Italian cuisine is widely known for its particular ingredients and tradition. There are many options to try, but an all-time favorite will always be desserts.
They are flavorful and decadent. The classic taste of Italian desserts has come a long way. And each of the sweet treats has a long history.
So, whenever you’re eating a cannoli or a tiramisu, be sure that people have been eating that exact recipe ages ago.
The thing about Italian desserts is that they weren’t made to be eaten after meals.
Of course, we all love a good dessert after lunch or dinner. But apparently, Italians used to save these delicious bites for special occasions or even holidays.
Italians didn’t have access to large quantities of sugar in their early history, so their treats were usually fruit and cheese.
It only makes sense that desserts were saved for special times.
Italian desserts are broken into two groups, the old ones that were derived from bread. They were sweetened with fruit or honey because of the lack of sugar.
Then came the modern recipes when sugar entered the market. Milk, eggs, honey, and almonds became really popular.
Italians would add sugar to these base ingredients, and creamy desserts came to life.
When immigrants settled around the world, changes were made based on the available ingredients depending on the region.
For example, mascarpone cheese was not common in America, so it was replaced with ricotta cheese.
The magic behind Italian desserts is that they were all born for a reason.
Some dry cookie desserts were made for travelers who needed long-lasting food, like biscotti, eaten by Romans on their ventures.
Some were created to commemorate significant historical events or people.
All these recipes have been passed down from family to family, keeping traditional characteristics.
At La Piazzetta we love to share our love for Italian traditions, so we made a list of our favorite Italian desserts and their story.
You might’ve seen it on The Godfather, and thought, what is that? Well, it is a delicious piece of heaven.
Cannoli is a fried pastry. It is made by filling the hollow tube with sweetened ricotta cheese. It is usually scented with cinnamon.
It can be made in very fun ways. For example, some chefs decide to coat it with chocolate shavings or pistachios.
The history of cannoli is a particular one because there are so many different sides to it.
One of the stories says it was invented by nuns in preparation for Carnevale celebrations.
Some say it was actually created by the Saracens, a group of Turkish and Arab Muslims who brought sugar to Italy.
The most popular story claims that it originated in a harem to honor the sultan’s private parts, well, one part…Yes, that one.
The only certain thing is that during and after the Middle Ages, nuns were selling cannoli during Carnevale.
It was considered a fertility symbol, because of its phallic shape. Friends would gift it to each other and enjoy the celebrations.
The word biscotto derives from “bis,” which means twice in Latin, and “coctum,” which means baked or cooked.
Originally it was made only with almonds, but now it comes in many variations, some with chocolate or fruity flavors.
Biscotti can be traced back to the Romans. It was food for travelers, mainly because it was so dry that it could last a long time after being cooked.
Biscotti is cooked twice for a simple reason: the first is to cook them, and the second is to dry them out to last longer.
Biscotti re-emerged in Tuscany, credited to a Tuscan baker who served them with the local sweet wine.
The dry crunchy texture was no longer deemed for long travels but for a medium to soak up the wine.
Nowadays, that’s still the way some eat biscotti. They dip it into Vin Santo and call it an afternoon.
This is the perfect mid-day treat, a mix of Lady Finger cookies soaked in espresso and layered with sweetened mascarpone cheese, eggs, cocoa, vanilla, and alcohol.
The ingredients make it soft and moist. It’s addictive.
There is no agreement on the origin of the tiramisu. Some say it is relatively modern, and some say it was created during World War II as a pick-me-up for soldiers.
Others maintain that it originated in Siena, where it was first made for Grand Duke Cosimo de Medici III.
Apparently, he liked it so much that he made it famous. It was quickly spread around the world by Italian immigrants.
Still, most agree that the most recent version of tiramisu was created at a restaurant in Treviso in the early 1970s.
But it is a fact that by the 1980s, tiramisu became one of the most popular desserts in the world.
Gelato’s history is quite interesting. In the Renaissance, The Medici family hosted a contest looking to find the best frozen dessert.
Alchemist Cosimo Ruggieri presented his “Fior di latte”, which is considered the first gelato flavor.
They already had versions of gelato that resembled a sorbet, but the gelato was born from this competition.
In 1686 a Sicilian named Francesco Procopio Cutò opened Café Le Procope in Paris. He started selling gelato to the public.
Before then, gelato was only for the rich because ice and salt were a luxury.
It is, in fact, made for a special occasion: Christmas.
During the holiday season, this dessert is everywhere. Boxes come out of the store like they’re toys.
Once again, the origin of this dessert has many versions. Some say it was made by a baker named Toni.
But Panettone may go way back to the medieval era. Data confirms a wheat flour bread named Pan del Ton, which means “luxury bread.”
To give the Panettone its classic dome shape, bakers use an acidic dough and a multi-day “proof.”
On the insides of the Panettone, you might find bits of candied fruits and raisins.
And it is usually accompanied by Mascarpone cheese, wine or liqueur.
One word: custard! These delicious bites are from Veneto or Tuscany, depending on who you ask.
It is made from egg yolks, sugar and dessert wine.
It has spread from its origins, and nowadays, it is topped with chocolate, whipped cream, or even used as a base for other desserts.
Some people say it is best served warm and paired with a glass of Marsala wine.
One of the origin stories of Zabaglione dates back to 1471 when captain Giovan Paolo set camp with his troops at Reggio Emilia.
He realized they were short on food and sent some men to steal from the peasants.
They returned with eggs, sugar, wine, and some herbs. So what did the captain do? He mixed them and served the concoction.
And that’s how Zabaglione was born. (According to some people)
Here comes a bit of history about religion. The Crostata ricotta dates back to the eighteenth century when Jewish people were forbidden to sell dairy products to Christians.
So the jews started hiding ricotta cheese between two layers of pastry and sour black cherries.
Today in the jewish quarters of Rome you can find different versions of the original recipe.
Popular favorites are a pie covered in shortcrust pastry, simple ricotta tart topped with sour cherries.
As simple as it is, it’s one of the most popular desserts worldwide.
Panna Cotta consists of mixing cream, milk, sugar and gelatin over heat until they are blended.
Then you pour the mixture into cups or wherever you wish, and then place it in the refrigerator for a few hours.
When you are ready to eat it you can top it off with the ingredients of your preference.
After learning all about these Italian desserts, the thing that remains consistent is that these recipes contain the soul of Italian culture.
It doesn’t matter which region of Italy you visit, there will always be a sweet treat waiting for you.
Lastly, we want to share with you one of our favorite tiramisu recipes. It is very simple and will leave you and your guests wanting more.
- 300 g Savoiardi Ladyfinger
- 500 g of mascarpone cheese
- 4 eggs
- 300 ml espresso
- 2 tsp of Rum or Marsala
- 100g granulated sugar
- Unsweetened cocoa powder
- Ceramic baking pan
- Electric mixer
- First things first, you need to make the coffee. Make your espresso as usual and add your liquor. Set aside and let it cool.
- The next step is separating the egg whites. When you have them without any trace of yolk, take a boule and whip until it’s firm and set aside.
- In another bowl, whisk the yolks with sugar for 3-5 minutes. When it looks pale, add the mascarpone cheese.
- Whisk that cream with the electric mixer and add the egg whites little by little.
- Dip the Savoiardi Ladyfingers into the coffee, but do not soak them, or the dessert will come up soggy.
- Place the Ladyfingers in the cooking pan and spread the mascarpone cream above. Then, repeat the same step so you will end up with two layers. And finish up by sprinkling the cocoa powder.
- Let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, and then serve!
Our little Italian heaven in Miami
If you want to learn more about Italian cuisine, and even better, taste it. Come to La Piazzetta and enjoy our pizza, dishes, and desserts.
We are a family of Italian immigrants who wish to share our tradition and keep it alive even if we are far from Italy.
And if you are craving tiramisu but do not have the ingredients right now, come by, and we’ll have it for you!
You can also order online, and we will bring the Italian experience to you.
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