italian biscotti cookies served on plate

types of italian cookies

Ask a group of Italians which cookie is the best, and you’re sure to see a lively debate erupt. Like most of our favorite Italian specialties, including vino and pasta, every region of Italia has a claim to fame in the baked goods category. In Tuscany, it’s all about biscotti. In Lombardy, amaretti reigns supreme. In Abruzzo, the pizzelle is numero uno.

So, what does this all mean for adventurous taste-testers? When it comes to finding the best Italian cookies, there’s no contest — all are worthy of your fine Italian dessert spread. But if you’re looking for a few of the top contenders to try, be sure to reference our list below. We’ve laid them out in no particular order because we think they’re all winners (and we don’t want to upset anyone’s nonna). 

Shop Italian Cookies

Sizing Up Italian Cookies

When you think of Italian desserts, cookies may not be the first thing that comes to mind. The fact is that Italy is by all accounts more famous for its laborious pastries and creamy specialties made with mascarpone and ricotta. Cookies are often the less trendy choice when compared with ultra-popular sweets like cannoli, tiramisu, gelato, panna cotta or a pretty panettone during the holidays.

But that doesn’t mean cookies aren’t a big part of the Italian food canon. In fact, the pizzelle — which traces its roots back to the 8th century — is believed to be the world’s oldest cookie. Staples like biscotti, ladyfingers and baci di dama have earned their keep in bakeries all over the world, from Rome to the Bronx and beyond. Often served with breakfast, these cookies are an anytime, anywhere essential.

Our List of the Best Italian Cookies

Whether you’re looking to host a big Italian brunch or want to surprise your Italian grandma with an authentic Old-World specialty, the list below includes some of the very best contenders. The best part is, there’s a biscotto for every palate and diet in our selection, including chocolate, fruity and even scrumptious gluten-free cookies. Buon appetito!

the wafer cookie

Wafers

Crunchy, creamy and perfectly sweet, these mouthwatering treats feature layers of crisp wafer sandwiching a creamy inner filling made with chocolate, hazelnut or fruits. Although the wafer cookie is found in various forms throughout the world, the Italian version is credited to Viennese baker Josef Manner, who developed the recipe in 1898. Try authentic wafer cookies by Loacker, available in classic rectangles or cubes (Quadratini). You’ll also see this crisp, crunchy dough rolled into sticks and filled with a rich inner cream in cookies called rolled wafers.

Baci Di Dama

Baci di dama, which translates to “lady’s kisses,” is an Italian sandwich cookie featuring a buttery hazelnut exterior sandwiching an inner layer of rich, smooth chocolate. This mainstay hails from the Northern Italian region of Piedmont and, according to baking lore, it was created for King Vittorio Emanuele II. This one is truly fit for a king (or queen)!

Ricciarelli

Another old-school Italian staple, ricciarelli cookies are believed to have originated in the 14th century in the Tuscan town of Siena. Legend states that the dense almond cookies were brought to the Tuscan courts by nobleman Ricciardetto della Gherardesca after the Crusades. These macaron-like biscuits feature a soft, chewy texture made with egg whites, sugar and almond flour, making them another great gluten-free option.

the biscotti twice baked cookie

Biscotti

Also known as cantuccini, biscotti are a classic Tuscan cookie known for their crunchy texture perfect for dunking in a hot cup of espresso or, traditionally, sweet wine. Meaning “twice-baked” in Italian, biscotti are made with flour, sugar, eggs and almonds or pine nuts and are fired in the oven twice to make them crisp and shelf-stable. There are many great varieties of biscotti and cantuccini, including styles made with dried fruit and chocolate. Be sure to try authentic biscotti by Chiostro di Saronno, Sapori and others from our market! 

Ladyfingers

Although they’re a bonafide staple of Italian bakeries, ladyfingers actually trace their roots back to 14th century France. They were brought to Italy at the court of the Duchy of Savoy around that time, and the rest is history. Also known as savoiardi, ladyfingers are decadently crisp, light biscuits made with eggs, flour and sugar. While they can and should be eaten on their own, they’re also a component of other sweets. Famously, they are soaked in coffee, espresso, syrup or liquor to make tiramisu. 🤤

Pizzelle

little pepi's pizzelle waffle cookies

As previously mentioned, the pizzelle is one of the world’s oldest cookies, and it’s still one of Italy’s favorites. The light, crisp cookie is made with a batter of flour, eggs, sugar, butter and oil and flavored with anise, vanilla or lemon zest. The batter is then pressed into a hot pizzelle iron, giving the cookie its intricate, snowflake-like pattern. Traditional pizzelle is flavored with anise, but you’ll find this fun waffle-esque cookie in chocolate, almond, vanilla and many other fun flavors.

Rainbow Cookies

Although they’re technically an Italian-American specialty, we’re including this colorful favorite because we just love the way it looks in the bakery case! Featuring layers of colored almond sponge cake, fruit jam and a chocolate coating, this cookie was developed in the Italian-American bakeries of New York City. Originally, the colored layers were said to represent the hues of the Italian flag, but today, they typically feature a layer of pink, yellow and green sponge cake.  

Biscotti Regina

If you’re all about the salty-sweet, we’d recommend adding this Sicilian specialty to your list. Unlike traditional biscotti, these cookies feature a lemon base and are coated in toasted sesame seeds for a savory crunch. Originally from Palermo, they’ve become quite the staple in the region, and you’ll find them all over Sicily.

Pignol

Pignoli are a southern Italian staple beloved for their nutty, sweet flavor and crunchy, soft consistency. Meaning “pine nut” in Italian, this favorite starts with a soft, chewy dough which is topped off with piles of pine nuts for a crunchy finish. The great thing about pignoli cookies is that they’re made with just a few ingredients — almond paste, sugar, egg whites and pine nuts, making them naturally gluten-free and great for beginner bakers.

versatile base shortbread cookies

Shortbread Cookies

Although they didn’t originate in Italy (we’ll give the Scots this one), Italians are among the biggest consumers of shortbread biscuits, and they’ve given the cookie their own special twist. This cookie starts with a simple dough of sugar, butter and flour, making it a versatile base for all sorts of unique flavors, shapes and fillings. You’ll find these tasty Italian breakfast cookies in tons of unique designs, such as galletti (roosters), canestrini (flowers) and macine (circles with holes). Mulino Bianco’s chocolate-filled Baiocchi cookies and chocolate, star-studded Pan Di Stelles are great examples of beloved Italian shortbread cookies with a twist. Definitely give them a try if shortbread is your thing.


Roccoco

roccoco cookies by Marinella

You can’t have Christmas in Naples without roccoco and mostaccioli cookies! These spicy holiday treats are made with almonds, flour, sugar, honey, oil, jam and a variety of traditional seasonal spices, including cinnamon, cloves and star anise. You can make them at home or order them straight from Italy with our roccoco cookies by Marinella. Pair them with a warm glass of vin brulé (mulled wine) for a comforting holiday combo.

Mostaccioli

Another traditional Neapolitan holiday cookie, mostaccioli are made from almonds, sugar, oil, honey, jam, cinnamon, cloves and citrus zest. Traditionally, before sugar and honey were readily available, they were sweetened with wine must (pressed grapes) from vineyards. Marinella’s version incorporates grape must for that traditional flavoring that’s sure to delight the Italian purists on your list. If you’re looking for a fun way to have a traditional Neapolitan Christmas, be sure to have these two special cookies on the menu.

Cuccidati

Cuccidati is yet another traditional holiday cookie from southern Italy. The Sicilian specialty features a jammy filling of figs, nuts, dates, jam and spices surrounded by an outer layer of flaky pastry dough coated in icing and sprinkles. The standard cuccidati shape is square or rectangular, but you’ll also see these mouthwatering creations in ring shapes, star and donut shapes, in which case they are called buccellati (meaning “little bracelets”).

Anginetti

Anginetti are sweet holiday cookies beloved by Italians and Italian-Americans alike, especially among those with roots in southern Italy. Hailing from Naples, these vibrant cookies are made with a dough of butter, sugar, lemon, flour and eggs and flavored with anise or lemon. They’re then topped with a sweet icing glaze and, if you so desire, colorful sprinkles.

Palmiers and Puff Pastry Cookies

Palmiers and Puff Pastry Cookies

From the mouthwatering shell-shaped sfogliatelle pastries from Campania to the donut-like zeppoles that are ubiquitous in Naples and Rome, there’s no shortage of delicious fresh-baked pastries in the boot. Puff pastry cookies take favorite pastry recipes and make them more shelf-stable, allowing them to be consumed long after they’ve popped out of the oven. Try Torino’s palmiers and apple tarts or Matilde Vicenzi’s Perfettos or pastry sticks if this is your thing.

Brutti ma Buoni

The literal translation of “brutti ma buoni” is “ugly but good,” and what an apt description that is of this delicious cookie. These northern Italian favorites are believed to come from Gavirate, a small city north of Milan, with the original recipe developed by pastry chef Costantino Veniani in 1878. They are chewy, nutty and crunchy all at once thanks to a mixture of egg whites, butter, sugar, flour, almonds or hazelnuts, cinnamon and vanilla. Indeed, they are hideous yet delicious!

nutty sweet amaretti biscuit

Amaretti

Amaretti are among the most famous biscuits hailing from Italia, and for good reason. The word amaretti literally translates to “little bitter ones,” but don’t be fooled because this light, nutty cookie is delightfully sweet. Made with almond flour, sugar, salt and egg whites, amaretti is naturally gluten-free, making it safe for those with gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease.

Torcetti

Also known as twisted butter cookies or sweet breadsticks, these pretty creations hailing from the Piedmont region are known for their twisted, pretzel-like shape. Unlike most Italian cookies, torcetti are made with yeast, which acts as a rising agent and helps create a light, flaky texture. The beauty of torcetti is that you can get as creative as you please with the shape — twist them into hearts, pretzels, U-shapes or simple sticks for a pretty presentation on your cookie platter. 

Taralli

There are a few popular types of taralli cookies in Italy, including sweet and savory taralli. The sweet version, taralli dolce di pasqua (meaning “Easter cake”) is an Italian treat served at Easter time. These staples feature a ring of simple dough coated in a layer of pastel or white icing and topped with sprinkles. These are not to be confused with the savory Apulian taralli which feature the same donut shape but without the sweet add-ins, making it a satisfying, crunchy snack.

Occhio di Bue

Occhio di bue, meaning “bullseye,” is a classic Italian sandwich cookie featuring two thin layers of powdered sugar-coated butter cookie surrounding a nutty or jammy filling. The top layer of the sandwich features a top cutout in a shape — circles, stars and hearts are popular — to create a pretty design. These fun cookies are ubiquitous in northern Italy, but can be found in bakeries all over the country.

Browse Italian Cookie Gift Tins

The Best Brands of Authentic Italian Cookies

italian cookies gift box

Premade Italian cookies and Italian cookie gift baskets make amazing gifts during the holidays or any time of year, especially if you’re looking for a thoughtful way to give your favorite Italian a taste of home. The key, though, is to make sure you buy from authentic Italian bakehouses and don’t get duped by the watered-down American versions at the grocery store. Stick to longtime brands like Mulino Bianco, Loacker, Chiostro di Saronno and Marinella, all of which are available at Yummy Bazaar’s Italian marketplace.

 

Image Credits

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