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A guide to the best Italian desserts

From panna cotta to panettone, before you head off on an Italian adventure we help you demystify the many traditional desserts you’re sure to find on any Italian menu

Katie Ramsingh
City Guide
Katie Ramsingh,

Roughly translated as ‘little tubes’, cannoli are just that: small tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough with a sweet and creamy ricotta filling. These delicious pastries can range in size, although we happen to think the bigger the better.


Denser but containing less fat than other ice creams, Italian gelato is one of the country’s most popular desserts, particularly in summer. Available in gelaterias throughout the country, this cooling dessert comes in a seemingly never-ending array of flavours.


A semi-frozen dessert similar to a sorbet, granita is unusual in the fact that it is often served in or with a brioche pastry. It’s a favourite breakfast food in the warmer months, especially if it’s flavoured with coffee.


Traditionally eaten around Christmas time, this rich bread-like cake is usually packed with candied fruits, orange and lemon zest. Usually eaten with a hot sweet drink or dessert wine, this is one of Italy’s oldest dishes.


Panna cotta
A jelly-like dessert made with cream, milk and sugar, panna cotta – literally ‘cooked cream’ – is the perfect accompaniment to sharp summer fruits. It’s a perfect summer treat; opt for panna cotta if you want a luxurious yet light dessert.


These Italian waffle biscuits are often served at Italian weddings, as well as at Easter and Christmas. Pizzelle are among the world’s oldest known biscuits, thought to be descended from the ancient Roman snack crustulum.


Meaning ‘half cold’, semifreddo is a term used to describe a variety of partially frozen ice-cream cakes and semi-frozen custard. It has the texture of frozen mousse, with gelato a main ingredient, and is one of Italy’s more unusual desserts.


With a name that literally translates as ‘pick me up’, tiramisu consists of finger biscuits soaked in coffee, covered in a creamy mascarpone cheese mixture and dusted with cocoa. It’s no surprise, then, that the classic dessert is now a firm favourite around the world.



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