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  • 4 Italian Desserts to Brighten Your Holiday Table

    Discover some treats for which our counterparts in Italy are famous
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    You already know pastiere for Easter and panettone for Christmas are a given in the Boot. But you might be missing out on the run-of-the-mill desserts that Italians make for breakfast, when guests are coming over, or for their super Sunday lunch. Some of these standards – for reasons I can't understand or explain – have not made their way to other parts of the world. That's why I feel it is my duty to inform you of their deliciousness. So, here goes:

    1. Girelle

    Any Italian kid in elementary school can tell you all about this cake because it's like their cupcakes. This is the standard dessert for mom's to make and bring into school for holidays and parties. Some families might have this as breakfast on the morning of someone's birthday. Girelle literally translates to "swivels" in English. You roll the dough when making it in the way you would cinnamon buns. Then, after it has been baked, you slice it to serve. My sister-in-law makes this all the time, and her version has Nutella swirls in it, but some people make it with regular ol' chocolate. The Nutella edition is sometimes called Rotolo alla Nutella. Many Italian sites have recipes for this one. I myself have never made it (but plan to because my son likes it – a lot). I will probably just consult my in-laws, but you can check out the Italian sites, Misya (which I have used on occasion for other recipes) or Ricette della Nonna (which looks super promising).

    2. Babà

    If you are old enough to remember Marisa Laurito's performance at the 1989 Sanremo music festival, then you already know that "il babà e' una cosa seria." Serious, indeed. This rum-soaked pastry is a traditional offering to guests and loved ones. Most of us are familiar with the individual, often bite-sized versions that pastry shops offer us. But home bakers usually make a babà cake, which is in the form of what Americans would call a bundt. They use a special dessert rum that is made and sold specifically for baking. This was news to me. Until this summer, when my sister-in-law panicked about not having the right stuff in the house when she was halfway through her recipe, I thought any old rum would do. To make the dessert kid-friendly, moms will replace the rum (which is not cooked and therefore could potentially get you drunk) with water infused with sugar. Misya has a recipe for this one, too, as does Ho Voglia di Dolce, which offers up a fancy photo. I have not made this either, but my husband won me over by buying pastry versions that were stuffed with either limoncello cream or strawberries and whipped cream on the night we met. Unforgettable yumminess!

    3. Caprese

    No, I'm not talking about salad here. L'insalata Caprese is made of the tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil that we all know and love. The Caprese is a cake. It is a common Sunday lunch star, at least where we come from in Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples. As the name suggests, the Caprese comes from Capri, which is a neighbor to Ischia. There are two versions of the cake – lemon and chocolate almond. The latter one is far more popular despite the fact that the Neapolitan islands (Capri, Ischia, and especially Procida) are known for their lemons. Ricette della Nonna comes through with a recipe for this one, too, but again I have not made this yet. My sister-in-law is known for her baking, so I leave it to her and bring the American recipes to the table.

    4. Gelato

    Ok, so you've heard of this. But you might not have realized you could make it at home. Well, I can assure you that you can because I have and do all the time. Thanks to your handy ice cream maker, which are getting more and more technologically advanced all the time. You can make American versions of gelato that feature our standard chocolate and vanilla flavors, whose ingredients make them different than heavier ice cream. That's fine and well. But I prefer making flavors I only find in Italy (especially when I'm back home in the United States.) I have had some success with fior di latte, which literally translates to the flower of the milk and is akin to vanilla but so much fluffier and more flavorful. I enjoyed the banana gelato I made, but my Italian relatives found it to be too sweet. And I'm still perfecting my nocciola (hazelnut) recipe. It's hard to find the whole hazelnuts necessary for the recipe, and it is an art that requires time to understand.

    I'll get there eventually. Next up, I want to try lemon marscarpone, and my husband wants green apple gelato, which is a favorite of ours during the summer in Ischia. I use the Misya recipe for fior di latte, but there are others… in English and with American measurements of ingredients. Just do a Google search, and you should find all the recipes you can imagine and more.

    Di Meglio uses the written word to help families create memories and stick together. You can follow her on Facebook at Francesca's Newlyweds Nest and on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.

    Article Published 11/09/15


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