Italian Christmas Desserts – the ultimate guide

A mouth-watering selection of cakes and sweets that Italians have for Christmas.  Some are common all over the Country, some others are more typical of a specific region. Let’s find out in which one is your favourite, so you can better decide in which part of Italy you would like to spend your next Christmas.

We always associate Christmas with some particular flavours and smells. I still remember the cinnamon smell when walking through the Christmas markets in Wien few years ago. Christmas pudding and mulled wine would have become the most typical treats over here in England. When I think about Christmas in Italy though, a long list of festive treats comes up in my mind. Some are common all over the Country (like the most famous Panettone) while some others are more regionals and you can taste them only if you are visiting a specific area. I have tried all of them, of course (what kind of food blogger would I be otherwise?!) and I thought I should share this list of my favourite and most authentic ones. italian christmas cakesPANETTONE – Baked for the first time in Milan in the 15th Century, this cake has become THE most traditional Italian Christmas dessert. It is soft in texture and very aromatic (vanilla and orange blossom). There are several varieties: either plain or enriched wither with candy fruit (usually candy orange zest cubes), raisins or even chocolate bits. You can’t have an authentic Italian Christmas lunch if Panettone is not part o your menu. Even if nowadays it is common in any supermarket or even abroad, the very best ones are the home-made ones. The procedure to bake it though is very long and the ingredients (if of high quality) can be very expensive. So don’t be surprised if you find an artisan Panettone in a nice Italian bakery that costs 30 euros or even more.pannatone-cake-christmasPANDORO – A wonderfully soft, fluffy sponge with a lovely scent of vanilla and butter. It usually comes in a plastic sack with a bag of icing sugar: before serving it, pour the icing sugar in the plastic sack where the Pandoro is and shake it until the Pandoro is covered in a luscious white, sugar layer.  This is another traditional italian Christmas cake created in 1800s. The shape is a truncated cone with a star shape and it has been designed by the impressionist painter Angelo Dall’Oca Bianca.  A tip for you naughty cake lovers: cut it in horizontal slices, warm it up in the oven and serve it either with Nutella or with eggnog and rum: AMAZING. pandoro TORRONE (Nougat) – A long preparation is required to prepare this sweet delight with few simple ingredients: egg white, honey, nuts, wafer sheets. Its origin goes back to the 1400s in Cremona, though Tito Livio describes something similar to Torrone already during Roman times. There are nowadays several varieties of Torrone, including the version covered in chocolate, the one with candy orange, with pistachios and the Torrone fully made by either milk or white chocolate and nuts. Torrone CROCCANTE – Literally “crunchy”, Croccante is a sort of nougat but the “glue” between the nuts is made by caramel. A lot of sugar for a sweet, guilty winter treat. It is common to find Croccante in local Christmas and Winter street markets, though it can also be occasionally found in shops during the festive seasons. An advice: watch your teeth, as it is rock hard! Croccante PANPEPATO – A mix of almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, candy fruit hold together by a dough of cocoa, honey, flour and wine wort (fermenting grape juice, mosto in italian). Hence the name: Panpepato, “peppery bread”. All these spices give a taste of Christmas at every bite. This cake is typical in several cities, including Ferrara, Terni, Rieti and Frosinone. panpepato PANFORTE – a Christmas treat from Tuscany, Panforte origin goes way back in time, probably around 1000s. The original dough was similar to bread with the addition of candy orange, cedar fruit, almonds and all covered by a thick layer of vanilla icing sugar. The texture is a bit gooey with a lovely citrus and vanilla flavour. A small slice of it always puts a big smile on my face. panforte AMARETTI – Almonds and sugar are the only ingredients of these Christmas delights. Crunchy and aromatic, these cute, little “buttons” are like cherries: one leads to the other. It is impossible to stop eating them! amaretti RICCIARELLI – These Christmas cookies similar to marzipan and covered in sugar are typical of Siena, in Tuscany. The fragrant texture reveals a subtle scent of vanilla, which matches perfectly with a glass of sweet wine. Italians bake them since 1300s: if you haven’t tried them yet, it’s time for you to enjoy these mouth-watering treats. ricciarelli CANTUCCI or TOZZETTI – The name changes from region to region. Cantucci in Tuscany, Tozzetti in Umbria. In the US they even call them even BISCOTTI (a word that in Italian simply means “biscuit”). Who has never tried these finger-shaped, dry biscuits with hazelnuts and almonds and a lovely vanilla aroma? The original recipe requires to bake a large dough in the shape of a flat baguette: when half cooked, it has to be cut in slices (each one is a Cantuccio) and the slices need to be baked again until dry. The best way to enjoy them is dipping them in either red wine or a sweet dessert wine like Vinsanto or Passito di Pantelleria. CantucciMOSTACCIOLI – Traditional Christmas cookie from Naples. A soft bready texture with the flavours of honey and candy fruit, all covered by a hard, thin, chocolate crust. Variations to the original recipe include the cookies being covered either in white chocolate or in sugar and candies. (As if they are not sweet enough…). mostaccioli TORCIGLIONE or SERPENTE (snake) – This snake shaped Christmas cake is typical of Umbria region and the origins come from the pagan tradition: the shape of a rolled snake symbolises the ability of Nature of regenerate itself. Few, simple ingredients make this traditional cake very special: sweet and bitter almonds, sugar, Brandy, flour, eggs, pine nuts, lemon. A mouthful of Christmas. serpente BUCCELLATO – A ring-shaped Sicilian Christmas dessert made by a thin sheet of shortcrust pastry filled with dry figs, raisins, almonds, candy pumpkin, candy orange, chocolate bits and other ingredients that may vary depending on the different areas of Sicily. The whole cake is then covered with a sugar glazing or icing sugar and candy fruit. The many flavours blended in this rustic cake are a delight for the 5 senses. Sicilia_-_Buccellato What are the traditional Christmas cakes in your Region or Country? And what’s your favourite Christmas treat? Share it in the comments! I am looking forward to expanding my list of tastings for this festive season!


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Hallo! I’m Alessio: an Italian geek with the passion for food and travel. I’m originally from Umbria Region - the Green hearth of Italy - and currently live in London. I’m often on a plane, travelling somewhere either for work or holidays. This is my little corner of the world where I share my tasty recipes, tips on how to cook, restaurants to try and places to visit, including my beautiful Umbria.

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