Writing this post was a problem. There are so many exquisite Italian pastries that limiting myself to ten was hard. My selection here is in no particular order. Some choices are obvious and some more obscure but I wanted to represent the range of pastries available up and down the country, from the extreme north of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia to the southernmost point of Sicily. I’ve also included my personal favourites. So, marvel at the variety of pastries on offer and be sure to try as many of these out as possible on your next trip to Italy.
Believe it or not, the sfogliatella, known in the USA as ‘lobster tail’, was invented by nuns. It was originally produced in the monastery of Santa Rosa in Conca dei Marini, near Salerno. The nunnery is no longer there (well it’s actually a luxury hotel) but thankfully the recipe survived. The modern version consists of crunchy, layered pastry with a sweet ricotta and candied fruit filling. The pastry is slightly salty creating a beautiful contrast with the interior. Sfogliatelle also come with other fillings, such as pistachio and chocolate, like the ones in the picture above. Best eaten fresh from the oven in Naples.
Cannoli are one of the best-known Italian pastries. Although first mentioned in the 19th Century, they are thought to be much older, dating to at least the middle ages. They consist of pastry, which is wrapped around a metal tube and then deep fried. What’s not good when it’s deep fried? When cool, the pastry is filled with sweet ricotta with candied peel, or chocolate chips , or even pistachios.
Literally ‘drunken bread’, panbriacone is native to the Tuscan town of Montevarchi, and specifically to the town’s Pasticerria Bonci. It’s similar to panettone, but is infused with alcohol which gives it a heady liqueur flavour. Once tried it’s never forgotten. Luckily, if you can’t travel to Montevarchi (which is located between Florence and Arezzo) you can buy your panbriacone online direct from Bonci.
The name of this pastry displays its Austrian origins, which is logical since Trieste was under Austrian control for much of its history. Presnitz consists of a spiral of puff pastry filled to the brim with a mixture of nuts, cinnamon, dried fruits, candied peel, rum, and chocolate. It basically tastes of Christmas. Need I say more?
The name of this ancient delicacy is supposed to derive from the fact that young men used to give them as gifts to their fiancées (marito in Italian means ‘husband’). They are sober buns of sweetened bread, filled with lashings of whipped cream. Who could say ‘no’ to a suitor laden with such riches?
Back in Sicily for this stunning showstopper which looks as wonderful as it tastes. Sponge cake, imbibed with alcohol, is filled with a ricotta cheese and candied fruit filling, and then covered in marzipan, icing, and more candied fruit. Although its origins are supposed to date back to the moorish occupation of Sicily in the 11th Century, some people think is has a more recent origin. Well, whoever invented it, I’m glad that they did.
This is basically a donut. But a donut literally oozing with crema pasticcera. Although they are found all over Italy under various names, they are officially considered Tuscan cuisine. They are traditionally sold as a mid-afternoon snack to beach goers in the Tuscan resorts of Forte dei Marmi, Viareggio, and Torre del Lago. However, they are also great as breakfast, with your coffee of choice at the local bar.
8. Azime dolci
Azime comes from the Italian pane azzimo meaning ‘unleavened bread’ which gives away this biscuit’s Jewish origins. Developed for the festival of Passover by the Venetian Jewish community, azime dolci are one of the oldest Venetian pastries. Crunchy, because of the absence of yeast, these biscuits are delicately flavoured with fennel seeds and are once of my absolute favourites. You can find them, almost exclusively, at Panificio Volpe Giovanni, located in Venice’s Calle del Gheto Vecio.
9. Crostata ricotta e visciole
From the Venetian Jewish community to the Roman. This sweet pastry pie filled with ricotta and sour cherries is also, almost exclusively available, in one kosher bakery in Italy. This time the Forno Boccione in Rome’s Via del Portico d’Ottavia. If you fancy making this one yourself, check out my recipe here.
10. Polenta e osei
This last cake has to take the biscuit (sorry) for being the weirdest on on the list. Polenta e osei, (polenta and birds) is a delicacy in the Veneto and Lombardy. I mean real polenta and roast birds. This cake is a joke as it’s designed to look like a steaming plate of polenta with birds on top but in fact it’s made of yellow marzipan decorated with chocolate birds. It’s found all along the Veneto / Lombardy border (especially in Verona) but it’s considered a typical dish of Bergamo, on the Lombardy side.
Which of these pastries have you tried? Which are your favourites? Which of your favourite pastries have I missed out? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.