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Sicilian desserts, the sweetest part of the Italian la dolce vita, is a rich part of the Sicilian food culture.
The traditional Sicilian dolci or Sicilian desserts recipes reflect the island’s diversity of cultures.
Throughout our travels across Sicily, we discovered the types of sweets and traditions from east to west.
Depending on the season or festivities, the colorful and opulent displays of pastries change to reflect the occassion.
Beyond the cannoli, Sicily’s most iconic dessert, the island offers many more delicious sweets.
To help guide your sweet choices in Sicily, this is your definitive Sicilian desserts guide.
Here are 12 of the most cherished and famous desserts you don’t want to miss in Sicily.
What Is a Sicilian Dessert?
A Sicilian dessert is a sweet influenced by the diversity of ingredients introduced in Sicily during its years of occupation.
Sugar, chocolate, almonds and pistachio from the Arabs, Spanish, Byzantine, Romans and others have shaped Sicilian dessert recipes.
Additionally, cloistered nuns in convents fashioned elaborate desserts with closely guarded recipes.
The one thing that remains consistent throughout the ages is an enjoyment of Sicily sweets during festivities, celebrations and religious holidays.
A Sicilian dessert is more than just amazing tastes. With it comes thousands of years of cultural history and the impact and contribution of ancient civilizations.
Top Sicilian Desserts You Can Not Miss in Sicily
1. Bucciddatu or Buccellato – Ring Shaped Dried Fig Pastry
Buccellato, Bucciddatu in the Sicilian dialect, is a much loved cake is found all over Sicily in the month of December. It’s a classic Christmas holiday dessert that combines figs, nuts, raisins, covered with candied fruit or honey.
It’s usually baked in a round ring that is empty in the middle or as small pastries.
There are many versions buccellato recipes. Some include jam and even Marsala wine. While in Sicily exploring the authentic local specialties, we saw many versions of buccelatto at pastry shops.
We particularly enjoyed the smaller bites or cookies, which had concentrated fig flavors.
Named buccellato in Italian or bucciddatu in the Sicilian language, this fig cake has a centuries-old history.
It has been referenced as far back as the 15th century in the northern Italian province of Lucca.
And, while in Palermo, Sicily, the candied fruits and raisins are attributed to the Arab influence on the island.
Traditionally, this Sicilian dessert was usually served at family milestones like weddings or confirmations of children. It represented good fortune and prosperity.
Even though this fig cake is mostly associated with the Christmas holiday season, you can find it year long.
Unlike other winter desserts, the buccellato is still hand-made following traditional recipes.
2. Cassata or Cassata Siciliana – Sweet Ricotta Sponge Cake
Cassata or Cassata Siciliana is a traditional Sicilian dessert typically prepared for Easter. It is one of the most famous sweets in Sicily.
This delicious Sicilian dessert is a sponge cake and ricotta filling, sweetened with sugar or honey. Scents of cinnamon and vanilla are present and also diced lemon and orange.
The cake is decorated in a baroque style, with multicolored candied fruits, both whole and sliced and marzipan delights.
And, the surface is topped with a lemon juice glaze to tame for the sweetness of the cake.
We couldn’t reisit this beautiful and colorful cake when we first saw it in Catania, Sicily.
Paired together with a cup of coffee, we eagerly dove into this specialty cake. We loved the ricotta cheese filling, but found it a little too sweet. It is beautiful to eat and a wonderful treat for a sweet tooth.
There are many theories about the name, Cassata. Some claim it comes from the Arabic word “qas’at”, meaning small box. And others say it has Latin origins – “capsa” which means case, or chest.
Another possibility, is that since ricotta cheese is one of the main ingredients, the name could have been derived from “caseus” translated to cheese.
Regardless of the origins of the name, this cake has been linked to the Romans, Magna Grecia and early Sicilian Jews.
There is no single Cassata recipe as variations exist in all corners of the island. It is nonetheless a testament of the different civilisations and their influences on the island.
3. Cannuola, Cannolo or Cannoli – Iconic Sicilian Dessert
Loved all over the world and the most iconic dessert in Sicily is the cannoli.
This deep-fried cylindrical pastry shell filled with sweet ricotta cream is found all over the island and impossible to resist.
In Sicily, the cannoli are unlike any other. The ricotta filling is made exclusively with sheep’s milk.
The ends, depending on where you are on the island, can be candied fruit, chocolate drops, or chopped pistachios.
No matter where you go in Sicily, you are bound to find delicious cannoli. The key to good cannoli is to have good fresh ricotta cream.
If you can have it filled just before eating it, you’ll be transported to cannoli heaven just after one bite.
There are many legends and myths about the origins of this Sicilian dessert. It is originally said to be from Piana degli Albanesi, a town near Palermo. And, is said to have been created when Sicily was under Arab rule.
You’ll find famous bakeries and exceptional pastry chefs all over the island that are renowned for their exceptional cannoli.
Do yourself a favor and embark on a cannoli quest to find your favorite one. During our almost 6 month stay on the island, we sampled cannoli everywhere we went.
We enjoyed discovering the subtle differences in the texture of the ricotta cream. As well as the various toppings placed on the ends.
The cannoli or cannolo for singular is a defining Sicilian sweet. It’s a melting pot of cultures and one of the unmissable Sicilian desserts.
4. Cioccolato di Modica – Chocolate of Modica
The Unesco World Heritage town of Modica is home to the island’s most celebrated chocolate.
The chocolate of Modica comes from an ancient recipe brought from Mexico by the Spanish conquistadors during their occupation in Sicily.
The Aztecs invented the original recipe and way of processing it manually without heating it.
As a result, the chocolate is grainy and crumbly. It contains no added fat and it is typically dark and flavored with spices and citrus.
While we didn’t get a chance to visit Modica and see the chocolate making process, we were familiar with the approach.
While in Oaxaca, Mexico exploring the local food specialties, we visited the first chocolate manufacturer in the state, where they still use the traditional approach to chocolate making.
In Sicily, Modica chocolate is eaten on its own or used in Sicilian cuisine like in pastries and even meat dishes.
On its own, the chocolate of Modica is not smooth. When you bite into it, you can almost taste the sugar and flavoring grains.
It has a strong chocolate flavor and is very particular. It is nonetheless, a simple Sicilian pleasure to savor.
Modica chocolate is PGI protected, a mark that reflects its origins and quality as designated by European standards.
Modica chocolate is the first and only PGI chocolate, a mark of origin and protection of typical European Community products
If you want to try Modica chocolate from Sicily at home, you can have it conveniently delivered via Amazon.
5. Granita – Semi Fozen Sicilian Specialty Dessert
Granita is a frozen Sicilian treat as well as a refreshing dessert, 100% Sicilian from Catania.
The history goes back around 4000 years ago, in ancient Mesopotamia, where couriers traveled 100 kilometers by foot to get snow and ice to cool the royal drinks.
In Sicily, during the Middle Ages, people used to collect snow from Mt. Etna and store it in caves to prevent it from melting.
After the Arabs introduced sugarcanes and lemons, locals started to mix the snow with honey, aromatic herbs, flowers, and spices, thus making sherbet.
Granita though is a bit different from sherbet due to the way it is made. To make granita, a mixture of water, fruit juice, honey, or sugar was placed in a zinc bucket from a wooden vat.
Salt combined with snow was placed between the two containers to freeze the mixture. Using manually operate blades that kept the mixture in constant motion produced a smooth and grainy granita.
In Sicily, granita is a traditional breakfast choice, especially during the hot summer months.
It is often served together with brioche or brioscia, a sweet pastry with a little cap known as tuppu.
Granita is one of the most popular Sicilian desserts that you’ll find all over the island. You’ll find nut based granita made with almond or pistachios.
Granita made with citrus fruits like lemon, granita al limone, mandarin, oranges are also popular. As well as espresso or chocolate flavors.
You’ll not go wrong with any granita flavors you choose. Be sure to ask for the seasonal flavors.
Our favorite flavors were a combination of almonds and chocolate or simply pistachio flavors by itself.
6. Cassateddi or Cassatelle – Fried Sweet Ravioli of Ricotta
When we told locals in Palermo or Palermitans that we were heading to the western Trapani region, they all said “cassatelle.”
Cassatelle, we quickly learned, is one of the most famous Sicilian desserts in the Trapani region.
They are little half-moon shaped pastries filled with chocolate and fresh ricotta cheese from sheep.
Traditionally, they are dusted with a little icing sugar and served warm for a crisp exterior and a deliciously mouthwatering interior.
The flaky pastry dough is made using traditional ancient techniques and in western Sicily, enriched with a bit of Marsala wine.
The origins of this traditional Sicilian dessert are linked to Carnevale and Easter spring time celebrations.
This is said to the best season for the freshest sheep milk ricotta. While cassatelle from Trapani or cassatelle trapanesi are renown throughout Sicily, there are other versions.
In the town of Agira, not far from Enna, you’ll find the same dessert, Cassatelle Agira made with cocoa, almond and chickpea flour.
The Syracuse version of cassatelle use honey instead of sugar as one of the main ingredients. And, the ones from Borgetto, a small town near Palermo are prepared with chickpea cream.
No matter where you travel to within Sicily, be sure to try traditional Sicilian desserts like casatelle.
While some of the differences in taste and preparations styles may be subtle, the flavors are guaranteed to be unbelievable.
7. Cassatine di Sant’ Agata or Minne de Sant’Agata – Saint Agata Breasts
The story of this traditional Sicilian dessert from Catania a rather sad but heroic one.
It is a sweet dedicated to St. Agatha, the Patron Saint of Catania, for her faith and devotion to God.
The shape alludes to a woman’s breast in recognition of the terrifying torture she suffered. As the story goes, before becoming a saint, she rejected amorous proposals from the Roman proconsul who was in love with her.
Forced to renounce her faith, she sturbbonly refused to marry him. As a result of denying him, she was persecuted, having cut off her breasts and tortured.
Miraculoulsy, her breasts grew back, but she later died on February 5th, 251 after being tortured over hot coals.
These small cassata desserts with a candied cherry on top replicating a breast, are are dedicated to her martyrdom.
Saint Agata day is honored and celebrated the first week of February. While we were fortunate enough to have been in Catania for the occasion, the big parade was canceled due to the pandemic.
While we enjoyed this Catania dessert, it was hard to be neutral knowing its dark history.
Fortunately, the minne is incredibly delicious. The shortcrust pastry with ricotta, dark chocolate, wrapped in a sugar glaze and topped with a candied cherry is a tasty tribute.
In Catania, don’t miss this iconic and much loved Sicilian dessert.
8. Frutta Marturana or Frutta Martorana – Fruit and Vegetable Shaped Marzipan Sweets
A work of art, frutta martorana are exquisite marzipan sweets modeled to look like fruits and vegetables.
These perfectly reproduced fruits and vegetables can be found at almost all bakeries and pastry shops in Sicily.
They are traditionally eaten on the 2nd of November during the Festival of the Dead.
Interestingly, this incredible dessert was invented out of a need rather than simply to serve on the table.
The most famous preparation is attributed to the nuns in the convent of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio in Palermo.
The convent was apparently known for having the most beautiful fruits and vegetables
Apparently, as the story goes, the Archbishop of Palermo, having heard of the beautiful garden went to see it.
As it was November and the trees empty, the nuns decided to sculpt fruits from marzipan and hang them from the trees.
Making a good impression on their guests, the marzipan fruits were a real success.
Today frutta martorana are recognized as a traditional part of sweets and Sicilian cuisine. While very creative, the preparation requires a lot of patience.
The sweets need to dry for at least 20 hours before painting and decorating the marzipan shell.
If you are curious, you can order these creative marzipan fruits from Amazon and enjoy them at home.
9. Genovesi di Erice or Genovesi Ericine – Genovese Ericine
The Genovese Ericine is a typical dessert from the small town of Erice, famous throughout Sicily.
It is a shortbread stuffed with custard, baked and garnished with powdered sugar.
The origins of this Sicilian sweet are uncertain, although there are a few versions as far as the name is concerned.
Some say the name comes from the shape of the hat of Genovese sailors who came to the Sicilian Coast for commercial exchanges.
Others say that they were created by a woman from Erice, in love with a Genovese man.
The pastry was originally prepared by nuns from Erice, and eventually made famous by Maria Grammitico and her pasticceria.
In the 1950s, after a troubled life, Maria joined a convent and learned pastry making from the nuns.
She learned how to make desserts of almonds like pasticcini di mandorla, along with the Genovese Ericine.
After several years she left and opened her own shop where she sold the specialties learned during her stay with the nuns.
Her pastry shop, Pasticceria Maria Grammatico in Erice, is one of the most famous in Sicily.
From Trapani, we drove to Enrice to taste these unique Sicilian desserts. Along with a cup of coffee, we savored the contrasting textures and flavors.
The perfectly crunchy shortcrust pastry filled with creamy custard is truly worth its fame.
In Catania, there is a similar dessert called Panzerotto, which, in addition to custard, is served with chocolate cream.
While you’ll find Genovese Ericine at some pastry shops but there is nothing like trying them at Pasticceria Maria Grammatico.
10. Torta di Pistacchio – Pistachio Cake
The Sicilian pistachio cake is a traditional cake that uses one of the most prized ingredients – Bronte pistachios.
Bronte, is a town in the province of Catania located at the base of Mount Etna. It is famous for its pistachios which grow on the rocky volcanic soils.
The pistachios are harvested by hand and the final result is a bright green color with a unique taste of the nuts.
The recipe for the pistachio cake is quite an easy one. Just a few ingredients to bring the warm spirit of the island to your plate.
For the best result and a taste closer to the original one, we recommend Bronte pistachios, which are quite a delicious delicacy.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: Easy make your own Sicilian pistachio cake with our simple Sicilian Pistachio Cake Recipe: Easy To Make Italian Pistachio Dessert
11. Pasticcini di Mandorle or Paste di mandorla – Soft Almond Cookies
Pasticcini di Mandorle, an almonds based soft cookies, are a delicious Sicilian sweets.
The true naming is attributed to the sweet dough, considered a royal pastry during the medieval era. It was said to be “worthy of a king.”
You’ll find these soft and delicious sweets at all bakeries and pastry shops in Sicily. They are typically individually wrapped and enjoyed as a snack or with a hot drink.
These Sicilian cookies made of almonds are slightly crispy on the outside with a soft dense almond heart.
The first time we tried them was after running a 10.5 km run in Catania. We immediately fell in love with them and had them often thereafter.
Almond pastries are a hallmark of Sicilian desserts. This almond paste is found in the martorana, the famous desserts in the shape of fruits and vegetables.
And, the Easter lamb, which is an ancient tradition.The almond paste also called “pasta reale” is used in desserts in other regions of Italy.
In Sicily, it is thought that the Arabs began mixing sugar with almonds creating the paste. These Sicilian sweets are enjoyed during occasions like weddings, births or holiday celebrations.
They are an easy everyday snack to enjoy and worth seeking out on your travels to Sicily.
12. Sfince di San Giuseppe – St. Joseph Cream Puffs
While in Palemo in the month of March, signs for Sfince di San Giuseppe, were all over even before the official Saints Day celebration.
Curious, we quickly learned about Saint Joseph, an important patron Saint in Sicily. He is said to have saved Sicily from drought and famine in the Middle Ages and celebrations thanking him have been held since.
The date also coincides with the arrival of Spring and it also celebrates Italy’s version of Father’s Day.
In Palermo, there was palpable excitement in the air leading up the celebration day of March 19th.
One of the most famous Sicilian sweets associated with the festival is the sfincia.
The sfincia is a spongy fried cream puffs filled with sweet ricotta cream and decorated with chopped pistachios and candied fruit.
In the month of March, these fried pastry puffs can be found all over in bakeries and pastry shops. Although you can also find them year round.
We liked the contrast of textures between the lightly spongy fried dough and delicious ricotta. Even though we found differences in the amount and sweetness level of the ricotta, we enjoyed the discovery.
The Sfingi di San Giuseppe is one of the unmissable Sicilian desserts recognized as PAT or traditional regional food product.
Sicily sweets are numerous and rich in fascinating stories and myths. An important part of Sicilian food traditions, they are beloved and a delicious end to wonderful Sicilian cuisine.
Even though all desserts are unique and different, most of them seem to have one thing in common.
Thin layers of fresh ricotta cheese, so beloved by all Sicilians can be found in some capacity in the sweets.
While this list of Sicilian desserts is not exhaustive, it is a delicious representation of what you’ll find on the island.
Be sure to leave room for many of these Sicily desserts during your visit.
Have you had any of these Sicilian desserts before? Please let us know in the comments below.
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Claire is a culinary explorer who travels the world in search of the best local foods. She is always looking for her next culinary adventure to bring you the best bites while exploring new places.