As lovers of all varieties of pasta, fine wine and decadent sweets, it’s no surprise to us that Italian ranks number one as the world’s favorite cuisine, edging out Chinese, Japanese and Thai (though the competition is fierce). Everybody loves the first and second courses, but our personal favorite is dessert. And what better way to finish a decadent family style feast than with a platter of Italian cookies? Of course, in Italy, cookies are for breakfast, too, and we sure love them with a hot cappuccino.
Every Italian Cookie Deserves a Place at the Table
Below, we’ve ranked a few of our favorite Italian baked goods, but remember that taste is subjective. Everybody has their own biscotti preferiti, especially Italians and Italian-Americans who have special connections to the recipes baked by their nonnas. But if you’re new to Italian cookies or want to make a spread worthy of a big celebration, you can’t go wrong with any of the specialties from the list below.
- Baci Di Dama — The prized cookie of the Piedmont region — home of the chocolate capital of Italy — baci di dama is a delightful sandwich treat featuring buttery hazelnut cookies with a smooth, chocolate inner filling. Legend has it the staple Italian confection, whose name translates to “lady’s kisses,” was created for Italy’s royal family in the 1850s.
- Wafer Cookies — Wafer cookies are a staple in any Italian household. Available in hundreds of unique varieties, these addictive cookies are traditionally made with multiple layers of crisp, paper-thin wafer cookies sandwiching a tasty cream filling, often made with chocolate or hazelnut. There are many makers of Italian wafer cookies, but Loacker is arguably the most beloved. Their popular Quadratini (square) and classic rectangular wafers are ubiquitous in Italy and can be found all over the world.
- Biscotti — Biscotti (cantuccini) are perhaps the most famous cookie hailing from Italia, ubiquitous in bakeries and coffeehouses all over the world. The name of the crunchy, flavorful snack actually means “twice-cooked” in Italian because it’s double-fired in the oven to make it extra-crunchy. The sturdiness and tasty flavor of biscotti and cantuccini make them a popular choice for dunking in hot liquids. Traditionally, this cookie was served alongside sweet wine, but these days it’s much more common to use it as a dipping vessel for hot coffee and tea in the morning.
- Lady Fingers — If you’ve ever had tiramisu — and if you haven’t, run to your closest Italian establishment right away — then you’ve had lady fingers. Known as savoiardi in Italy, these sweet oblong cookies are made of flour, eggs, sugar and powdered sugar. Although they’re famous all over Europe, they were created in Italy in the 15th century to celebrate a visit by the king of France. Because of their excellent ability to soak up liquids, they’re saturated in coffee and used as a primary ingredient in tiramisu. They’re great on their own, too!
- Amaretti — Amaretti are macaron-like cookies made with sugar, egg whites, almond flour and apricot kernels. Its name literally translates to “little bitter things,” but since they are often sweetened with chocolate, liqueurs and almonds, they take on a light, sweet and nutty flavor. Because they don’t use traditional wheat flour, amaretti are naturally gluten-free and are perfect for those looking for a wheat-free Italian cookie to devour.
- Pizzelle — Pizzelle earns a spot on our list not only because it’s one of the tastiest cookies around, but also because it’s the stuff of baked good legends. This cookie has a rich history dating back to the 8th century, when bakers in the region of Abruzzo began flattening sweet dough between hot plates. This has earned it the title of the oldest cookie in the world! It’s made by pressing a dough made of flour, sugar, butter or oil and flavoring — often anise, vanilla or fruit — into a hot iron, branding it with an intricate, snowflake-like design.
- Pan di Stelle — Pan di Stelle (bread of stars) isn’t a cookie your nonna will bake for you from scratch, but it’s nevertheless one of our top picks! Made by beloved Emilia-Romagna baker Mulino Bianco (known as Italy’s most popular cookie company), these are yummy chocolate-hazelnut cookies studded with a spread of white stars on top. The original is our favorite, but Mulino Bianco has created a variety of unique spin-offs, including their popular Pan Di Stelle Cream and Biscocrema cookies. We’re huge fans, if you couldn’t tell!
- Pignoli — Literally translating to “pine nut” in Italian, pignoli are a southern Italian concoction featuring a soft dough made up of almond paste, sugar, egg whites and pine nuts. On top, they’re sprinkled with whole pine nuts for an extra crunch. Like amaretti, pignoli are naturally gluten-free, replacing the wheat for almond flour, so they’re perfect for a crowd.
- Cuccidati — When you think of Christmas sweets in Italy, your mind probably automatically goes to the panettone, a sweet bread from Milan made with a sweet bread dough flecked with candied fruits, raisins, chocolates and more. But there are many other special holiday sweets to add to your Christmas platter, such as cuccidati. Also known as Italian fig cookies, these Sicilian favorites feature a fig jam stuffed pastry dough covered in festive sprinkles.
- Rolled Wafers — Call us simple, but we cannot resist the crunchy, creamy combo of a rolled wafer! These delicious creations feature a tube made of thin, crisp wafer dough surrounding a filling of thick cream. Available in chocolate, vanilla and a whole variety of unique flavors, the rolled wafer is a perfect snack. But it’s nearly impossible to eat just one!
What’s your favorite Italian cookie? Which ones are must-tries? Make sure to let us know so we can give it a try and maybe even add it to our list!