Christmas desserts you can find in Rome
Compared to the food that is served on actual Christmas holidays (see our dedicated post about it), desserts are more widely available starting in early December and are just not sold exclusively over the holidays.
To be completely fair, we’ve seen some instances where a few end-of-the-year sweets were sold in September, but anyway – let’s get back to the topic at hand! – what you should know about them all is that there are many different desserts that are traditional in the last month of the year, and they originate from various areas of the country.
Listing them all would be impossible, but what follows is a list of the main ones: so when you go to a supermarket, bakery or restaurant, you won’t be in the dark when it comes to ordering some!
Panettone or pandoro?
The main desserts sold and made in December are the subjects to a proper feud. There is Camp Panettone and Camp Pandoro – people react passionately to the one they love the most and they’re even more passionate about saying out loud what they hate about the other. But, first things first… What are they?
Hailing from Milan, it’s a sweet type of bread shaped like a dome, which traditional recipe includes flour, butter, yeast, milk, eggs, caster sugar and – more importantly – candied orange or lemon as well as dried raisins.
In most cases, lovers of panettone will enjoy the latter two ingredients the most, while haters will specifically loathe them. Variations of the traditional recipe will have custard or chocolate instead of candied fruits & raisins. Many bakeries in Rome (and all over Italy) sell their own artisanal version at this time of the year, but cheaper versions can be bought in any supermarket.
A star-shaped cylinder (roughly!) of butter, milk, yeast, sugar and flour – with no candied fruits, no raisins, no cream in it – it’s just a simple(r) cake, originating in Verona. As its arch-enemy, it can be easily bought in supermarket, and like it, it’s much loved at this time of the year as it can be used as an alternative to the ordinary Italian breakfast (you won’t find any in cafes but at home you can try a slice with a generous slathering of Nutella on!).
… And all the other ones!
A type of nougat, sold in packaged bars, either honey-based or chocolate-based, containing mostly roasted nuts.
There are two types of mandorlato: a white, honey-based nougat or something completely different: it’s a type of panettone with a dried almonds filling.
Originating in Tuscany and with its roots in the Middle-East, where it is said to have been discovered and adapted by crusaders, it’s a cake made with honey, nuts, dried fruits and various spices. In some areas of central Italy it is also known as pan pepato, with added chocolate and with a stronger taste due to the presence of pepper.
Available in some of Rome’s bakeries or pastry shops even though it’s technically a traditional dessert from Naples, it’s a cake made of hundreds of marbles-shaped balls of deep fried dough (sweet rather than savoury). The cake is decorated with candied fruits and honey.
Also hailing from Naples, although widely available in Rome, are these diamond-shaped biscuits, glazed in either white or dark chocolate, made of olive oil, almonds or nuts, sugar and sometimes cloves.
A rare sight these days, this particular type of cake dates back to Imperial Rome and was offered as a present to encourage the return of the sun (it does look like one, being round and yellow!). The golden color was obtained by using egg yolk, but in some versions saffron is used. Other ingredients include candied citron, almonds, walnuts and honey.