And of course every Italian grandma knows best when it comes to making the tastiest cakes and puds. Here are the classics – perfect for Mother’s Day.
Apple and jam cake (torta di mele e marmellata)
This soft, buttery loaf cake, with chopped apple and jam swirled through the top, is essentially a dressed-up pound cake (which Italians charmingly call a ‘plum cake’, using the English words but pronouncing the ‘u’ as ‘oo’).
Pear and chocolate cake (torta di pera e cioccolato)
A rich, elegant dessert inspired by one from a favourite Florentine pastry shop. Sometimes you can find this cake encased in a shortcrust pastry too, but I love it on its own, particularly when it has a dense melt-in-the-mouth texture like this one.
Hazelnut cake (torta di nocciole)
Italians know that the best hazelnuts come from Piedmont, where this humble cake was also born as a way to use up excess nuts. Some like to include a spoonful or two of cocoa powder, but I prefer the nutty flavour of hazelnuts with just a splash of espresso added.
Chocolate pudding (sanguinaccio al cioccolato)
This recipe comes from my mother-in-law’s mother Lina. She also liked to flavour the chocolate with vanilla and cinnamon. It is an easy dessert to prepare ahead of time, as it benefits from resting in the fridge overnight. Try it chilled, with freshly whipped cream and berries. But it is equally good when eaten still warm with some biscotti or savoiardi biscuits (lady fingers) for dipping.
Rosemary and sultana buns (pandiramerino)
Shiny and delightfully sticky rustic buns with decorative crisscrossed tops.
Grandmother’s tart (torta della nonna)
A classic custard tart that is said to have been invented by a Florentine chef. Today it’s a much-loved dessert that all Florentine pastry shops make. You can substitute slivers of blanched almonds for the pine nuts if you wish.
Almond biscotti (cantucci)
The word ‘biscotti’ comes from the fact that these are twice (‘bis’) cooked (‘cotto’), making them crunchy and perfect for dipping into vin santo or coffee. If you don’t have vin santo, you could substitute for another dessert wine, rum or simply skip it.
Apricot jam tart (crostata di marmellata)
A classic recipe for the simplest jam tart with a cake-like crumb. It is usually made with either homemade blackberry or apricot jam, or make it in a pinch with 250g of your favourite ready-made jam.
Now buy the book
Our recipes are from Torta Della Nonna by food writer Emiko Davies (Hardie Grant, £16.99). Emiko has lived in Florence for more than a decade and the book is a collection of some of her beloved Italian desserts. To order a copy for £14.95 until 28 March, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Free p&p on orders over £20.