The Best Italian Desserts

Reviewed by Naomi Bussin


My cookbook choice this month is directly related to the planning of a long-awaited trip to Italy. A longing for la dolce vita drew me to La Vita Dolce, a new book about Italian-inspired desserts. 

Letitia Clark’s previous book, Bitter Honey, is excellent. I thought that a book about Italian desserts was a curious choice, but I love the flavours and the fact that most of the recipes are not fussy and not too sweet.  The Italians favour simplicity in their food and this comes through. What I also liked was how easy it is to recreate those sunny Mediterranean flavours, even in Toronto’s cold dark winter.  Here’s how. 

We cannot replicate the taste of Italian butter, ricotta or mascarpone, or fresh fruit at the height of summer. But what I have noticed in my European cookbooks is that the writers often recommend using canned or frozen fruit if fresh is not available. And this book relies heavily on almonds, citrus, olive oil, dairy, fruit, chocolate and coffee, all of which we have access to year-round. I promise you, you can make these desserts and they will feel both authentic and delicious.  For the most part, I used ingredients that were in my pantry to make these recipes. 

I haven’t yet tried Ricotta & Dark Chocolate Almond Crumble Tart, super citrusy Caramelised Citrus Tart or Torta della Nonna, a lemon-scented custard baked into a double pastry crust. But I did make Caramelised Apricot, Almond & Orange Blossom Upside-Down Cake.  We used canned apricots (who knew?) and it was a great cake, moist, tart and sweet. I substituted brandy for the Orange Blossom because I prefer it. I also made Almond, Ricotta, Olive Oil and Cherry Cake, using frozen cherries.  A classic combination.  And then, Yossy’s Olive Oil, Rosemary & Yoghurt Cake, a delightful afternoon snack cake.  

I made Cantucci – Orange, Marsala & Almond Biscuits, a cookie that I would have previously referred to as biscotti.  These particular biscotti are from Tuscany and called cantucci. Very simple to make, tasted exactly as I thought/hoped they would.  You could not detect the Marsala specifically, but it added a little something.  Perfect with a cappuccino.     

I am still chasing the dragon of a yoghurt gelato that I ate in Venice in 2008, but that’s me. It was not the same, but Ricotta, Honey & Coffee Gelato was easy to make and tasted very much like frozen tiramisu. 

So – I have pulled myself out of lockdown malaise and have new energy to plan my trip.  Maybe it’s the sugar, or the coffee, but I think it’s inspiration. That’s why I love my cookbooks. Grazie, Letitia Clark. 

Naomi Bussin is a lawyer, mother of three and an accomplished cook. Food is her favourite subject and she reads cookbooks in her spare time.