As is true of the French, the Italians just do dessert right. It’s the variety as much as the quality: If you want something decadent and over-the-top, they’ve got tartufo and tiramisu. Want something a little more restrained? No problem: Panna cotta and nut tortes, at your service. Even their most delicate, less-intense desserts bring a special sort of something to the table for the holiday, though. Here are eight of the tastiest and most stunning.
Butter, ground almonds, sugar, eggs, almond and vanilla extracts, rum, salt, lemon zest and melted butter. Those pantry staples are what comprise the fancy-sounding “frangipane” in this bakery-beautiful pear and frangipane tart. How simple does that sound, and how delicious? Fanned Anjou pears and a dead-simple crust make this more than holiday-worthy.
Remember that Italian restaurant where the olive oil cake blew you away? Make your own, and make it this stunner: Olive oil-almond cake wears a holiday-ready garland of pomegranate seeds and winter citrus. It smells incredible as it bakes thanks to that olive oil and a flurry of orange zest, right in the batter.
One of those desserts we never think to make on our own but always, always buy at a restaurant or bake shop when we spy it, classic tiramisu is iconic for good reason. This is the recipe you want, including an egg-free variation for those who require it.
Another splendor in the grass, Italian almond tart comes wreathed in berries, with a snowfall of confectioners’ sugar. If you’ve ever had an almond tart or torte, you know why their fans are legion. The best ones are nutty and sweet, filling and light, elegant and down-to-earth at once. This beauty boasts a hidden layer of raspberry jam.
Don’t let the long list of staples in the recipe get you down; this pear crostata with spiced caramel and candied pistachios requires just 35 minutes of hands-on time. As is the case with the best summer crumbles, crostatas can be an easy, breezy delight. This knockout is sort of a deconstructed one, from Emma Hearst and Sarah Krathen, authors of the cookbook Sorella, and it features a vanilla bean streusel and a halo of candied pistachios.
Welcome to the panna cotta fan club. It’s great to have you here! The secret weapon of lazy dessert fans, it comes together in twenty minutes or less. This yogurt panna cotta with orange-pomegranate compote is a testament to how good it can be. Did we mention that panna cotta doesn’t require turning on the oven? It’s the glorious truth.
Are you kidding me with this?! That’s what one might think upon first seeing this walnut espresso torte with burnt orange caramel. No need to look for the bakery receipt; save your $25. Making this bad boy at home takes just a couple of hours. It’s as good as looks (which means it’s incredible): butter and walnuts take star turns in the torte itself. A burnt orange caramel brings it home.
A dessert that nods to both Arabic and Italian, zuppa Inglese (sponge cake with custard and liqueur) means “English soup” in Italian. The play on English trifle includes alchermes, a bright red, herb-and-spice-flavored liqueur invented by Florentine monks, which in turn derives from the Arabic qirmiz. You can use Framboise if you don’t have any, and a storebought sponge cake if you don’t feel inclined to make your own. (Hey, it’s the holidays! Put your feet up!) Buon Natale, indeed!