Irresistibly Sweet Italian Dessert Recipes

Pasta isn’t the only dish that Italy has perfected. It has also mastered the sweetest meal of the day: dessert. Using these seven recipes, you can learn the basics, like tiramisu and biscotti, or you can take your baking game up a notch by preparing semifreddo and the ever-popular Sicilian cannoli. Whether you’d like to end your day on a stunningly sweet note or simply want to enjoy a mid-afternoon treat, these enticing Italian desserts are sure to cure your sugar cravings!

1. Tiramisu

tiramisu

Tiramisu | iStock.com

According to Joy of Baking, tiramisu was invented in the 1960s at a restaurant in Treviso, Italy, called El Touga. Tiramisu means “pick me up” or “carry me up,” which most likely refers to the caffeine and alcohol incorporated in this dessert dish. In Cooking Channel’s tiramisu, egg whites, sugar, mascarpone, and rum, if using, are mixed together, creating a rich and creamy filling. Ladyfingers are dipped in brewed coffee and are then placed on a tray, creating the base for this dessert dish. Top with the mascarpone, dust with cocoa powder, and repeat the process again. Do note that you do not want to soak your ladyfingers in coffee; it’s important that they maintain their firmness. The recipe yields 8 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups brewed coffee, cooled
  • 2 (8-ounce) containers mascarpone
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 14 ounces savoiardi cookies (firm ladyfingers)
  • 4 ounces sugar, plus 2 tablespoons or more, for the coffee
  • 2 shots rum or Italian Marsala, optional
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup shaved dark chocolate, to garnish

Directions: First prepare the coffee using a coffee machine big enough to serve 12; pour it in a bowl and allow to cool off, add 2 tablespoons sugar or sweeten to taste. Mix the egg yolks with 2 ounces sugar, and mix until you obtain a creamy light mixture. Work the mascarpone in a bowl using a wooden spoon, making sure you eliminate any lumps, then add the mascarpone to the sugar-egg mixture and continue to mix well.

In a separate bowl, mix the egg whites, pinch of salt, and the remaining 2 ounces sugar, until they reach a somewhat firm, but fluffy consistency, then add them to the mascarpone mixture. Stir in the rum, if using. Dip the savoiardi cookies in the coffee, and one by one lay them flat into a 7-by-11 pyrex tray, making sure you do not soak the cookies, as you want to make sure they maintain their firmness. Once the first layer of cookies has been laid out, spread a layer of the mascarpone cream on top, and dust with 1 tablespoon cocoa powder.

Now, again, prepare another layer of coffee-dipped cookies, cream, and cocoa powder. Garnish the top of the cake with the shaved dark chocolate. Cover the tray with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 3 hours so the flavors can marry and the tiramisu can settle.

2. Stollen Biscotti

Cranberry Biscotti is an italian dessert

Biscotti | iStock.com

Filled with nuts, dried fruits, warm spices, and a heavenly glaze, Betty Crocker’s stollen biscotti is a treat for your tastebuds. The recipe yields 28 servings. If you’re serving this as an after-dinner treat, be sure to pair it with Taste of Home’s easy espresso.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • ¼ cup dark rum or orange juice
  • 2¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup blanched slivered almonds, toasted
  • ½ cup blanched whole hazelnuts, coarsely chopped, toasted
  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • ½ cup dried currants
  • ½ cup dried cherries, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons candied lemon peel
  • 2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Directions: Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line cookie sheet with cooking parchment paper. In large bowl, mix granulated sugar, eggs, almond extract, and 3 tablespoons of the rum with whisk until blended. Stir in flour, baking powder, nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in almonds, hazelnuts, raisins, currants, cherries, lemon peel, and ginger. Divide dough in half; place on cookie sheet. Using floured hands, shape dough into 2 logs about 3 inches apart.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 15 minutes. Place logs on cutting board; cut into ½-inch slices. Place cut sides down on cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes. Turn slices over; bake 10 minutes longer. Remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack. Cool. In small bowl, mix powdered sugar and remaining 1 tablespoon rum until smooth. Drizzle over tops of biscotti.

3. Italian Rum Cake

Bundt cake

Italian rum cake | iStock.com

Your guests will love how rich and flavorful this dessert is, and thanks to the boxed cake mix this recipe calls for, you’ll love how easy it is to prepare. Italian Dessert Recipes notes that you must make this cake in advance and allow it to sit at least 12 hours before serving; it allows for better flavoring. Trust us, it’ll be well worth the wait!

Ingredients:

  • 1 box of yellow cake mix
  • 1 package of vanilla instant pudding
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup oil
  • 1 cup of walnuts
  • ½ cup dark rum

Glaze

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 cups of sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ cup of dark rum

Directions: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease the bundt or tube pan. Pour the 1 cup of chopped nuts over the bottom of the pan. Mix all the cake ingredients together. Blend well. Pour batter over nuts. Bake for 1 hour. While the cake is baking for the hour, prepare the glaze. To prepare the glaze, melt the butter in a sauce pan. Stir in the water and sugar.

Boil the glaze mixture for 5 minutes stirring constantly. Add the rum after you pull the mixture off of the stove. To assemble, when the cake has cooled and then invert on the serving plate. Prick the top. Drizzle and smooth glaze evenly over the sides and top. Allow the cake to absorb the glaze as much as possible. Place toothpicks in the cake, and cover with saran or aluminum foil. Try and get a tight seal so the cake will absorb the rum.

4. Lemon-Honey Semifreddo

Lemon-Honey Semifreddo

Lemon-honey semifreddo | iStock.com

Fine Cooking notes that semifreddo, which is like fluffy, sliceable ice cream, is a staple in most restaurants in Italy. Semifreddo means “half cold” in Italian and has an unbelievably soft, velvety texture. The best part? You don’t need an ice cream maker, or any special equipment for that matter, to make this divine dessert. Food & Wine’s recipe combines honey, lemon juice, lady fingers, and orange marmalade to give this treat lovely and light flavors. It yields 8 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 cup chilled heavy cream
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • ½ cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 12 soft ladyfingers sandwiched with orange marmalade

Directions: Line a 9-by-4½-by-3-inch loaf pan with parchment paper, allowing at least 3 inches of overhang on the long sides. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand. In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites at high speed until firm peaks form. In another bowl, beat the cream until firmly whipped; refrigerate.

In a large bowl set over a pot of simmering water, beat the egg yolks with the honey at medium speed until thickened and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the yolk mixture registers 160 degrees, about 6 minutes. Remove the bowl from the pot and beat in the gelatin mixture, lemon juice, and zest; continue beating until slightly cooled, about 5 minutes longer.

Using a rubber spatula, fold the beaten egg whites and whipped cream into the lemon-honey mixture until no streaks remain. Pour half of the semifreddo base into the prepared loaf pan. Arrange the ladyfinger sandwiches in the pan in 2 long rows and top with the remaining semifreddo base. Cover loosely with the overhanging parchment and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours or overnight. Unmold the semifreddo and peel off the paper; slice and serve.

5. Mascarpone and Dark Chocolate Cream in White Chocolate Cups

melted chocolate

Melted chocolate | iStock.com

Looking for an oh-so-creamy mousse-like dessert to serve at your next dinner party? Prepare Giada De Laurentiis’ recipe, via Food Network, for mascarpone and dark chocolate cream in white chocolate cups. Planning is key when it comes to preparing this treat. Some ingredients will need time to freeze, while others will need time to completely cool before you can proceed with the recipe, which yields 8 servings. Feel free to make this in advance; just make sure you cover it and store in the refrigerator. Let it stand at room temperature one hour before serving.

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces good-quality white chocolate, chopped
  • 4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange peel
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • White chocolate curls, for garnish

Directions: Line 8 muffin cups with paper liners. Melt the white chocolate in top of double boiler over simmering water, stirring until smooth. Spoon 1 tablespoon melted chocolate into each paper liner. Using a pastry brush, coat the chocolate evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the liners. Freeze until the chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Remelt the white chocolate in the bowl. Spoon 1 tablespoon into each cup and brush over the bottom and up the sides, forming a second coat.

Freeze until completely set, about 1 hour. Melt the bittersweet chocolate in top of a clean double boiler over simmering water, stirring until smooth. At this point, set aside to cool completely. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream and sugar in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Set the whipped cream aside. Using an electric mixer, beat the mascarpone cheese, melted bittersweet chocolate, orange peel, and vanilla in a large bowl just until smooth and glossy, about 30 seconds.

Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture in 2 batches. Transfer the mousse to a pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Pipe the mousse into the white chocolate cups. Sprinkle the white chocolate curls over the mousse and serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate overnight, and then let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.

6. Zeppole

Zeppole

Zeppole | iStock.com

What could possibly be better than fried cookies made with creamy ricotta cheese? Allrecipes.com’s zeppole, also known as Italian doughnuts, are perfect for dessert — or an indulgent breakfast — and are extraordinarily easy to prepare. The recipe yields 35 servings and only takes 40 minutes to make.

Ingredients:

  • 2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1½ teaspoons white sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Directions: Heat oil in a deep-fryer to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium saucepan, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Stir in the eggs, ricotta cheese and vanilla. Mix gently over low heat until combined. Batter will be sticky.

Drop by tablespoons into the hot oil a few at a time. Zeppole will turn over by themselves. Fry until golden brown, about 3 or 4 minutes. Drain in a paper sack and dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serve warm.

7. Sicilian Cannoli

cannoli

Cannoli | iStock.com

Gourmet’s recipe via Epicurious notes that tried-and-true Sicilian cannoli are made using fresh sheep’s-milk ricotta. This recipe strays from that slightly and instead uses a combination of fresh cow’s-milk ricotta and goat cheese. If you don’t like goat cheese, feel free to use additional ricotta in its place. It yields 10 servings. It’s important to note that you’ll need several pieces of special equipment to make this dessert, including a pasta maker, round cookie cutter, deep-fat thermometer, metal cannoli tubes, and a pastry bag.

Ingredients:

Cannoli Shells

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 pound cold lard
  • 2 tablespoons sweet Marsala wine
  • 1 large egg, separated
  • About 3 cups vegetable oil

Filling

  • 1 pound fresh ricotta
  • 2 ounces soft mild goat cheese
  • ¼ cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 tablespoon minced candied orange peel
  • ½ teaspoon orange-flower water
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ⅓ cup shelled unsalted pistachios, chopped
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (½ cup)

Directions: To make dough for shells, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Add 2 tablespoons lard and blend in with your fingertips until combined. Add wine and yolk and stir until a dough forms. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 5 to 7 minutes. Form dough into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then let stand at room temperature 1 hour.

Make filling while dough stands. Beat together ricotta, goat cheese, confectioners sugar, orange peel, orange-flower water, and cinnamon in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed 1 minute. Fold in nuts and chocolate until combined and chill. To make shells, set smooth rollers of pasta maker at widest setting. Unwrap dough and cut in half, then lightly flour 1 piece. Flatten floured dough into an oval and feed through rollers. Turn dial down 2 notches and feed dough through rollers again. Continue to feed dough through rollers, making space between rollers narrower by 2 notches each time, until narrowest setting is used.

Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap. Transfer rolled dough to a lightly floured surface and cut out 4 or 5 rounds with floured cutter. Transfer rounds to baking sheet and keep covered with more plastic wrap. Roll out remaining dough and cut rounds in same manner. Gather scraps and let stand 10 minutes. Roll out scraps and cut in same manner.

Heat remaining lard with 1¼ inches oil in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat until it registers 350 degrees Fahrenheit on thermometer. Meanwhile, lightly oil cannoli tubes. Lightly beat egg white, then brush bottom edge of 1 dough round with egg white. Wrap dough around a tube, overlapping ends, then press edges together to seal. Make 5 more shells in same manner.

Fry dough on tubes 1 at a time, turning with metal tongs, until 1 shade darker, about 45 seconds. Wearing oven mitts, clamp end of hot tubes, 1 at a time, with tongs and, holding tube vertically, allow shell to slide off tube onto paper towels, gently shaking tube and wiggling shell as needed to loosen. Transfer shells to paper towels to drain and cool tubes before reusing. Wrap remaining dough around tubes and fry in same manner.

Spoon filling into pastry bag and pipe some into 1 end of a cannoli shell, filling shell halfway, then pipe into other end. Repeat with remaining shells.

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