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10 Most Popular Italian Cookies – Where To Eat Them and How To Pronounce Them

Last updated on January 9th, 2024

If you are reading this article you are probably a cookie-lover, like myself, and looking to try all of them on your next trip. Or maybe you just want to try making them at home?

Whatever the reason, it’s a good one because Italian cookies are some of the best out there. They are generally very simple, rustic, and not too sweet. 

But there are so many! Each of Italy’s 20 regions has its favorite – and then some – so how are you going to try them all? You probably can’t, so let me help you identify which ones are worth seeking out!

After being an official Italian cookie consumer for over a decade now, I can advise you on which Italian cookies are worth tracking down and which ones you can leave behind. 

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How to say cookies in Italian (with audio to help you with your pronunciation)
  • When Italians eat cookies
  • How Italian cookies are categorized
  • Italy’s most beloved packaged cookies for sale
  • The most popular Italian cookies
  • Where they come from and where to eat them (and how to pronounce them)

So grab yourself a cookie (or two – of any kind!) to keep you from drooling while you dive deep into the world of Italian cookies!

How to Say Cookies in Italian

The Italian word for cookies is biscotti.

Listen to the pronunciation of biscotti:

When Do Italians Eat Cookies?

There are two main occasions when Italians eat cookies (with a few exceptions):

  • (Prima) colazione – breakfast
  • Merenda – snack

For breakfast, Italians generally eat something small and sweet with coffee (or milk for kids), if at home. This something small and sweet might be a handful of cookies.

You might be thinking “cookies for breakfast? That is crazy!” Yes, it sounds nuts and I thought that too before moving to Italy but the cookies eaten at breakfast are mostly simple and not too sweet. They are never going to eat something like American chocolate chip cookies chalk full of butter and lots of sugar for breakfast but rather, 5 or 6 small, plain, shortbread cookies that can be dipped into coffee or milk.

Fact: Kids might have cookies that are slightly sweeter or more elaborate such as gocciole, shortbread cookies made with chocolate chips, instead of simple varieties.

The second time cookies are primarily enjoyed in Italy is as merenda or for snack. These will more likely be more elaborate cookies with fillings or glazes rather than the simple shortbread cookies that are served for breakfast. 

In our house, we eat a lot of cookies, and steadfast to the Italian rule, it’s less sweet, simple cookies with milk for breakfast and fancy cookies such as occhio di bue for snack time in the afternoon.

Pastries behind a glass display in a pastry shop in Italy.  You can also see crostate on the upper shelf.

Generally speaking, Italians don’t really eat cookies for dessert unless a tray of artisan cookies from a pasticceria (bakery) is being served. 

The biggest exception to eating cookies at these two times is during the holidays. There are several kinds of cookies that were originally made for the Christmas holiday but in modern times, even these cookies are made year around. But during Christmas, Italians will eat cookies also for dessert

Other exceptions are during tea in the afternoon or with dessert wine when cookies are sometimes served such as cantuccini with vin santo. 

Italian Cookie Categories

Close up of pizzelle, a type of pressed Italian cookie, sitting on a black and white striped tea towel.
Pizzelle fall into the pressed cookie category as they are cooked in a hot press, embossing them with a decorative design.

Although there are hundreds of Italian cookies, I have found that they can generally be categorized into five main groups based on how they are made:

  1. Drop cookies: when the dough is spooned directly onto the baking sheet and baked immediately. 
  2. Refrigerated cookies: when the dough is put in the fridge before baking, allowing it to set. 
  3. Molded cookies: when the cookie dough is shaped by hand into their final form.
  4. Rolled Cookies: when the dough is rolled out and then cut into shapes, either by hand or with a cookie cutter.
  5. Pressed cookies: when the dough is cooked in a press griddle. 

Italy’s Most Beloved Packaged Cookies

Packaged Italian cookies on display in an aisle of a grocery store in Italy.

Italy has a lot of pre-packaged cookie options available at supermarkets. You will find them either in the breakfast item aisle or in the next one over. 

Here are some of the most popular brands:

  • Mulino Bianco: the largest owned by Barilla making around 35 varieties including whole wheat and low sugar options.
  • Corsini: once a small, artisan company, now gone national and it’s a good thing because they are really good for store bought cookies! (This is our family’s favorite).
  • Oro Saiwa: makes one of Italy’s favorite and most beloved breakfast cookies that is also a popular weaning cookie for babies. 
  • Balocco: another large company like Mulino Bianco but less expensive.
  • Gran Cereale: they make a lot of cookies packaged in rolls or ‘tubes’ that are easy for travel. 
Close up of two yellow packages of Mulino Bianco Italian cookies.

Most Popular Italian Cookies

Now let’s take a look at Italy’s top cookies:

Note: Below I recommend specific places to get these cookies or the town or region in which to seek them out.

Cantuccini

Close up of small bowl of the Italian cookies, cantuccini.

(Pronounced cahn-tooch-chee-nee in Italian)

Also known as cantucci, these small, twice-baked, crunchy almond cookies originated in Prato, in Tuscany.

Make Them: Replicate these cookies with Authentic Cantuccini Recipe (Italian Biscotti) where you will find step-by-step instructions and suggestions for recreating these at home!

They are traditionally served for dessert 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 and prevent you from breaking your teeth!

Naturally, cantuccini are a staple for us (we live in Tuscany) so I finally decided to learn how to make them. They are a snap to whip up and they last a whole month (if you don’t finish them immediately!).

Where To Eat Them: Biscottificio Antonio Mattei (Via Bettino Ricasoli, 20, 59100 Prato, PO). Florence also has a location at: Via Porta Rossa, 76/r, 50123 Firenze FI

Fact: Cantucci is just a larger version of cantuccini.

Cavallucci

a hand holding a brown bag with plastic window showing snow dusted cookies inside with written mini cavalucci on the package.

(Pronounced cah-vahl-looch-chee in Italian)

Cavallucci is a soft cookie typical of Siena made originally for the Christmas season. Today, they are filled with various nuts and fruit, but the original recipe only called for flour, sugar, honey, and anise seeds.

Although not certain, the name cavallucci could come from the Italian word cavallo, meaning horse. The horse is a reference either to their shape, similar to a horse hoof, or because sometimes they were imprinted with a small depiction of a horse in the past. 

Canestrelli

Closeup of canestrelli, a type of Italian cookie.

(Pronounced cahn-eh-strehl-lee in Italian)

Canestrelli are shortbread cookies from Liguria that are perfectly sweet, with just the right crumble factor and sometimes finished with powdered sugar. 

Historically, they were often brought to weddings, celebrations and carnival celebrations but today, they are popular throughout Italy. 

Fact: Canestrelli were considered a symbol of abundance. The cookies were depicted on the golden coin from Genoa in the 13th century!

Amaretti di Sanonno

Red box of packaged amaretti di Saronno, a type of Italian cookie.

While amaretti may either be crunchy or soft, each region in Italy has their own version of these. Amaretti di Saronno are recognizable throughout Italy by their packaging and certainly the most famous variety. They are sweet and crunchy almond cookies ideal for drinking with a dessert wine or with a cup of tea. 

These cookies are also popular in cooking other dishes. They are a main ingredient in the tortelli di zucca from Mantua (Lombardy) or crescionda, a sweet pudding from Umbria.

Fun Fact: ​​Legend has it that if you roll up the wrapping of these iconic cookies, place it on your cup saucer, light it and if it starts to float up then your wish will come true! 

Where to Eat Them: D.Lazzaroni & C. Antica Pasteria (Corso Europa, 9, 20020 Lainate, Milan)

Buranelli 

Traditional Venetian cookies in a display case in a bakery in Venice, Italy.

(Pronounced boo-rahn-ehl-lee in Italian)

Also known as bussolai or essi by locals, these little butter cookies made on the small island in the Venetian Lagoon, Burano, are typically shaped into the letter “S”, but not limited to.

Historically, fishermen or sailors would bring buranelli out to sea with them because of their durability and long shelf life. 

Bring Them Home: Buranelli, being the iconic cookie of Venice, make a great souvenir or gift. Check out Best Food Souvenirs from Italy – Handpicked by Someone Who Lives Here! for other cookies that travel well!

Pizzelle

close up of ferretelle cookies on a piece of brown paper on a cooking rack
Homemade Pizzelle

(Pronounced peez-zehl-lee in Italian)

Pizzelle are said to be the oldest cookie on earth, dating back to the 8th century B.C. when they were cooked in cast iron pans over open fires. 

Originally from Abruzzo, these are crisp, flat cookies often flavored with anise seed or vanilla, and also very beautiful from the pattern that is left from the special pan used to cook them in. 

Tip: If you are hoping to bring cookies home as a souvenir or as a gift, ask for cookies sold in tins instead of in cellophane plastic so they don’t break in your luggage.

Baci di Dama

Close up of a pile of baci di dama Italian cookies.
Baci di dama in close up, horizontal image

(Pronounced Bah-chee dee dah-mah in Italian)

Baci di dama literally means “lady’s kisses” and refers to the effect that the two small rounded hazelnut butter cookies have upon being glued together with a layer of hazelnut chocolate. They seem to be kissing!

These are a family favorite of ours but since we live in Tuscany we don’t see them very often. I have never tried making them but it’s on my “to-do” list.

Fun Fact: Story goes that these cookies were made for King Vittorio Emanuele II from the royal Savoy Family of Italy upon his request for something new and exciting. From their debut, they have been a favorite among all, not just the royal family!

Where To Eat Them: Pasticceria Casali (Via Emilia, 310, 15057 Tortona, AL, Piedmont)

Ricciarelli

plate of Italian almond cookies on a white platter top view.

(Pronounced reech-chahr-ehl-lee in Italian)

Ricciarelli are simple, oval-shaped, gluten-free cookies, similar to a soft macaroon from Siena dating back to the Middle Ages. Most traditionally, they are eaten during the Christmas holiday but these days, you can find them all year. 

Soft and pillowy, these are a favorite of my kids but only when we get them from artisan shops or bakeries. I have tried store-bought ones and they don’t measure up to the real deal!

Make Them: Ricciarelli are gluten-free cookies. Check out our recipe for Ricciarelli – Italian Almond Cookies from Siena (Naturally Gluten-free).

Where To Eat Them: Nannini (Via Banchi di Sopra, 24, 53100 Siena) or Panificio Il Magnifico (Via Pellegrini 27, 53100, Siena)

Savoiardi

white marble surface with a line of lady fingers side by side from top view.

(Pronounced sah-vohy-ahr-dee in Italian)

Savoiardi are what Americans call lady fingers (because of their long, oval shape). They are light and airy cookies from Piedmont made from whipping the egg whites to stiff peaks before adding them to the cookie dough. 

Savoiardi are ideal for many classic Italian desserts like zuppa inglese and tiramisù. They are also a common pairing for zabaione. And because they are great for making other desserts, we always keep a package in our pantry.

Don’t Miss: Our authentic tiramisù recipe straight from my Italian family!

Mostaccioli

zoom in on mostaccioli - mostaccioli - chocolate covered cookies garnished with star anise

(Pronounced moh-stach-choh-lee in Italian)

Also known as mustacciuoli by the locals, mostaccioli are chocolate glazed Christmas cookies from Naples (Campania) that you will find throughout Southern Italy. The chocolate cookie is spiced with citrus, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, star anise, and nutmeg and finished with a dark chocolate glaze. 

While they are not widespread throughout the peninsula, they are, however, a staple in the south. In fact, every family will have their own recipe, with slight tweaks to the original. 

Other Famous Italian Cookies

A close up of krumiri, simple Italian cookies
Krumiri
  • Krumiri: a simple, ridged cookie made from shortcrust dough. Best with tea and coffee (another personal favorite of mine).
  • Brutti ma buoni: meaning “ugly but good”, these are Tuscany’s gluten-free cookies made from either almonds or hazelnuts.
  • Canestrelli biellesi: hazelnut spread sandwiched between two, thin water cookies from Piedmont.
  • Torcetti: a plain cookie from Piedmont shaped into a ring-teardrop that is rolled in sugar before baking.
  • Zaletti: a cornmeal cookie from Venice.
  • Occhio di bue: two butter cookies sandwiches together with a layer of jam or some kind of sweet nut cream such as pistachio or hazelnut from Trentino-Alto Adige.
  • Sospiri di Ozieri: an almond cookie flavored with lemon and finished with a sweet glaze from Sardinia, historically eaten at weddings of noble families.
  • Baxin: Ligurian cookies flavored with anise, cloves, cinnamon and lemon zest. 
  • Susamielli: traditional Christmas cookies from Napoli that are shaped into an S and flavored with rich spices like cinnamon and cloves. 
  • Ossi di morti: meaning bones of the dead, these almond cookies are an Italian tradition to make in honor of those who have passed away.
  • Tegole Valdostane: from the Valle d’Aosta region, these crisp nut cookies are made by spreading the batter into thin layers and baking until golden brown. 

If you like cookies, you probably like chocolate too! Be sure to check out The Most Popular Italian Chocolate – (Our Favorite Brands & Products).

Popular Italian Cookies FAQ

Do Italians make Christmas cookies?

Yes, but not with the same traditions as in America. There are certain cookies baked for Christmas but the idea of it being an activity and decorating cookies as a family or with friends isn’t an Italian tradition. 

Can I bring cookies from Italy to the US?

Yes, you can. It’s best to buy them in tins if available so they won’t get damaged during your travels. Opt for a variety such as cantuccini, buranelli, savoiardi or ricciarelli that will last a long time and travel well.

What’s the difference between cantucci and cantuccini?

Cantuccini are just a smaller size than cantucci but the recipe is the same. 

What is Italy’s most famous cookie?

Amaretti di Sononno are the most famous Italian cookies.

Do Italians ever eat American-style chocolate chip cookies?

You can find packaged chocolate chip cookies in grocery stores in Italy, but most Italians prefer less sweet cookies.

What are Italian rainbow cookies called in Italian?

The three-colored cookies are called biscotti tricolori or biscotti tricolore – literally ‘three-colored’ biscuits/cookies for their three colors of the Italian flag – red, white, and green.

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