A Sugary Tour of Italy

by Danilo Brunetti

One of the most important aspects of an Italian Christmas is its traditional sweets, which vary from region to region. Take our tour of the entire country with yuletide goodness as your destination.

First stop: Milan. This northern city’s contribution to holiday goodies is panettone, a dense yellow cake dotted with raisins and other bits of candied fruit. In nearby Cremona, sample some torrone.


This rock-hard, chewy white candy made of egg whites, honey, sugar, and various kinds of nuts, is supposedly of Arab origin. Next up is Verona for a slice of pandoro. This tall, star-shaped yellow cake is lighter than panettone, contains no nuts or raisins, and is topped with a generous dusting of powdered sugar. Don’t miss Siena, a city doubly rich in delectable Christmas sweets, being responsible for the evolution of at least two, including ricciarelli, small lozenge-shaped cookies made with almond-paste that date back at least as far as the 14th-century.


Panforte is Siena’s other claim to sugary fame, a chewy, nutty at fruitcake that is surprisingly spicy. Rome’s holiday treat can trace its origins all the way back to the time of the Caesars, when pangiallo was distributed during the winter solstice to represent the return of the sun, due to its round, yellow appearance. The small barley- our cake is filled with honey, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts, and candied citron. Heading southward, stop in Naples for some struffoli, tiny irresistible balls of sweet dough, deep-fried and coated in honey, then covered with sprinkles and bits of candied fruit.


Down in Italy’s heel, the city of Bari brings us cartellate. These sinfully decadent mini-pies are made of dough, cooked wine, cinnamon, honey, and sugar, and deep-fried to a golden brown. Don’t forget Sicily, an island that has turned sugary creations into an art form. Their signature Christmas dessert is buccellato, a ring-shaped cake made of pasta frolla (a light and exquisite pastry dough) and filled with dried figs, orange peel, and chocolate chips. Don’t have time to hit all these cities? Not to worry; most of these swoon-worthy sweets are available right here in Rome at your local bakery.

Our favorites: Antico Forno Roscioli – Via dei Chiavari, 34. – Panificio Bonci – Via Trionfale, 34/36. –Panella – Via Merulana, 54. – Castroni – Via Cola di Rienzo, 196/198. – Pasticceria Regoli – Via dello Statuto, 60.