The Sweet Citrus Dessert Inspired By Southern Italy's Amalfi Coast

Italy's Amalfi Coast needs no introduction. The seaside region comprises 13 towns and is world-renowned as a major tourist destination, primarily for its beaches, candy-colored villages that appear to spill into the Tyrrhenian Sea, and its historical landmarks. The sun-drenched haven is located in southern Italy between Naples and Salerno. On a visit there, you can see waterfalls, caves, and take a ferry to the nearby island of magical Capri. But one thing you're guaranteed to notice no matter where you set foot on the Amalfi Coast is lemons, lots of lemons.

Known locally as sfusato Amalfitano or Limone Costa d'Amalfi, Amalfi lemons are so plentiful in this part of the country that their perfume positively lingers in the air. Draped over gardens and scattered along the coastal cliffs, the large and bumpy lemons inevitably appear in numerous dishes along the coastline, from lemon pastas to the freshest local seafood, to desserts. One dessert, in particular, is so infused with lemon that it's considered a specialty dish of the Amalfi Coast. Lemon Delight or Delizia al Limone is a sweet consisting of seven elements, each doused with this unique citrus fruit.

Who created Lemon Delights?

With its perpetual sunshine and warm temperatures, southern Italy was destined to become a place that citrus fruits would love. They are so plentiful in the region that when Italian pastry chef Carmine Marzuillo was tasked with creating a dessert for the opening of the hotel he was working at in 1978 in Sorrento, he looked to the Amalfi lemon for inspiration. His original Lemon Delight was a large dessert sponge cake soaked with Strega liqueur (an herbal digestif liqueur) that was both filled and coated with lemon cream, then garnished with cherries. The dessert truly became famous when it was scaled down to single-serving portions and served at Sorrento's Antico Francischiello restaurant, where Marzuillo's brother was the executive chef. Lemon Delight was awarded a gold medal at the 1978 Chef's Association convention, furthering its reputation.

Although it was Marzuillo's creation, pastry chef Salvatore De Riso is most associated with it. His famous stunning pastry shop, known as Sal De Riso, is also on the Amalfi Coast, where he sells thousands of Lemon Delights to hungry tourists and locals. The sweet was recently featured on CNN's "Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy," where the acclaimed actor watched Salvatore assemble the lemony delight and was nearly speechless upon tasting it.

The many steps of creating this iconic Amalfi dessert

The version of Lemon Delight most fans know today includes seven elements: sponge cake, lemon cream, custard cream, whipped cream, limoncello, limoncello water, and lemon glaze. Each element has some form of Amalfi lemon, whether juice, zest, or both. The lemon sponge cakes are filled with lemon custard cream and then soaked in limoncello liqueur (another specialty of the Amalfi Coast). Next, the cakes are glazed with more lemon custard cream, which is watered down with limoncello water. Finally, lemon whipped cream and fresh zest decorate the top and base of the cakes.

An authentic Lemon Delight will utilize Amalfi lemons which are prized in part because the peels are untreated and edible. These can be difficult to find outside of Italy, so if you're attempting the dessert in America, Meyer lemons make a suitable substitute. A lot is going on in recipes for Lemon Delight, but once each of the recipe elements is made, it's just a matter of putting the desserts together.

They may not be so easy to find in America

"Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy" exposed many to this amazing dessert and no doubt helped spark renewed interest in it. If seeking one out, you may be able to find it at a specialty Italian pastry shop, but it remains a signature dessert of the Amalfi Coast, and if you're hoping to get the most authentic experience, this is your best bet. The aforementioned Antico Francischiello restaurant in Sorrento still serves the dessert, and you can purchase one at Sal De Riso's namesake pastry shop after a day soaking in the sun on the beach.

 If jetting off to the Amalfi Coast isn't in the cards for you, it's a dessert you should try at least once, even if that means creating one in your kitchen. Lemon Delights are very special desserts that require a lot of time, patience, and care. If this is the route you end up going, just take it one step at a time, and the reward at the end (that first forkful) will make every second worth it.