Italian Christmas Cakes, Cookies, and Treats

Almost every town in Italy has their own special cake, cookie, or pie for Christmas. Here's a quick rundown of some of the best known, in order of popularity. In case you were wondering, my personal favorites are Panforte and Pandoro.

[Edited by Danette St. Onge on May 26, 2016.]

  • 01 of 11
    Panettone - Italian Christmas Cake
    Panettone - Italian Christmas Cake. Anthony Masterson/Getty

    Panettone is the traditional Christmas Cake of Milano and it has become the most common Christmas cake in Italy thanks to its keeping qualities: industry can churn them out and they stay fresh. So industry does, and pastry shops everywhere also make them. It's a deserved popularity, because it is good, and if you make it yourself you can include exactly what you want -- raisins, candied fruit, chocolate chips, and so on.

  • 02 of 11

    Pandoro, Verona's Snowy Mountain Cake

    A Christmas Pandoro! Quick to do and Beautiful Too
    A Christmas Pandoro! Quick to do and Beautiful Too. © Kyle Phillips, Licensed to About.Com

    Pandoro is Verona's answer to Panettone, a rich, buttery cake that's generally sprinkled with an abundance of powdered sugar. Unlike panettone, it never contains candied fruit, and for some, this is a plus. It is remarkably good, in any case. Sometimes slices of it are served with a rich chocolate sauce, for dipping.

  • 03 of 11
    Struffoli, at Salvatore Molettieri's
    Struffoli, at Salvatore Molettieri's. © Kyle Phillips, Licensed to About.Com
    Struffoli (they're always plural) are fried dough balls dipped in a honey syrup, shaped into a wreath, and sprinkled with diavolilli, a type of candy. Sounds (and is) quite rich, and is also probably extremely old -- this sort of use of honey as a sweetener dates back to the Romans.
  • 04 of 11
    Judy's Fig and Walnut Panforte
    Judy's Fig and Walnut Panforte. © Kyle Phillips, Licensed to About.Com

    Some say Panforte is so good it allowed a Novitiate nun to drive the Devil from her convent, while others say it's older still, the centerpiece of the feast the baby Jesus prepared for a street urchin who gave him his last crust of bread. Could be either, but it's good regardless.

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  • 05 of 11

    Ricciarelli, Siena's Orange-Laced Amaretti

    Judy's Ricciarelli
    Judy's Ricciarelli. © Kyle Phillips, Licensed to About.Com

    Mention amaretti, and many think of the little, crisp, tinned almond cookies one finds for sale in supermarkets. However, there are many variations; in particular, in many areas the freshly made amaretti sold in pastry shops are soft and chewy (the only requirement for amaretti is some bitterness, generally from almonds or peach pits, to offset their sweetness). In Siena, they add some orange when they make ricciarelli, and the results are extraordinary.

  • 06 of 11

    Ciambelle, from Lazio

    Ciambelle al vino in Hostaria I Buoni Amici, Rome
    Ciambelle al vino in Hostaria I Buoni Amici, Rome. Danette St. Onge

    These ring-shaped biscuits from the region around Rome are made with wine and anise seeds and are wonderful for breakfast or dessert.

  • 07 of 11

    Caggionetti, Tasty Southern Cookies

    Some associate caggionetti with Naples, but these fried cookies are made in other parts of Southern Italy as well.

  • 08 of 11

    Susamielli, another Neapolitan Christmas Cookie

    These traditional Neapolitan Christmas cookies are S-shaped. For two possible reasons: First, in the past they were called sesamielli, and covered with sesame seeds. Second, they were (and are) also called Sapienze, because they were made by nuns of the Monastero della Sapienza.
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  • 09 of 11

    Cartellate, Cookies from Altamura

    Dough, fried quickly and dipped in honey. Sounds simple, but they're very good.
  • 10 of 11

    Buzzolai, cookies from Dalmatia

    Buzzolai are ring-shaped cookies, and were an essential part of every festivity in Dalmatia, in part because their round shape brings coins to mind, and in part because they're quite tasty. Every family had a recipe for them, and they vary greatly. Here are a couple, one simple, for Christmas Eve, and one much more complex, for Christmas Day.
  • 11 of 11

    Ginetti

    Rich, tasty Calabrian cookies.