Classic Italian Cakes

How Classic Italian Cakes Were Named

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What are classic Italian cakes and how did they get their names? If you are interested in baking a traditional dessert while appreciating the history, here are some facts and recipes.

Babà or Babbà

The Neapolitan Babà is a descendent of the Polish babka ponczowa. The name means old woman or grandmother. Naples made it there own and you will see its mushroom shape in every pastry shop. It is soaked in rum with a spongy texture, great for breakfast or after dinner.

It is so beloved that a common phrase in Naples is, "si nu babbà," you are delicious, 

Cassata alla Siciliana

This Sicilian cake is one of the world's first cheesecakes. The word cassata may derive from the Latin word caseus, which means cheese. But some also say it's from Arabic qas'ah, the word for the terra cotta bowl in which it is shaped. It's made with fresh sheep's milk ricotta, although you can use cow's milk ricotta. It's found in all areas of Sicily. It's an extraordinarily rich delight that also manages to be light and easy to digest.  Cassata alla Siciliana Recipe

Il Pandoro Veronese

Pandoro stems from pan d'oro, meaning golden bread. It was a bread reserved for the wealthy, made with eggs, butter, and sugar or honey. Pandoro symbolizes Christmas like few other cakes: It's a craggy mountain topped with snow-white confectioners sugar. It's difficult to make, and therefore most Italians prefer to buy commercially produced Pandoro from their local baker or supermarket.

They are made in a high-sided mold that is tapering so it produces a star-shaped cross section, usually with eight points.


Panettone means big loaf. Like pandoro, it's a tall cake that relies on yeast to raise the dough and it's a traditional Christmas-time cake. It isn't easy to make as it takes a long process with multiple risings of the dough.

It is a classic for the area around Milan in northern Italy.

Millefoglie - Mille-Feuille - Napolean

The name of this layered pastry means a thousand leaves. The traditional puff pastry used is folded and indeed can yield hundreds of layers as it separates after baking. It is also known as the Napolean. While it became popular during the reign of Emporer Napolean I of France, the use seems to be a derivative of the adjective for the Italian city of Naples, napolitain. No matter how you slice it, it's an airy dessert that makes a great birthday cake. Millefoglie Recipe

Schiacciata alla Fiorentina

The name means "white flatbread cake," which sounds rather dull for a cake traditionally eaten during Carnival time prior to Easter. It's an amazingly tasty cake, which takes more time to explain than it does to make. Schiacciata alla Fiorentina Recipe

Dolce alla Napoletana

This sweet (dolce) layer cake was suggested by classic Italian cookbook author Artusi to celebrate Ferragosto, the mid-August celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven. It can be filled with either cream or fruit preserves.

 Dolce alla Napoletana Recipe