Sicily on the SWEET: Cannoli, Marzipan, Granita, Oh My!

Travel & Exploration

Sicilian Dessert Selection

Shiloh observing her dessert selection!

Ahh, Sicily! The Mediterranean Sea and a gastronomic adventure to delight the senses – delicious food is around every corner. There are so many unique specialties I could write a blog post for each week of the year. From the fresh seafood, to the typical pasta, to the endless sweets, if you travel to eat, this is a prime destination spot for you!

The next few blog posts will highlight some of my local favorites: the sweet, the savory, and the special. Also, with my girl [Shiloh] and I tasting on the go, my iPhone was the best source for photos so please excuse the quality of the images!

Let’s start with the sweet!

Cannoli Siciliani

Pistachio Cannoli, Sicily

Pistachio Cannolo

Cannolo, Sicily

Gimmie Cannolo!

Cannolo face!

Shiloh’s Cannolo face!

What is it?

A fried tube-shaped pastry filled with lightly sweetened, creamy ricotta that is mixed with powdered sugar and topped with chocolate chips, candied fruit, or pistachios. The secret to the Sicilian Cannolo is the Marsala wine in the pastry dough! (see my upcoming post “Sicily: Special Foodie Highlight” for more details on Marsala wine!)

What does it taste like?

Mildly sweet and creamy center with a delicate crunch from the fried shell. The basic taste is smooth and creamy but the flavor and texture transforms with the mix-ins of chocolate chips, candied fruit, and chopped pistachios.

Marzipan in the shape of fruit known as frutta di Martorana

frutta di Martorana, Sicily

What is it?

Ground almonds mixed with sugar, corn syrup, and lemon juice, then molded and painted to look like fruit.

What does it taste like?

Sweet almond taste with a soft and chewy texture. Always a favorite for me!

Caldo Freddo meaning “the cold heat”

Caldo Freddo, Sicily

Typically, the chocolate is melted over the top but the chocolate wasn’t cooperating and we didn’t mind the presentation.

On my flight to Sicily I had a conversation with a flight attendant on what foods I should try. Her first recommendation was Caldo Freddo. To quote her explanation using PG language, the treat is “freaking amazing”!

What is it?

A sweet treat in a bowl first layered with sponge cake (often soaked in a liquor), followed by gelato (typically pistachio or hazelnut but you can choose), then a layer of very thick whipping cream, next another layer of sponge cake, and finally topped with hot melted dark chocolate.

What does it taste like?

To say it is sweet and rich is an understatement. It is everything you want in a dessert. The texture of the soft sponge cake together with the cold creamy gelato and cream with decadent dark chocolate will put your taste buds in a tizzy… but even with my sweet tooth I couldn’t finish a whole one on my own.

Genovese alla Crema

Genovese alla Crema, Sicily

Genovese alla Crema, Sicily

My first taste of Genovese alla Crema

A pastry thought to originate from the historic hillside town of Erice, we had the opportunity to explore these ancient streets and enjoy a taste of this sweet on our trip.

What is it?

A round, lightly sweetened pastry filled with custard and topped with powdered sugar.

What does it taste like?

Mildly sweet and tender pastry dough similar to a soft short bread cookie with a tasty thick and creamy custard center.

Cassata Siciliana

Cassata Siciliana, Sicily

Cassata Siciliana, Sicily

Two kinds of sugar!

What is it?

Fruit juice or liquor moistened sponge cake layered with cannoli filling (ricotta and chocolate chips), covered in marzipan and topped with candied fruit.

What does it taste like?

Tender, moist, delicately sweet and delicious. The combination of the sponge cake, creamy filling and chewy marzipan made this dessert a new favorite!

Granita / Granite

Mulberry Granita, Sicily

Yes, that is mulberry fruit puree on my teeth!

What is it?

Semi frozen dessert made from a simple syrup (water and sugar) and fruit purees. Granita is different from sorbet and Italian ice because of its texture. Common flavors include lemon, pistachio, and gelsi (mulberry). Less sweet versions of granita are often served at upscale restaurants as a palate cleanser in between courses.

What does it taste like?

The texture of granita varies depending on where you have it. Some are closer to the consistency of a slushie while others require a spoon to enjoy–preparation varies by the region. Granita is cold and refreshing on a hot day. The lemon is floral and tangy while the mulberry is light, mildly sweet and fragrant.


Gelato, Sicily

Our gelato faces!

What is it?

The best “ice cream” you will ever have with less than half the fat of your traditional frozen dessert. Gelato is made with milk, cream, sugar, and flavored with fruit and nut purees. Noticeably different than traditional ice cream, gelato uses less cream and typically does not include egg in the base. Also, gelato is made using a slower churn rate which creates a denser product and rich texture.

What does it taste like?

The flavor of gelato often tastes more intense than traditional ice cream because less fat is used. The texture has a silkier mouth feel as it is is served at a lower temperature than ice cream. Try any flavor. I haven’t tasted one that I didn’t like!

Yes, I am a dietitian nutritionist and I tried ALL of these desserts in the span of one week. Indulging in new treats, especially on vacation, is encouraged. It’s all about trying new things!

Tips for sweeties (as my husband calls them) and travel:

  1. Share your goody with your travel partner, it means you get to try a greater selection of confections
  2. Explore the sites along the way… walking is wonderful exercise
  3. Keep hydrated with plenty water or “aqua frizzante” if you love sparkling water like me
  4. And last but not least… calories don’t count outside your zip code! ;P

Find more in the hashtag #adventuresinfood

dani of kid food explorers

Hi there! I’m Dani.

Mama of three, pediatric dietitian, and founder of Kid Food Explorers, a resource hub and learning platform that empowers families on their journey to raising confident, adventurous eaters. We’re on a mission to make food fun, with interactive food play and STEAM activities that help kids learn about food in a playful, pressure-free way.

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