From Italy, With Love: Sweets With a Romantic History

February 7, 2017 Updated: March 7, 2018

Leave it to Italy to have a treasure trove of sweets with a romantic backstory.

Food historian Francine Segan traveled extensively throughout the country while researching for her book “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets.” She spent a good month in Emilia-Romagna, a historically important and wealthy region.

In the city of Ferrara, she chanced upon tenerina, a tender, moist, flourless chocolate cake with a crackly, meringue-like top. It was created in honor of the wife of King Victor Emmanuel III and so is sometimes called “The Queen’s Cake.”

"Dolci: Italy's Sweets" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
“Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

“The story goes, it’s flourless because the baker was so excited, he forgot to put in the flour,” Segan said. Make sure to adhere to the 19 minutes of baking—no longer—and it is “foolproof,” she said.

Another romantic classic is baci di dama (or “lady’s kisses”) from the northern Piedmont region, the entry point of chocolate into Italy from Spain. “It became known as a European center for chocolate for a good 100 years,” said Segan.

"Dolci: Italy's Sweets" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
“Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

Hazelnut cookies were always popular in that region, but when chocolate was introduced, the latter took the place of hazelnut butter to seal two cookies together, leading to a fabulous flavor combination. “It’s a baci [kiss] because it looks like a round, sort of Betty Boop-style, ’20s kiss,” Segan said.

See the recipes for Torta Tenerina, Italy’s flourless cake, and Baci de Dama, Hazelnut-chocolate cookies, courtesy of Francine Segan.