Sicilian desserts: stories and legends of a sweet tradition

Sicilian dessertsWhen people come to Sicily, they are attracted by the beautiful landscape, by the most important cities and picturesque towns, and – unavoidably – by traditional food. Especially Sicilian desserts represent one excellence of the region all around the world, do you know their story? Explore this sweet world with Sicilian Secrets.

Sicilian desserts? OMG!

From the U.S.A. to Australia, wherever you go, you will always find someone who loves our traditional food. Over the decades, Italian communities spread all around the world turned some normal – but delicious – pastries into some true icons. Cannoli, cassata, and more are a sort of celebrities…but not so many people know their story. Let’s discover more!

Sicilian cannoli

Tubus farinarius dulcissimo edulio ex lacte fartus.

Alberto Denti di Pirajno from his book ‘Siciliani a tavola’

One of the most popular Sicilian desserts is cannoli. They consist of tube-shaped shells of fried pastry dough, filled with ricotta and their name means little tube. In the past, especially in Palermo and Messina, cannoli were made as a treat for Carnival, nowadays you can eat them every day of the year. Their origin has some historical and mythological elements; according to the legend, cannoli were born in Caltanissetta during the Arab period.

Sicilian desserts

Caltanissetta (the old name was Kalt El Nissa) means The Castle of Women, many emirs – in fact – lived there with their wives. These women used to spend their time cooking and trying new recipes, and one of these attempts was a pastry very similar to Sicilian cannolo. They say that it was an homage to the ‘natural gift’ of the sultan…who knows! Naughty sweet…


Tintu è cu nun mancia a cassata a matina ri Pasqua

Sicilian popular saying

The queen of all Sicilian desserts is cassata. The recipe may sound pretty easy but there are many different versions of this cake.  Do you know that it is very famous in Ohio, for example? Don’t expect to find the same cassata you can taste in Sicily, but for sure you’ll find – even in the American version – a traditional and Italian flavor. What’s the origin of this dessert? It dates back to the 10th century, during the Islamic Age in Sicily. The word al-qaššāṭī means ‘cassata-baker’ and is related to qas’ah, the bowl commonly used to shape the cake.

Sicilian desserts

Unfortunately, we are not sure about this interpretation, some other studies claim that the traditional Sicilian word cassata comes from Latin…maybe we will never know the truth! We can say that cassata became a dessert in the 17th century; the very first one was the so-called cassata al forno (cassata baked in the oven) that still nowadays is typical in Palermo. The most common version of cassata, the one we all know with marzipan and candy fruits is definitely more recent (1873). This cake was originally a dessert made by Sicilian nuns in their convents for Easter, but over the centuries became a masterpiece of Sicilian cuisine that you can find in the menu of every holiday.


Don’t confuse these taralli with salty taralli from Puglia! Taralli is one of the ancient Sicilian desserts that belongs to the tradition of the Day of the Dead. Racalmuto, in the province of Agrigento, is the hometown of these pastries; they date back to the 19th century and according to the story told by Mago Taibi – an author who wrote about social-traditional theater – taralli were created by Pio Lo Bue, a well-known baker from Racalmuto.

Sicilian desserts
Taralli from Racalmuto

These pastries were different, something never seen before! Lemon flavor and icing on top were the perfect ingredients to eat taralli while drinking a glass of wine, especially on the Day of the Dead (November 2nd). Unfortunately, Pio Lo Bue didn’t leave us his original recipe so nobody had the opportunity to learn it. For this reason, today each baker makes taralli adding a personal touch!

Did we make you hungry? Don’t worry, soon we will travel again, and you can come to Sicily and taste all Sicilian desserts! In the meantime, follow Dimensione Sicilia and Sicilian Secrets on Facebook and Instagram. Don’t forget to write down your own list of food you want to try! What’s your favorite one?

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