Naples food boasts iconic dishes and street foods that have conquered and inspired the global palate. In addition to these great concoctions, Neapolitan pastries, the sweetest part of the Italian la dolce vita, are a rich part of Neapolitan cuisine. Neapolitan sweets are diverse and satisfy all types of palates. Check out our guide to the must-eat Neapolitan pastries on holiday or at home.
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Probably the most popular of the various Neapolitan pastries, sfogliatella has become an icon of the city of Naples. While there are versions of sfogliatella elsewhere in the world, the only way to taste the real thing is to travel to Naples.
One of the classic Naples pastries, the sfogliatella treat is devoured as a snack, breakfast, and sometimes even dessert.
In Naples, there are two main variants of Sfogliatella: sfogliatella riccia and sfogliatella frolla. Sfogliatella riccia is a flaky, fine-layered, shell-shaped pastry that’s stuffed with various fillings.
Sfogliatella riccia is traditionally filled with a creamy filling made of cooked semolina, sweetened ricotta, eggs, sugar, milk, and candied citrus peels, with a hint of cinnamon. However, today you’ll find it prepared with creative flavors like pistachio and Nutella.
Sfogliatella frolla has the same creamy filling as the Sfogliatella riccia but, unlike its curly cousin, sfogliatella frolla is dome-shaped, with a surface reminiscent of a smooth, buttery pie crust.
Between the two, give us a sfogliatella riccia any day. What makes this pastry so special is the paper-thin dough baked until the layers separate, forming the sfogliatella riccia’s distinct clamshell of delicate, crisp ridges.
Like Parisian croissants, sfogliatella loses its deliciousness after a couple of hours so it’s best consumed straight out of the oven.
Sfogliatella riccia is by far Jacky’s favorite Neapolitan pastry. One bite into its crispy shell opened up an explosion of delectable aromas and flavors and that’s all it took for her to fall entirely in love with it.
2. Graffa Napoletana
Graffa is a sugar-coated fried donut with a base of flour, boiled potatoes, eggs, yeast, and butter. It is traditionally ring-shaped but often comes in the shape of a hook.
Though graffa is a mainstay of Neapolitan cuisine, it is widely believed that it was inspired by a classic Austrian pastry called krapfen, which arrived in Naples around the 18th century, when the city was under Austrian domination. Even the word “graffa” derives from the word “krapfen.”
Airy, aromatic, soft, and melting in the mouth, consuming graffa is a sin of gluttony to which Jacky and I let ourselves go without feeling guilty.
Graffa remains closely associated with the Carnival, a festive period that precedes Christian Lent. However, you can still find it in bakeries and coffee shops throughout Naples all year round.
Our only recommendation: eat graffa freshly fried!
Babà is one of the best-known Italian pastries which is basically a small yeast dough sponge cake baked until golden brown and soaked in rum-laced syrup (classic version), or other spirits such as limoncello.
Traditionally shaped like a mushroom with a stout cap and stalk, babà comes in all shapes and sizes. Babà is rich enough to be eaten plain but can also be filled with fruit and whipped cream, pastry cream, and even Nutella.
Like graffa, babà also reflects Naples’ multicultural history. The pastry that is now synonymous with Naples wasn’t actually invented in Naples, but in France for an exiled Polish king (King Stanislav Leszczyński) and later exported to the Campanian capital.
For me, babà is the king of Neapolitan pastries and it’s what I crave most when we land in Naples (after pizza, of course). Biting into the babà’s fluffy and spongy dough and having the juicy syrup ooze out is one of life’s simplest pleasures. It is absolutely intoxicating!
The perfect babà shouldn’t be too sweet but not too overpowering from the liquor either. It shouldn’t be too light (implying that it is dry inside), and not too heavy from excessive soaking.
4. Zeppole di San Giuseppe
One of the most beloved Neapolitan pastries, zeppole (zeppola in the single) are ring-shaped fried or baked choux pastry puffs. Twisted like a braided churro, zeppola is dusted with powdered sugar and topped with lemon pastry cream, and delightfully topped with macerated Amarena cherries.
As the name hints, zeppola is linked to San Giuseppe (St. Joseph). It is traditionally eaten on the Feast of St. Joseph (also called St. Joseph’s Day), on March 19, which is also when Father’s Day is celebrated in Italy. Nowadays, you can find this classic pastry any time of the year.
Pleasing to the eye and the palate, this fragrant high choux pastry is defined by the perfect balance between the crunchiness of the dough and the silkiness of the cream.
While the baked version of zeppole is fine, I highly recommend you sample the fried version. It’ll knock the socks off anyone who tastes it.
5. Pastiera Napoletana
Pastiera Napoletana, or simply pastiera, is one of the best Italian pastries. The pastiera sports a lattice-topped shell of shortcrust pastry and consists of a creamy filling made from ricotta, pre-cooked wheat berries, candied fruits, eggs, sugar, milk, and orange blossom essence.
Think of the pastiera as a kind of cheesecake crossed with pudding enclosed in an aromatic pie crust.
This much-loved tart from Naples was born out of springtime rituals traced back to pagan times and is found on every Easter table throughout the city. However, the pastiera can be found in Naples pastry shops year-round.
The tantalizing aroma of orange blossom, the texture of the wheat berries, and the smoothness of the ricotta are pure poetry and what I love about the pastiera.
6. Torta Caprese
Originating from the island of Capri in the Bay of Naples, Torta Caprese is a flourless dark chocolate cake. Torta Caprese combines melted dark chocolate, eggs, sugar, ground almonds, and butter and is covered in a layer of powdered sugar on top.
Covered with a thin crispy crust, Torta Caprese’s wonderfully moist yet rich and fudgy texture is insanely addictive. Plus, its natural absence of gluten makes it a must-eat if you’re avoiding gluten.
Torta Caprese was supposedly invented by mistake in the 1920s when a baker ran out or forgot to put flour in a cake.
Struffoli is a classic Neapolitan dessert consisting of small, crisp, deep-fried balls of dough that are drenched in honey. The balls are decorated with chopped nuts, colored sprinkles, or bits of candied fruits.
Crunchy on the outside and light inside, struffoli are especially popular around Christmas and New Year in Naples.
Like many Neapolitan pastries, Struffoli’s provenance is shrouded in mystery with some claiming that this dessert may have been inspired by sweet Greek fritters called loukoumades while others say it was influenced by the Spanish piñonate.
8. Torta Ricotta e Pera
Torta Ricotta e Pera (ricotta and pear cake) certainly deserves its place among the best Neapolitan pastries. It is composed of two delicious hazelnut biscuit discs that contain an indulgent filling of ricotta and whipped cream that’s studded with cubes of pear.
What makes this cake special is its specific and very local ingredients such as the pennate pears from Agerola, hazelnuts from Giffoni, and ricotta from Tramonti.
Unlike some of the other Naples pastries, Torta Ricotta e Pera is a relatively new arrival on the culinary scene. It was first made in 1988 by acclaimed pastry chef Salvatore De Riso in the small town of Minori on the Amalfi Coast and quickly became popular throughout Campania.
One taste and you’ll understand why this delicious cake is one of Campania’s favorites. The pears, hazelnuts, and ricotta complement each other perfectly and lend the cake a unique flavor that is sure to win you over. Go on, what are you waiting for?
Not to be confused with the 18th-century architectural style, Roccocò is a traditional Neapolitan Christmas cookie made of flour, almonds, candied sugar, and pisto – a blend of spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, star anise, coriander, and white pepper.
Roccocò has a long history and was invented in the early 14th century by the nuns of the Convento della Maddalena and earned the name roccocò for its semi-round but irregular, asymmetrical shape. Like struffoli, roccocò is particularly popular around Christmas and New Year in Naples.
Roccocò is rather crunchy and aromatic on the outside but once bitten into it literally melts in the mouth. The cookies are also often enjoyed with either beverages like coffee and tea or liqueurs like limoncello and Marsala for dunking.
10. Fiocco di Neve
Rounding up our list of must-eat Neapolitan pastries is Fiocco di Neve, a spherical brioche-like pastry filled with a velvety white cream and a sprinkling of icing sugar on top. The cream of fiocco di neve is made with sugar, sheep’s ricotta, and fresh milk and features a delicate consistency.
Aptly named “snowflake,” fiocco di neve was only invented in 2015 by Ciro Poppella of Pasticceria Poppella and it’s still the only place in Naples where you can find this gastronomic prodigy, (and the recipe remains a secret!).
When bitten into, the cream of the Fiocco di Neve explodes everywhere in your mouth and is sweet with a pleasant sour note. It is sort of similar to the filling of a cannoli and a bit like the cream of a cheesecake.
Simple yet decadent and rich, this treat will leave you craving more. Make sure to indulge at least twice.
Where to get the best Neapolitan Pastries in Naples
While there are pastry shops and bakeries everywhere you look in Naples, some shine more brightly than the rest. The following are just some of the best places to try Neapolitan pastries in Naples –
1. Sfogliatella Mary
2. Antico Forno delle sfogliatelle calde Attanasio
5. Pasticceria Poppella
6. Chalet Ciro Gelato
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Do you agree with our list? What are some of your favorite Neapolitan pastries? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!