Naples is a microcosm of artistic expression. Italy’s third largest city, Napoli is arguably the country’s capital of culture. This is a place where one can feel the passion of its people in every sight, sound, scent, and taste. And not only Neapolitan pizza, but also Neapolitan sweets are beloved by Italians up and down the boot.
Neapolitans boast rich culinary traditions and unparalleled hospitality. One such example is the tradition of caffè sospeso. In an act of generosity towards strangers, bar patrons order one coffee, but pay for two. The barista then gives this prepaid coffee to an incoming patron.
And while coffee is an essential part of Neapolitan life, it’s impossible to limit oneself to this beverage only while at the bar. After all, Naples is famous for its mouth-watering deserts and generations of talented pastry chefs. If you haven’t tried these confectionery delights before, you’ll definitely be craving them after reading this guide to Neapolitan sweets.
Among the most beloved Neapolitan sweets are sfogliatelle. There are two versions, riccia (curly) and frolla (shortcrust), and the former is the most popular. Outside of Italy, these shell-shaped pastries are often known as lobster claws. Characterized by a crisp and flaky exterior, they are true works of art. Thin layers of dough are meticulously layered to create their elaborate appearance. Inside awaits a creamy filling, consisting of semolina and ricotta. These are a breakfast favorite in Naples and are often eaten on-the-go. But I’d say that when visiting la bella Napoli, it’s always a good time to enjoy these mouthwatering masterpieces!
Delizia al Limone
Delizia al limone made its debut in 1978 to inaugurate the opening of a hotel in Sorrento. Though he didn’t invent the dessert, pastry chef Sal De Riso is credited with its rise to fame twenty years after its introduction. As its name implies, it’s a true delight! This lemony treat encapsulates the flavors of the Amalfi Coast. It features a soft dome-shaped sponge cake, filled with a lemon-infused cream. The delizia are then soaked in the region’s famous limoncello liqueur, followed by the application of a lemon-custard glaze. Finally, they’re decorated with a lemon-infused whipped cream and lemon zest. To say this dessert is a lemon lover’s dream would be an understatement.
A visit to Naples wouldn’t be complete without tasting babà. This yeast-leavened cake is shaped like a mushroom and soaked in a sugary rum syrup. You can enjoy it on its own or garnished with whipped cream, custard and fresh fruit. While its origins may be French, there’s no disputing that the Neapolitans perfected it. Today, the babà is an iconic symbol of the city and holds a special place in people’s hearts. In fact, telling someone “tu si ‘nu babbà” is a compliment of the highest level.
Capri is an island characterized by its stunning landscape and lavish lifestyle. Located in the province of Naples, this island is home to torta caprese, one of Italy’s most iconic desserts. Believed to be born by virtue of a mistake, this flourless cake is a popular gluten-free choice. It uses almond flour and dark chocolate, making it both decadent and delicate. Its light, airy texture is thanks to the use of whipped egg whites in place of other common leavening agents. You would be hard-pressed to find a chocolate lover who doesn’t enjoy this divine treat. One bite of torta caprese is a slice of heaven that will transport your mind to this island paradise!
Zeppole di San Giuseppe
Italians celebrate Father’s Day on March 19, which is also the feast of San Giuseppe (St. Joseph). Like a cream puff, zeppole are a classic treat for this festive occasion. And though they’re popular in Naples, they’ve made their way throughout Italy and beyond. Made using a classic choux pastry dough, zeppole are available in both a baked or fried version. This airy pastry is then filled and decorated with a rich pastry cream. A syrupy amarena cherry on top brings a final touch of decadence. They’re beyond delicious, so don’t wait only for Father’s Day to enjoy them.
Fiocco di Neve
The new kid on the block in Neapolitan pastries is fiocco di neve. It can be difficult to introduce a new creation in a city that respects tradition. But pastry chef Ciro Poppella brought this now iconic dessert to life in the early 2000s. This delicate brioche features a heavenly cream filling. Though the entirety of the recipe is a mystery, the mastermind behind it shares that it contains sheep’s milk ricotta. Its exterior is coated with powdered sugar, reinforcing its snowy appearance. If you want to expand your horizons and support culinary innovation, you’ll have to give this a try.
Truly a one bite delight, struffoli are a Neapolitan Christmas classic. This is a city famous for its fried fare, and dessert is no exception. A sweet pastry dough is rolled into small balls and deep fried until golden. Next they’re coated in a sticky honey syrup before being colorfully decorated with sprinkles, candied fruits, and almonds. Often they’re arranged in the shape of a wreath, adding to their festive ambience. These have become a favorite in my home and I’m sure that you’ll be hooked once you give them a try!
Easter isn’t the same in Naples if pastiera is missing from the table. The flavors of this beloved treat capture the essence of spring time in Campania. Made using a shortcrust pastry dough, it’s best described as a dessert pie. But pastiera features a rich filling, making it far from an ordinary pie. It consists of grano cotto, creamy ricotta, candied orange peel, and orange blossom water. Then, using leftover pastry dough, it’s topped with an intricate lattice before baking for more than an hour. This iconic dessert is available at almost any Neapolitan pasticceria year round. So even if you can’t be in Naples for Easter, you can still savor this divine delight.
You may be surprised to learn that donuts are one of the most popular Neapolitan sweets. Known as graffe, Austrian krapfen were the inspiration behind these deep-fried delights. They were once reserved for Carnival, but are now a year round hit, especially for breakfast. And while donuts are often heavy and greasy, these have a fluffy texture, making it hard to stop at just one! This is thanks to a dough that uses yeast and mashed potatoes. The graffe are fried before being tossed in granulated sugar. The final product makes these nothing short of comfort food.
A festive favorite during Carnival, migliaccio is simple to prepare, yet irresistibly satisfying. The base of this rustic dessert begins by cooking semolina in warm milk, enhanced by the fragrance of citrus peels. Next, it’s incorporated into a mixture of sugar, eggs and ricotta before it bakes. Despite the simplicity in preparing this dessert, the final product is rich and creamy. If you’re a fan of cheesecake, then don’t hesitate to give this Neapolitan delight a try!