History of Italian Desserts


Decadent, flavorful and classic: Italian desserts have it all. These delicious desserts also have a long history, and many of the items on your favorite Italian restaurant's menu have been around for ages. Read on to find out more about the fascinating and ancient history of Italian desserts.

Ancient History: Biscotti, Panforte and Other Italian Sweetbreads

  • According to painlesscooking.com, the first Italian desserts were probably breads. Because sugar was too expensive for the common folk, early dessert recipes were most likely sweetened with fruit or honey. One example of such a dessert would be panforte, whose origins are in Siena. According to Lifeinitaly.com, the medieval version of the panforte, made by pharmacists and nuns, was less heavy than the contemporary version. Biscotti, which are now considered by many to be a gourmet dessert, also originated around this time, although the original versions were much simpler than those of today.

New Improvements: Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, Cheesecake

  • As time progressed, sugar became more plentiful and was soon a common household item. With this change came a new range of Italian desserts. For example, the famous tiramisu is claimed to have originated in the 1500s. According to lifeinitaly.com, the dessert was introduced to the Duke Cosimo de Medici, who made it quite popular. Another story is that it originated in Treviso and was a favorite "pick me up" of prostitutes. Regardless of the exact origin, it is indubitable that without the availability of sugar, tiramisu would have taken much longer to gain its present popularity. Some other desserts that may have originated during this time are panna cotta, cheesecake (made of ricotta cheese, rather than cream cheese as used in New York cheesecake recipes) and cream puffs.


  • According to painlesscooking.com, chocolate was introduced to Italians by the French around the 1700s. Originally, chocolate was melted and drunk. Bicerin, a combination of melted chocolate, espresso and cream, has been served in the same restaurant in Torino since 1763. Although Italy is not one of the primary producers of chocolate, the Italians have created many delicious desserts with the help of chocolate. For example, Nutella, a delicious hazelnut cocoa spread, originated in Italy and is still made there today.

Italian ice

  • Italian ice is a very popular and refreshing Italian dessert. Italian ice differs from a snow cone in that it is frozen after the fresh fruit juice is added to the water. According to examiner.com, this delicious treat may date all the way back to the time of Nero, who accidentally discovered it. Another claim is that it actually originated in ancient China.

Italian Desserts Today

  • Italian desserts continue to be made throughout Italy, and the various regions of the country have various native desserts. Italian American immigrants have taken different turns with classic desserts, with some delicious results. For example, since mascarpone cheese was not as common in America, many desserts began to use ricotta cheese more frequently in desserts such as cannoli and cheesecake. Despite these changes, Italian desserts are still delicious, and their historical background makes them even more appealing to many families of all cultures.

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