Pignoli, amaretti, sfogliatelle.  Oh My! Are you as mad for Italian cookies and pastries as I am?   If so, you might enjoy this Glossary of Italian American Bakery Specialties that I put together for armchair or genuine travel.

Growing up in New England, where a sizeable percent of the population claims Italian heritage, I was exposed to Italian sweets from a young age. My appetite for nutty things comes from eating Jordan almonds, biscotti and macaroons as a kid.   Later, trips to Boston’s North End and Little Italies across the US became part of my job and a sweet one at that.

The Italian American bakery tradition is rooted in the 19th century when immigrants flocked to such cities as New York, New Haven, Boston, and Philadelphia. By the 1920’s, 42% of the population of Manhattan was born in Italy. And this is why so many Italian inspired bakeries, pastry shops and gelateria still thrive in the City.

To celebrate that tradition and create a fun and safe adventure, I created a Google map of some of the fascinating and older Italian bakeries in the five boroughs of New York. Use this glossary to help identify the more common pastries you’ll encounter. (And for links to the occasional recipe posted on this site.) Names of these cookies vary as do the constituent ingredients reflecting the baker’s origins and recipe changes over the years.

Glossary of Italian American Bakery Specialties

Old World Italian American Bakery Tour

Anginette (pl. anginetti)—a light, barely sweet lemon cookie coated in sugar glaze and colored nonpareils or sprinkles

Amaretto (pl. amaretti) —an intensely flavorful almond macaroon that may be dense and chewy or light and crisp; amaretti may be coated in sliced almonds, pearl sugar or candied anise seeds. For an intense flavor, some bakers use apricot kernel paste to make their amaretti.


Three types of piped amaretti from Pasticceria Monteleone BK on Court Street in Brooklyn, NY, one of MY favorites.

Baba—a rich, yeast dough baked into plump, cork-shaped forms; soaked in rum or other flavored syrup, the babas are served plain or with a cream filling.

Babas from Napoli

Babas, Sfogliatelle and other pastries from Scaturchio in Naples, Italy.

Biscotto (pl. biscotti) —the broad name for a twice-baked cookie, the biscotto takes many forms; a plain biscotto is usually lean and crisp. Among the more common types of biscotti found in NY bakeries are light anise-flavored biscotti called anisette toast. Toasted almond biscotti go by many names among them biscotti di mandorle or biscotti di Prato.

Biscotto Regina or Reginelle—a twice baked cookie made with eggs and a hint of flavoring, usually coated in sesame seeds before baking

Biscotto Regina or Reginelle

Regina biscuits from Court Pastry Shop, Court Street in Brooklyn, NY.

Biscotto Umberto—a twice baked cookie made with eggs and a hint of lemon flavoring, often piped into short strips with a distinctive ridged surface

Bombolone (pl. bomboloni) —a filled deep-fried doughnut made from a rich yeast dough like a Berliner or American jelly doughnut, a “big bomb” as the name means in Italian


Bomboloni made with Biaggio Settepane of Bruno’s on Staten Island, NY at Johnson + Wales professional baking class.

Brutti Ma Buoni—hazelnut meringue cookies; the name means “Ugly but Good” in Italian. Some bakeries will have their own names for these, among them carcagnoli.

Cannolo (pl. cannoli)—firm dough wrapped around metal tubes and deep fried into a crispy pastry that is filled with a ricotta cream; the best cannoli are filled to order with a not-too-sweet filling made from house-made ricotta then garnished with diced candied pistachios.

Cenci —crisp cookies made from strips of dense dough that is deep-fried then coated with powdered sugar, honey or colored sprinkles; also called Bow Tie or Angel Wing Cookies, these were once typical during pre-Lenten carnival season.

Cucidati—a thin layer of cookie dough filled with a mixture or figs, nuts and honey, often coated in sugar glaze and colored sprinkles


Frutta di Martorana— a sweet made from tinted marzipan shaped to resemble fruits, often realistically painted and glazed, a Sicilian specialty

Marzipan fruit

Frutta di Martorana from Pasticceria Monteleone BK on Court Street in Brooklyn, NY.

Millefoglie—Italian for “thousand layer dough” or puff pastry, usually baked, cut into rectangles and filled with pastry cream like the French Napoleon pastry

Mostaccioli, Mustaccioli —a Neapolitan chocolate-coated spice cookie with a cake-like texture flavored with clove, cinnamon, almond flour and citrus oil

Papatelle—a twice baked almond biscotto flavored with honey and studded with roasted almonds

Pasticciotto—a small tart or pastry shell filled with cream, custard, ricotta cheese or any manner of fillings

Pastiera—a sweet tart made with a filling of cooked wheat, ricotta cheese and orange flower water covered with a lattice crust; it is an Easter specialty in Naples and the surrounding area.


Pastiera from Scaturchio in Naples, Italy.

Pignolo (pl. pignoli) —an Italian almond macaroon coated in pine nuts. It is tender and chewy with a bright almond flavor.


Piparelli—a Sicilian twice baked cookie with almonds and spices

Pizzella (pl. pizzelle) —a crisp wafer cookie flavored with anisette, lemon or other flavorings baked on a patterned waffle iron

Quaresimali— an rugged-looking almond biscotto made with large chunks of roasted almonds, this Lenten specialty is often flavored liberally with orange flower water or orange oil.

Sfogliatelle —a flaked, ridged pastry that is filled with ricotta cheese enhanced with a hint of orange and citron; its name refers to its many layers of crisp pastry. When baked in a long shape, they’re called “lobster tails” and are usually filled with pastry cream or whipped cream.


Sfogliatelle made with Biaggio Settepane of Bruno’s on Staten Island, NY at Johnson + Wales professional baking class.

Struffoli—a type of cream puff batter piped into marble-sized pieces that are deep-fried then coated in honey; a Neapolitan specialty, the crunchy pastries are usually piled onto serving trays and sprinkled with diavolini, colored sprinkles.

Struffoli on tray

Struffoli made with Biaggio Settepane of Bruno’s on Staten Island, NY at Johnson + Wales professional baking class.

Tarallo (pl. taralli) —an unsweetened bread dough baked into a ring-shape eaten as a snack; taralli made be dry and light like bread sticks or enriched with lard and spices.

Torta di Mandorle (Almond Torte) —a dome-shaped cake layered with jam or cream and fruit filling covered with a piped almond paste topping before baking


Torta di Mandorle
Tri Colore (Neapolitan or Rainbow Cookies) —thin layers of a rich almond paste cake batter layered with jam or buttercream, coated with chocolate then cut into small bars; the layers of this festive “cookie” are usually tinted with the colors of the Italian flag.

Rainbow Cookies

Zeppola (pl. zeppole) —deep-fried pastry made from the same egg batter than is used to make cream puffs and éclairs; they are usually served filled with fruit and cream for the Festival di San Giuseppe, March 13. Also called bignè or sfinge di San Giuseppe.

Zeppole and sfogliadelleKitchen Notebook

For more than 25 years, I had a professional relationship with American Almond Products Company, formally in Brooklyn, New York. The company made what I consider the finest almond paste in the US. Over the years, I got to visit many bakeries across the country and sample these pastries firsthand. And to further my education by taking classes such as the one I took with Biaggio Settepane. And later, on my own to visit bakeries and pastry shops here and in other countries that specialize in these and hundreds of other delectable, nutty sweets.

I’m always on the sweet and savory Almond Trail sampling as I go. Ask me how to pack a tray of rum babas, sfogliatelle and mini cakes in a suitcase. Or how to carry a fondant-covered cake on a five hour train ride.