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Guide to Italian Desserts

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The pioneers of old world cuisine, Italians are famous for traditional comfort food like pizza, pasta, and of course, excellent wines. But an authentic Italian meal isn’t complete without a taste of la dolce vita. After enjoying a satisfying meal, make the dessert course a culinary event with one (or more!) of these classic Italian delights: 

Cannoli

A famous Italian dessert from Sicily, cannoli contain the magical combination of fried dough, rich and creamy ricotta, and fanciful toppings. The result is a fried Italian pastry with a creamy filling and a satisfying crunch. This classic treat is usually served in trios, so go ahead a try a few different flavors like chocolate, pistachio, and candied fruit. Pair it with a classic cup of Joe for a delicious fusion of Italian and American dessert staples.

Tiramisu

Like the exclamation point at the end of a meal, tiramisu is one of the most well-known Italian desserts—and for good reason. The layer of mascarpone cream and chocolate makes a rich and delicate base for coffee-infused soft batch cookies called Savoiardi (lady fingers). Many regions lay claim to its creation, including areas in southern Italy like Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Piedmont, and Treviso in the Veneto region. Balance the sweetness with sips of a bold and robust espresso, which helps enhance the coffee flavors of this dessert favorite.


Panna Cotta

After a rich and filling pasta dish, cleanse your palate with panna cotta, a light and creamy dessert that’s chilled and molded into mouth-watering perfection. This dreamy Italian delight is often drizzled with fruit sauces made with fresh raspberries, strawberries, or sweet cherries, and then garnished with mint and whole berries. Enjoy it with a crisp and bright sparkling white wine like Moscato d’Asti and bon appetito!

Affogato
The perfect after-dinner pick-me-up, an affogato is a glorious duo of Italian espresso and vanilla ice cream. The sweet and creamy gelato cools off the hot espresso while the hints of vanilla help to bring out the spicy notes of strong Italian coffee. Make it a heavenly creation when you top it with dark chocolate shavings or a dollop of homemade whipped cream. The wonderful aspect of this popular espresso drink is its versatility: Enjoy it as an upgrade to your midday coffee or as a lighter dessert option at the end of a meal.

Tartufo
With an intricate dome that’s covered in chocolate, this Italian frozen treat is pure elegance. Serve it on a plate with two spoons and celebrate special occasions like birthdays or Valentine’s Day with this decadent perfect-for-sharing dessert. Baking expert and lifestyle guru Martha Stewart makes her tartufo with generous amounts of chocolate and pistachio ice cream, and semi sweet chocolate. Then she adds a tasty crunch to the creamy filling with a handful of chocolate wafer cookies and a few maraschino cherries for a touch of fruitiness. One of the classiest Italian desserts, pair it with premium champagne and make a toast to la dolce vita.

Budino
The Italian word for pudding, budino is the ultimate Italian comfort food. Made with a range of recipes and special flavors like a chocolate or caramel, everybody has their own version of this irresistible treat. Dahlia Navaez, the pastry chef at Pizzeria Mozza, whips up a rich and creamy butterscotch-flavored budino that is simply divine. For a lighter version, try the Meyer lemon or rhubarb and mint budino, the perfect balance of creaminess and fruity zest. Look for a drink that helps balance the combo of sweet and bright flavors, like a light dessert wine such as champagne or Riesling.

Cassata
This lavish Italian Easter cake can be traced back to the 10th century and the Arab invasion which helped introduce sugar to Sicily. Once sugar came onto the scene, Italian food of the Middle Ages went from grey-colored gruel to sophisticated and grandiose desserts like Cassata, which is made with decadent layers of liquor-soaked sponge cake (also called genoise or egg cake) and sheep’s milk ricotta.

With a combination of apricot preserves, apricot jelly, and marzipan delights added to the filling, this traditional cake is a celebration of sugar, one of the most important ingredients in the dessert world. It’s topped with a sugar icing and decorated with slices of candied fruit citron as a garnish. Balance the rich flavors with a bright, palate-cleansing white wine like Chardonnay and make the holidays a sweet celebration.

Zeppole
First created to celebrate the Feast of San Gennaro, the Patron Saint of Naples, zeppole are fried dough balls dusted in powdered sugar. The secret to their seriously addictive flavor is the addition of ricotta and vanilla to an otherwise basic pastry batter. These special ingredients give zeppole a moist center and a crispy bite. Food network star Giada De Laurentiis loves to pair zeppole with a white dessert wine like Riesling or Chardonnay to help mellow the flavors of this rich and decadent Easter cake.

Panettone
Americans have pumpkin pie and Italians have Panettone, the quintessential Italian Christmas cake. What sets this dome-shaped cake apart is the fermented dough, which gives it a fluffy texture, and chunks of candied fruit for bright pops of flavor. Often sold in festively decorated gift boxes, panettone is a favorite dessert to give your Christmas dinner hosts. Enjoy a slice with a glass of Moscato for a nostalgic treat that brings back the fondest memories of the holidays.

Money can’t buy happiness but it can buy you the baking ingredients you need to make these classic desserts from scratch—and for gourmands with a sweet tooth, that’s kind of the same thing.

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