A guide to Italian Carnival sweets

Carnival sweets are a part of Italian culture in every region of the country. The classic recipes are handed down from generation to generation, ensuring important customs and traditions live on.
Italians love to socialise around food, and Carnival provides a great excuse to do just that. The baking and frying of sweets is not only a way of showing love and appreciation, it is a matter of showing respect to previous generations.
These tasty treats liven up carnival celebrations and bring families together in a very special way. This tradition spans several centuries in Italy, and over the years, different regions of the country have developed their own pastries, cakes and cookies to mark their celebrations.

Carnival sweets

What are the most popular Carnival sweets in Italy?

These delicious pastries are made in many different ways. For instance, the famous bugie di carnevale is famous in Piedmont and Liguria. However, in Tuscany a similar sweet is known as cenci. Chiacchiere is popular in southern Italy, while crostoli is the sweet of choice in the north. Similar sweets in Italy are fiocchetti, sfrappole, guanti and frappe. These are all variations of a base recipe that consists of strips of flour pastry which are either baked or fried. They are then dusted with icing sugar just before serving.

The history of carnival sweets

Carnival sweets have been popular in Italy since the reign of the Roman Empire. The Roman equivalent of Carnival was celebrated throughout the land with food and wine. On the menu was something called a ‘frictilia‘, which were special sweets fried in animal fat. Depending where in the Empire they were being prepared, they were coated in chocolate, honey, mascarpone or alchermes.

Carnival sweets

Carnival pancakes

Among the most popular variety of sweet consumed in Italy during carnival is a type of pancake. They come in many different shapes and sizes depending on the region, and they go by several names, including frittelle, fritole, castagnole and favette. Shaped like parcels or balls, they can be stuffed with fillings such as rice, custard, ricotta cheese or apple. The pastry is made with flour, butter, sugar and eggs.

Other varieties of Carnival sweets: Lombardia, Emilia, Toscana

In both Lombardy and Emilia, Italian Carnival is celebrated with a mixture of cream-filled shortcrust pastry that is deep fried. This is called tortelli dolci, which is very similar in shape to the tortello salato.
In Tuscany, the sweet of choice is schiacciata alla fiorentina, which is a soft cake. The berlingozzo has been popular in the Tuscany region since the 15th century, and consists of anise-flavoured pastry and cream. In Marche, the arancini di carnevale is the carnival sweet of choice. This stunning pastry consists of layers of egg dough which are rolled together before being fried and covered with honey. The famous zeppole are famous throughout Italy, and are prepared to celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph in all areas of the country.

Carnival sweets

Carnival sweets in Sardinia, Umbria, Marche and Campania

Particularly in Sardinia, Umbria and Marche, this beautiful creation always makes an appearance during Carnival time. Zeppole is made with flour, yeast and water, which is fried in animal fat and stuffed with custard, chocolate or cream. You will see these unmistakable sweets being prepared from scratch in towns and cities throughout Italy, and they are served in and around Naples to celebrate Father’s Day.
Italians love to prepare comfort food that can be enjoyed in family gatherings. Carnival is a great excuse for family and friends to come together, socialise and share in the wonder of pastries, cakes and desserts.