Overlooked Italian Desserts from Gelato to Cassata

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When people discuss Italian cuisine, the last thing they ever seem to mention is Italian dessert.

Salumi, pastas, espresso – they get all the ink in the magazines and newspapers and, sure, cannoli and tiramisus get some run on restaurant and bakery menus, but there is a plethora of Italian desserts that seem to get overlooked.

Next time you’re sitting around with friends discussing the wonders of Italian food and its influences, why not impress them with some of the following foods?



Familiar to most as “the Italian version of ice cream,” gelato is custard consisting of considerably less milk fat than ice cream, thanks to the use of more whole milk than heavy cream during preparation.

It is also denser and served at a warmer temperature to yield a product that quickly melts in your mouth, its flavors hitting your tongue almost immediately.

And on those flavors: if you can dream it, there’s a method for making gelato.

Funnel cake, cappuccino, raspberry – there’s no limit to the flavors a good gelato can impart.

Zeppole (Sfingi)


Okay, back to relating to things you can easily recognize: zeppole are Italy’s doughnut… but the analogy ends once you get beyond the cooking phase.

Zeppole have a wider range of textures, from light and fluffy (think puffed pastry) to very dense, almost like a pasta.

Typically associated with a Holiday of some sort, zeppole can be consumed year round, and stuffed / topped with everything from powdered sugar to – yes – anchovy.

Imagine a beignet from Café du Monde topped with powdered sugar… and stuffed with ricotta cheese and honey.

Delightful and pint sized, they can be given as gifts or enjoyed over coffee with friends.


If Italians have mastered anything other than the Ferrari engine, it’s what they dip in their coffees. And nothing in this world tastes better dipped in coffee than homemade Italian biscotti.

Super dense, biscotti are both crunchy and tender, and can have fruits, nuts, chocolate chips, or even citrus zest mixed in before baking.

The batter is kneaded with the chosen flavors, rolled into a log, and baked for about a half-hour to give a consistency that is similar to a slightly over-baked cookie.

Enjoyed warm or cold, biscotti are never too heavy, and seem to be the partner coffee has been looking for its whole life. It really is a match made in paradiso.

For a good recipe, check out our recipe for biscotti here.


Having its roots in Sicily, cassata is a baked Italian sponge cake soaked with fruit juices (or fruit liqueur), layered with ricotta cheese, and studded with candied fruit or fruit peel.

Covering it all is a thin shell of marzipan, an almond paste sweetened with sugar that resembles the appearance of fondant but tastes considerably better.

Sometimes cassata has chocolate or vanilla cream layered in it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t layer it with gelato to make an Italian version of ice cream cake.

Honestly: as long as you have the sponge cake and ricotta, you can stuff this cake with whatever you want – many variations contain no fruit at all!

So next time you and some friends are talking about the simplicity and flavor of the more popular Italian dishes, don’t forget their desserts. They’re all pretty simple to make (you can make gelato at home with your own gelato maker), and considerably lighter than the stuff with which we’re more familiar in the States.

Think, “moment on the lips, a mere few hours on the hips.”

For more Italian recipes visit our Italian recipe collection here.

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