Given that Italian Christmas lunches are famous for being slightly longer than the average, you should know that when pudding time arrives, a second round of feasting starts again. Italian Christmas desserts vary from region to region but there are some that are popular on the entire peninsula and also worldwide. Let’s catwalk the most popular together.
It’s the most popular Italian Christmas export, as much a symbol of Christmas for Italians as the tree and the nativity. The sweet bread loaf from Milan has a cupola shape and is quite high. The original recipe has flour, eggs, butter, raisins, sugar, candied orange and citron, lemon peel and vanilla extract. During the years many varieties have been invented with different variants of cream and chocolate. Still the classic version remains the most popular.
Traditionally from the area of Verona, the pandoro is as popular as the panettone during Christmas festivity. It has a golden colour and from this is name Pan d’oro, meaning “Golden Bread”. It is shaped like a 8 pointed-star and before serving is dusted with icing sugar and vanilla so to resemble to the Italian Alps. Try to cut it horizontally and turn the disks to create a Christmas tree like in the picture.
From the Neapolitan tradition, struffoli are deep fried balls of dough slightly bigger than chickpeas. While still hot, after been fried, an abundant amount of honey is added on top with orange rind and decorated with sprinkle of different colours and sizes. In no home in Naples can miss a plate of struffoli at Christmas, as it is a dessert for big group. In my family as in many other, all of us (about 30 on Christmas Eve) round around a couple of plates of struffoli and pick them as cherry. It feels nice to stick together in a family conversation with a crunchy portion of struffoli!
Cassata is THE dessert from Palermo, Sicily. You can find it all year round but around Christmas becomes a bit of a must have at the table. It is made of round sponge cake filled with a delicious ricotta cheese cream mixed with art and sugar, candied peel, bits of chocolate and decorated externally with marzipan, candied citrus fruits typically from Sicily. Different variant and sizes are produced for Christmas depending from the region and the patisserie that make them.
This was typically a cake made for Easter but with time it has become both the Christmas and Easter cake. Made with a blend of ricotta cheese and wheat, candied fruits and orange water in a sweet shortcrust pastry and served with ice sugar on top. Said like this is sounds quite similar to the cassata but I guarantee is quite different in look and taste…check with your eyes!
One of the oldest sweets of Italy, panforte is a spiced fruits and nut cake which dated back in the 13th century. It is highly aromatic and from this that is name means “strong bread”. It has a unique flavour made by some of the most characteristic winter ingredients for dessert like ground cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg honey, and nuts. To its singular aroma also contribute a shot of vin santo, the Italian dessert wine, typical from the Tuscany area. The city of Siena in Tuscany is regarded as the capital of panforte.
Neapolitan. Hard biscuits with a donought shape, filled with almonds and orange peel and zest. It has to be accompanied with a good glass of limoncello to make your Christmas. Because it is actually hard to bite, many people mop it up in the liqueur which makes it easier to break it. Together with struffoli and pastiera, this is the sweet symbol of the Neapolitan Christmas.
Pasta reale or Pasta di Mandorle or Frutta Martorana
If you don’t know that these little sweets are actually to be eaten, you could think there are made of ceramic or plastic for their precise imitation of fruits and vegetables. These little sweets of almond flour and sugar are typical of the Sicilian tradition but they became popular in many regions of Southern Italy. The Sicilian name “frutta Martorana” comes from Eloisa Martorana, a peeress who founded the Benedictine monastery of Palermo, where nuns used to make these sweets reproducing visually the fruits of their garden.
Similar to nougat but with a harder consistency, the torrone is made of eggs, honey, sugar, almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts. There are many types of it, some coated outside with dark chocolate or the chocolate version where instead of having honey and eggs, the interior is made completely of chocolate with nuts. It is a Christmas sweet popular in all the country.
Like the panforte, they are typical from the city of Siena. Addictively delicious little lozenge-shaped cookies made with marzipan, sugar, honey, egg white, vanilla and candied. As per tradition, the mixture has been worked with milling machine and once the shape is made, the cookies are left “to rest” for 2 days before being baked. The cracked surface gets some icing sugar. Like the panforte, they are eaten with vin sant