Our 32 Best Italian Desserts
Goat Milk-and-Corn Panna Cotta with Blackberries
This delicately sweet and tangy panna cotta from Top Chef winner Brooke Williamson is the perfect way to showcase plump summer fruits.
To guarantee homemade gelato’s luscious consistency and purity of flavor, Jon Snyder suggests thickening gelato with cornstarch rather than eggs.
Mixed-Nut-Milk Panna Cotta
These delicate custards are a great way to showcase the subtle, nutty flavor of homemade nut milk.
Kevin Sbraga varies these wonderful nutty biscotti, sometimes dipping them in melted dark chocolate for an extra layer of flavor.
Sweet Corn Panna Cotta with Fresh Blueberry Compote
Using sweet corn in a creamy, silky panna cotta makes for an unexpected and delicious summer dessert.
Pumpkin pie meets tiramisù, with layers of pumpkin-mascarpone custard and gingersnaps brushed with Calvados syrup. In the freezer, the flavors and textures meld to form a deliciously creamy dessert.
Torrone is an Italian nougat made with honey, egg whites, sugar and nuts. It can be soft and chewy or hard and crunchy. The recipe here calls for folding crunchy store-bought nougat into whipped cream and honey, then freezing the mixture. What emerges is an utterly delicious, wonderfully simple ice cream-like dessert.
Zabaglione with Strawberries
Here we serve the zabaglione hot when it's just made, but if you want to prepare the dish ahead of time, mix the zabaglione with whipped cream and refrigerate it as described in the first variation below.
Honey-Sweetened Mascarpone with Berries and Pistachios
Dahlia Narvaez adored the deliciously rich mascarpone cheese she ate in Umbria. "It’s such a great backdrop for all the different honeys made in Italy," she says. She made this dish with delicate Umbrian wildflower honey but says stronger honeys like chestnut would also be terrific.
Cherries Poached in Red Wine with Mascarpone Cream
Thick mascarpone cheese mixed with honey makes a luscious topping for poached cherries. You can serve the dessert either warm or cold. We love it both ways.
Creamy Rose Panna Cotta
Erin Eastland’s supereasy and beautiful dessert isn’t just garnished with rose petals—it’s also accented with rose syrup.
Almond Cake with Pears and Crème Anglaise
For a simple but elegant dessert, Countess Florence Daniel Marzotto chose to serve a basic sponge cake baked with fragrant almond flour, split in half and filled with a layer of tender pears. Cooked in butter in a covered pan, the pears steam in their own juices, releasing a syrupy sauce all their own.
White Peach Tart
"This crust is not what you’d expect," Marco Canora says. "Instead of being crunchy, it’s puffy and cakey." The dough is terrific for impromptu baking, because it doesn’t need to be chilled before it’s rolled out. For the filling, Canora recommends using peaches that are ripe but still firm, as drippy fruit will make the soft crust soggy.
Raspberry Jam Bomboloni
Kate Neumann reports that whenever she offers bomboloni (Italian donut holes) on the dessert menu at MK The Restaurant in Chicago, they inevitably sell out. She sometimes makes them at home, too: "They are easy to prepare in advance and then fry at the last moment," she explains, "and they are also quite easy to dress up." Neumann fills the donut holes with fruit jams or chocolate ganache, then rolls them in sugar and spices like anise and cardamom as soon as they come out of the frying pan.
Vanilla-and-Cider Panna Cottas with Spiced Ginger Cookies
Shawn McClain tops his cinnamon-and-vanilla-flavored panna cotta with an elegant apple-cider gelée. He equates the dessert to a Creamsicle because it successfully combines creamy and tangy flavors.
Inspired by the semifreddos at restaurants like Cut in Beverly Hills, F&W's Grace Parisi creates her own version of this frozen mousse—an easier-to-make alternative to ice cream.
Italian Trifle with Marsala Syrup
In Italy, Fabio Trabocchi makes this dessert with Alchermes, a bright-red cinnamon-scented liqueur rarely seen in the States. The Sicilian fortified wine Marsala is a good substitute: It has a subtler color but a similarly spiced flavor, perfect for drenching squares of soft sponge cake layered with vanilla-infused pastry cream.
Torta Della Nonna
"Grandmother’s cake" is a traditional Tuscan dessert, though everyone’s nonna makes it slightly differently. In his version, Joe Sponzo combines a delicate pastry crust with a silky pastry cream, which he flavors with vanilla and lemon zest (other Tuscan cooks add ricotta cheese). He tops the tart with pine nuts, another regional staple.
Almond Semifreddo with Caramelized Apples
Karen DeMasco, who cowrote The Craft of Baking is known for recipes that are classically elegant yet approachable, like this supercreamy almond semifreddo ("half-frozen") topped with warm caramelized apples.
Fig-and-Raspberry Tart with Chestnut Honey
A Tuscan classic, chestnut honey or miele di castagno has an unusually potent, savory flavor that gives this fall fruit tart a spicy kick. The bay leaves and rosemary sprigs on top perfume the tart beautifully (they are not meant to be eaten). A man of few superstitions, Peter Pastan always uses 11 bay leaves and 13 rosemary sprigs because odd numbers are lucky.
Vanilla Zabaglione with Raspberries
The ethereal Italian dessert sauce zabaglione (known in French as sabayon) consists of egg yolks beaten with sugar and the Sicilian fortified dessert wine Marsala. Steeping vanilla seeds in the Marsala adds lovely flavor; folding in whipped cream increases the decadence factor.
Concord Grape Granita
This icy dessert gets its sweet, tangy taste from Concord grape juice, which has three times the antioxidant power of orange and grapefruit juices.
Italian Almond Tart
This rustic dessert is from the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, where it's called sbrisolona. It's crumbly, buttery and nutty; Suzanne Goin thinks of it as a cross between biscotti and shortbread. She recommends dipping chunks of it into the Champagne-spiked sabayon, an airy dessert sauce made with whipped egg yolks.
Chocolate Panna Cotta with Spiced Pepita Brittle
This light, silky panna cotta tastes a lot like hot cocoa in custard form. The brittle is easy to make; heat sugar and water on the stove, swirl in butter and spiced pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds), then let cool.
Frozen Chocolate-Chip Meringata
Meringata—Italian for "meringue cake"—is an elegant yet homey frozen dessert of whipped cream sandwiched between meringue rounds. Rolando Beramendi slices the meringata and serves it with a warm chocolate-espresso sauce.
The recipe for these crisp, deep-fried spiral sweets comes from Elena D’Orazio, Palma D’Orazio's cousin. In their native Puglia, cartellate are traditionally made at Christmas by bakers and home cooks alike. The cookies are usually drizzled with honey, but for parties D’Orazio simply sprinkles them with lemon zest and cinnamon sugar.
Cranberry Panna Cotta
This elegant, low-fat panna cotta requires only five ingredients: cranberries, sugar, gelatin, water and buttermilk (instead of the usual cream).
Brutti Ma Buoni
These crunchy-chewy cookies, sold at bakeries all over Lazio, are called brutti ma buoni in Italian, or "ugly but good." The name pretty much says it all. Antico Forno Molinari, in operation in the town of Frascati since the 1800s, makes this delicious and effortless four-ingredient version.
Umbrian Apple-Walnut Roll-Ups
Called la rocciata (roughly meaning "the round dessert" in Italian), this classic Umbrian pastry is similar to a strudel. It’s made from a type of pastafrolla (a rich short pastry), and rolled around a delicious filling of apples and walnuts. For best results, use firm, sweet-tart apples, such as Staymans or Winesaps.
Chocolate Bread Parfaits
With a hot brewed espresso and a few tablespoons of dark rum supplying a sinful kick, this bread pudding parfait is the perfect dessert.
Stone-Fruit Panzanella with Zabaglione
A classic Italian panzanella (bread salad) combines juicy tomatoes and bread cubes. Here, Chris Cosentino swaps in stone fruits like apricots and peaches for the tomatoes. Then he pushes the dessert over the top by dolloping the "salad" with an airy zabaglione, a frothy sauce of egg yolks whipped with sweet dessert wine.
Tiramisu Icebox Pie
Pastry chef Mathew Rice of Pastaria in Nashville takes the familiar elements of a classic tiramisu—ladyfingers, coffee, and mascarpone—and reimagines them as an icebox pie. The dessert is full of playful textures and flavors, including a dense coffee mousse and salty-sweet coffee crunchies.