Let’s discover some of the best known and most loved traditional Italian sweets for autumn and winter as everyone gets ready for the holidays. And if you find any combinations particularly intriguing, take notes and amaze your friends during the festive dinners.
#WINE AND COCKTAIL
The perfect way to finish off a good autumnal dinner heated by the warmth of a fireplace is with a moment of relaxation dedicated to the end of the meal, cuddled up with something sweet accompanied by a glass of wine paired in a special way. Autumn and winter ingredients, including those used in sweet recipes, are related to the season, and as such they lack the variety and richness of fresh fruit typical of the warm seasons.
The queen of winter concoctions is dried fruit, which together with citrus in its candied form and raisins, is a big hit in all the regional Italian confectionery traditions, from north to south. Dried fruit is also an ingredient of choice in festive winter pastries because of the energy and especially the vitamins contained in fruits such as almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts, which give the gift of wellness to bodies made sluggish and worn out by the cold season.
These sweets combine wonderfully with the end of meal or “meditation” wines of Italian tradition, small artisanal miracles that have firm roots in the history of the places where they are produced. Grapes left on the vine for a late harvest, dried on racks, attacked by noble rot (for wines technically described as botrytized) or fermented with oxidative processes give life to extraordinary sweet wines that make for magical moments for the palate and the sense.
To find out all the Christmas dessert recipes to pare with a glass of wine.
Buccellato & Passito di Pantelleria
In Sicily, a land with a great tradition of sweets and pastries, there are many traditional sweets that use dried fruit. The most famous is undoubtedly marzipan, which is made with almonds and can range from the colourful and decorated fruit shapes of “frutta Martorana” to the exquisite and less sickening pastry creations called “almond paste”. Along with almonds, there is another star ingredient that often features in traditional Sicilian sweets, namely dried figs, which are used to make the very traditional “buccellato”, a word originating from the Late Latin term bucellatum, meaning “nibbled”.
This dessert is popular throughout the island and eaten in winter, especially at Christmas time, and consists of a sort of baked doughnut with short crust pastry that encloses a filling of dried figs, raisins, almonds, candied orange and sometimes pieces of chocolate. As a pairing for this opulent traditional Sicilian sweet we suggest a glass of fragrant Passito wine, made from grapes that have been gilded by the sun of Italy’s most southerly Mediterranean island. One of the most extraordinary products from the island is the “Passito di Pantelleria Khamma” (€48 for 500 ml) by Salvatore Murana, made using Muscat grapes (called Zibibbo) that are bush-trained in small craters dug in the sand, and then stretched out in the open air on drying racks formed from lava rock.
It is a highly charged and concentrated wine with an amber color, every drop of which contains sunbeams with the aroma of dates and dried apricots, with an intense, almost liquor ice finish. More fruity and sweet, the “Passito di Pantelleria” (€25 for 500ml) by Cantine Rallo is a wine of rare aromatic splendor, with a persuasive profile of pineapple and candied orange shrouded in buttery notes and a mineral quality typical of the island’s volcanic soils.
Mostaccioli & Recioto
The mostaccioli, known as “mustacciuoli” in dialect from Campania and “mustazzoli” in Sicilian, are typical sweets from southern Italian culinary tradition and a staple of Christmas cookbooks. Depending on the region, there are some variations between the recipes for making them, each linked to the town where these treats are cooked on the days of celebration. The origin of the name mostaccioli is debated, as some traditions link it to the use of must (mustum in Latin) in the old rural recipes for making these sweets, an ingredient that makes these soft biscuits more sugary.
Others ascribe the origin of the name to the bay tree, because in Roman times the mustaceum was a wedding cake with dried fruits that was wrapped in bay leaves. Generally today’s mostaccioli have a diamond shape, the size of which can vary, and are covered with chocolate frosting that encloses a soft and slightly dark dough made from flour, sugar, almonds, lemon zest, cinnamon, honey and other flavors that give it the taste of honey and candied fruit. Given the chocolate topping, the perfect pairing for this sweet of truly ancient origins is the Recioto, a sweet wine from Valpolicella, one of the few sweet reds on the Italian scene.
The name Recioto is derived from the Veronese dialect term recie – meaning “ears” – a reference to the two upper ends of the main grape bunch, the Corvina, which capture more sunlight during ripening and therefore have a higher concentration of sugar. The grapes are left to dry on racks for a long time to concentrate the sugars and aromas, as in the production of Amarone, but after fermentation the wine retains a high sugar content. Some of the best are undoubtedly the “Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico Giovanni Allegrini” (€28 for 375ml) from the Allegrini winery in Fumane, a wine dedicated to the father of the current owners with such a warmth and an intensity that every sip feels like an embrace.
A fine and rich wine with aromas of cherries in jam and liqueur, cocoa and sweet spices, it has a sip that is both velvety and fresh that provides unforgettable sensations. The Tommasi winery produces the “Recioto Fiorato”, which takes its name from the single hilly vineyard in which the grapes are grown before being left to wither for nearly six months. It makes for a dense, dark glass with notes of blackberry jam, marasca cherry and prune, with a touch of cocoa to add softness to the body.
Panforte & VIN Santo
Drawing on the craftsmanship of the past, the “masters panforte bakers” still use the original recipes from Sienese confectionery tradition, in the knowledge that product served up at the dinner table are an essential part of a community’s culture and way of life. Panforte is a typical Christmas delicacy that has ancient origins that date back to the Middle Ages, when it was known as Pan Pepatus. Its preparation was entrusted to apothecaries, the pharmacists of the time, and because of the richness of its ingredients – such as orange, candied citron and melon, almonds and very expensive spices – it was destined exclusively to the nobles, the rich and the clergy.
The ingredients remained more or less the same until 1879 when a recipe was created to mark Queen Margherita’s visit to the city of Siena, which was coated in vanilla sugar instead of black pepper, resulting in creation of the delicate “Panforte Margherita”, now a symbol of the Tuscan confectionery traditions for the winter holidays. The almost obligatory pairing for this delicacy is a small glass of wine that reigns supreme in this region, the Vin Santo. Sweet but not too sweet, it is vinified in a traditional way using Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, but left for years in small casks known as “caratello”, where it undergoes various oxidation processes.
Among the many fine examples of Vin Santo, a particularly rare and precious type is “Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice”, which uses a minimum of 50% Sangiovese grapes and which only a few producers of Chianti Classico produce, including Badia a Coltibuono (€50 for 375ml). It is a passionate and complex wine with notes of caramel, sandalwood, walnut and chestnut that is truly enchanting with a powerful engaging expressiveness. But in addition to the Chianti Classico and Montepulciano varieties of Vin Santo, there is also Vin Santo del Chianti and some extraordinary examples with a captivating freshness can be found in the Rufina area in particular.
The “Vin Santo del Chianti Rufina” (€28) by Fattoria Selvapiana is refined in the caratello for at least 5 years in order to acquire an amber color in thousands of shades with fine scents of dried fruit, apricot and candied ginger, and a finish with wonderful persistence.
Torrone & Gewürztraminer
Just the name torrone is enough to conjure up visions of Christmas, or at least the winter holidays. This nougat is a simple sweet made from a mixture of egg white, honey and sugar, traditionally stuffed with almonds or with toasted hazelnuts and often covered with two wafers. The origin of this confectionery delicacy has its roots in the area of ??Benevento, where it was produced by Sabellian populations.
The writings of Livy show that it was already known in Roman times, but in the nineteenth century successful that the small artisanal companies making it formed the consortium for the United Torrone Factories of Benevento. There are two types of torrone, one with a hard and one with a soft consistency, with doughs cooked for different lengths of time and the recipes that use honey and sugar in different ratios. It is a very sweet product that provides an excellent accompaniment to a wine that can match the sweetness with a pleasant juiciness and freshness, such as the king of grapes from Alto Adige. The Gewürztraminer Passito “Terminum” (€40 for 375ml) produced by Kellerei Tramin is mostly made from botrytised grapes, i.e. grapes affected by noble rot, and this makes it a unique wine that is difficult to produce.
It is a grandiose celebration of Gewürztraminer grapes, with balance and harmony condensed into a dense golden glass. The aromatic bouquet has aromas of flowers and honey, candied citrus and tropical fruit, with tamarind and sweet spices, and is characterised by a sweet and velvety sip. Another incredible Gewürztraminer Passito is the “Passion” (€28 for 375ml) by Kellerei St. Paul, a wine made from a late harvest in November that is aged in barrels for a long time to produce an intense bouquet of flowers and lychee, with the exotic sweetness of vanilla as well as a compelling freshness.
Panettone & Moscato
The biggest misconception about the winter holidays is the custom of buying champagne for the Christmas toast that accompanies the traditional Milanese panettone. There is no worse pairing than a brut champagne with a sweet, especially if it is buttery and rich in raisins and candied fruit like panettone, the sweet treat originally from Milan that has come to be adopted as an Italian symbol of Christmas. Its soft dough is made using a recipe involving slow, natural rising and its ingredients include flour, butter, eggs, raisins and candied orange and citron.
The perfect match for panettone is therefore not French, but very Italian, specifically from Asti, as it was the wine making school of Asti and Canelli that first produced sweet Moscato, which is grown on the hills between Langhe and Monferrato. One of the most outstanding producers of Moscato d’Asti today is undoubtedly Alessandro Boido, owner of the Cà d’Gal winery, which takes advantage of the unique hilly terroir in Santo Stefano Belbo (CN) that produces Muscat grapes enriched with nuances and complexities that are turned into wonderful little miracle wines, even years later.
Alongside the now famous “Vigna Vecchia” there is the “Moscato d’Asti Lumine” (€15 for 750ml), a delicious wine with a slightly sweet profile and the aroma of white peach, as well as the freshness of mandarin and crunchy apple. Each sip is packed with pleasant and sensual bubbles. For a surprisingly fleshy wine, try the “Moscato d’Asti” (€12 for 750ml) by Paolo Saracco, a longstanding and authoritative proponent of the tradition of sweet sparkling wines and high quality moscato. His is a wine as sweet and seductive as the hills that produce it. It is vibrant with a rich aroma, hints of sage and a pleasant feeling of freshness.