We all know I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Italian desserts. They may be the land of gelato and gianduia, but after nine months, those two staples can grow dull. Luckily, during my trip around Italy with my parents, I discovered some other Italian desserts. Some of which were delicious, go figure.
Italian desserts will always be sweet. They will usually have a hard-to-describe flavor and may add a dash of alcohol on top of that. When in tough cookies and and strangely textured brioche, these flavors are a gastronomic leap for Americans; however, the unique taste do have some palatable pairings.
The first dessert ate was one that I had been oogling in the window at Medagliani for quite some time, the pesca dolce. During my epic trip to Italy in 2009, I had a couple and have wanted to make them ever since. The ones I had were soft and cakey with a bit of nutella sandwiched in the middle. They were coated with sugar, but not overly sweet. The one my mother chose, however, was the polar opposite. It was light and airy with apricot marmalade in the middle. The sugar on the outside was sweet, the dough itself tasted sweet and the jam tasted less like fruit and more like sugar. I wasn’t a fan.
Naples had, by far, my favorite desserts. There was (from left in the above photo) pastiera, cannoli, cassata and sfogliatelle (top photo). While I’m not a cannolo girl back in New York, the ones in Naples were delightful. They may be a Sicilian hallmark, but do pick one up if you find yourself in Naples. Unlike the ones you find in New York, which are dense with a very obvious cheese tang, the filling in these was light, sweet and tasted like frosting.
The cassata was also a winner and something I’m eager to try and make at home. It had a bit of the cheese/cannolo tang, but was mellowed out with some almond flavor, sweetness and a bit of rum. The texture was firm yet soft and, though the candied fruit on top was a bit too sweet, the fattiness of the filling offset the otherwise toothachingly sweet aspects. It’s safe to say that I’m a fan of these desserts. Naples also fills everything and anything with amarena, a favorite flavor of mine.
Pastiera, which was barely worth mentioning, is flavored with rosewater and filled with candied fruits.
If you go to Tuscany, you must make a stop by Gelateria Veneta in Lucca. It will change your life, or at least your taste buds, I promise. I’m slowly trying to build up an army of people who can attest to this. The current count is at twelve. I ordered ciccolato fondente, pistachio, fragola and variegato nutella. You must try a fruit flavor, they’re surprisingly intense and deliciously refreshing. The nut flavors are also great; my dad ordered nocciola and loved it. The only flavor we tried and didn’t love was limone, it tasted like eating solid lemonade!
I saw this huge chocolate dusted pasta frolla cookie in the window of a bakery in Bologna and I simply had to go in and buy it. In my mind, it was a thick cookie, rich and dense with a slight dough-y butter-y flavor accented with the surrounding chocolate. I was unabashedly incorrect. It’s a sandwich cookie with the thinnest layer of dubious quality chocolate in the middle that’s somewhere in between a cream and a hardened icing. Since they have to make room for two cookies, each layer isn’t nearly as thick as it could be. I enjoyed the two bites I took from it — it tasted vaguely of bakery cookies — and then tossed it in the garbage.
Italian desserts might not always be my favorite, but it is their sheer ridiculousness and ability to surprise the palate that makes them fun to explore. On your next trip to Italy, be sure to look beyond the gelato. There’s a world of crazy, homey and weird flavored desserts out there for you to explore.
Do you have a favorite Italian dessert? If so, which one?