Tuscany for birthdays, parties and celebrations.
Where to Eat It: Tuscany
Other Italian Sweet Treats
After-meal liquors that include amaros, herbal or aged liquors or sweet wines that are meant to help in your digestion or act as a cap to the end of a meal. It’s not uncommon for local restaurants to offer their in house digestivo to guests by setting several small glasses and the bottle on your table after your meal.
Italian hot chocolate or cioccolata calda is especially good: melted chocolate is served in a small cup and topped with whipped cream, upon request. This is a very northern Italian drink to warm up during the winter months in the afternoon.
Venchi chocolates, Perugina baci, Cioccolato Modica (Sicily), Novi chocolates
Leone, Ferrara, confetti (various brands)
Desserts to Bring Home as Souvenirs
- Cantuccini: the Tuscan cookie lasts a long time and packs well.
- Pocket coffee: perhaps not what you might think to bring back but after you have tried these small chocolates with a coffee burst in the middle you will be bringing them back with you every time you come to Italy. You can find them at any grocery store.
- Panforte (pronounced pahn-fohr-teh in Italian): a chewy dense dessert made of dried fruits, nuts and honey, just to name a few. Head to “Nannini” in Siena for the absolute best.
- Frutta Martorana (pronounced froot-tah mahr-tohr-ah-nah in Italian): beautifully painted marzipan sweets shaped into small fruits found throughout Sicily
- Torrone di Cremona (pronounced tohr-roh-neh dee creh-moh-nah in Italian): this Italian nougat is flavored with toasted almonds, honey and vanilla. You will also find it made with fruit and lemon zest and it can either be hard or soft.
- Chocolate such as Perugina Baci chocolates and Modica chocolate
Souvenir And Gift Guides: Check out our full article on choosing souvenirs in Italy, Best Food Souvenirs from Italy – Handpicked by Someone Who Lives Here!, for all our recommendations and tips for packing! And if you are looking to give the perfect gift, read Handpicked Gifts for Italian Food Lovers in 2023
Desserts in Italy FAQ
Yes! There are so many great Italian cookies but they are traditionally less sweet than American cookies. Here are some of the most popular:
Rame di napoli (Sicily)
Baci di Alassio (Liguria)
Cavallucci (Siena, Tuscany)
Brutti ma buoni (Veneto)
Krumiri (Piedmont )
Ricciarelli di Siena (Tuscany)
Baci di dama (Piedmont)
Italians typically only eat sweets for breakfast including some classics such as ciambella, bomboloni, schiacciata Fiorentina, granita con brioche and crostata.
No, you can pre-order them in bakeries or just swing by and pick them up. Many sell either whole cakes or by the slice/weight. Nicer bars that double as a bakery also sell cakes.