Tortoni sono Buoni = Tortoni, They are Good

Friday, May 2, 2008

When I was a little girl, we lived in New York City. I’m talking about the waaaaay early days before my pesky little attention hog of a baby brother was born. Ah…..those were the days! The days of being an only child, basking in the undivided adoration of all the adults in my life. I was the center of the universe. The apple of everyone’s eye.
We didn’t go out for meals very often back then, unless you count my Nonna’s house. My parents were practically kids themselves and could barely afford me! When we did go to a restaurant, it was usually one of a short list of choices. The place I remember most fondly was a little neighborhood trattoria called Johnny’s. The owners, John and Marie, were a nice, middle-aged Italian couple who kind of adopted my parents. My father hadn’t been in this country very long and Marie used to make him all the special dishes he missed from home. I, of course, being outrageously precocious and incredibly cute, always rated special treatment.

When I was four, John and Marie gave me a little stuffed duck, wearing a felt dress and straw hat and carrying a basket of teeny, tiny plastic flowers. I called her Duckie and I took her everywhere. Eventually, I loved off the dress, hat and basket, but you know what? Forty years later, I still have that naked and threadbare little duck sitting on a shelf in my bedroom!

Many years have passed since then. Johnny’s is long gone, but I still remember the warmth and hospitality my family always experienced there. Another thing I vividly remember is sneaking sips of my mother’s espresso as I enjoyed one of my favorite treats of all time – tortoni. How I loved it!

Tortoni is a classic Italian frozen dessert traditionally made with eggs and heavy cream, much like a custard-based ice cream. It often contains chopped maraschino cherries and is topped with minced almonds or crumbled macaroons. It is also usually flavored with rum or some kind of liqueur. The dessert is believed to have been named after a famous Italian café owner of the same name in 19th century Paris.

Sadly, I have rarely ever seen tortoni on a restaurant menu since. It’s a shame really, because it is a wonderful dessert. Several years ago I decided to try and recreate the dish for an Italian-themed dinner party I was hosting. I did a little research and some experimentation, and came up with what I thought was a pretty good interpretation.

I use vanilla ice cream, freshly whipped cream, toasted almonds and amaretti, which are Italian almond cookies. Sometimes, I go all out and make my own ice cream, but any good quality, premium vanilla ice cream will work just as well. Amaretti can be found at most Italian specialty stores as well as many supermarkets. Most of the tortoni recipes I’ve seen use rum or brandy. I prefer to carry the almond theme through, so I use an amaretto liqueur.


My tortoni is light and creamy, with a delicate almond flavor. The amaretti give it just a touch of crunchiness too. You can serve the tortoni in small paper pastry cups or ramekins, but sometimes I just make it in a big bowl and serve it family-style. No matter how you scoop it, tortoni sono buoni!


3/4 cup cup blanched almonds
2 1/2 cups amaretti cookies
3 tablespoons amaretto liqueur (You can use more or less to taste.)
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 quart homemade or premium quality vanilla ice cream, softened
Maraschino cherries, drained and halved for garnish


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place chopped almonds on a pie plate or small baking sheet and toast in the oven until lightly golden, about 7-8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Crush the amaretti cookies into small nuggets. You can do this by putting them in a zip lock bag and smacking them with a rolling pin or meat mallet. Be careful not to turn them into crumbs. Place crumbled cookies in a medium bowl and toss with the almonds. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat cream with an electric mixer until thickened. Pour in the amaretto and whip until medium peaks form. Spoon the cookie mixture into the whipped cream, reserving 3/4 cup or so for topping.

Add the almond extract to the softened ice cream and stir until blended and very smooth. Fold
cookie/whipped cream mixture into ice cream.

Spoon into little pastry cups or ramekins. Sprinkle each cup with some of the reserved cookie mixture and top with a cherry.

Freeze until firm.


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49 responses to Tortoni sono Buoni = Tortoni, They are Good

  1. On May 02, 2008 at 9:25pm, RecipeGirl said...

    Mmmm. Looks really yummy to have for dessert right at this moment!!

    My hubby just called me a little while ago from the North End in Boston (their little Italy.) He had just consumed enormous amounts of Italian food and was on his way to eating gelato and pastries. I wonder if they have tortoni in a spot like that?

  2. On May 02, 2008 at 11:08pm, Manggy said...

    That looks really good! Confession– I’ve never had an Amaretti before :O I would love to try one, though (hmm… off to the deli!) :)

    I loved the naked duck story 😛 Did you ever see John and Marie again?

  3. On May 02, 2008 at 11:40pm, Nina's Kitchen (Nina Timm) said...

    Is it OK if I have 2 servings. It looks so divine, heavenly…..mmmm

  4. On May 03, 2008 at 12:18am, noble pig said...

    What a great story and a beautiful dessert…it looks like heaven in a cup.

  5. On May 03, 2008 at 3:17am, Lore said...

    I have never heard of Tortoni before but you’re right: they sound heavenly.
    Thanks for sharing such great memories. I still have my favourite monkey back home :).

  6. On May 03, 2008 at 3:19am, Peter M said...

    I’m sold, purely on the Amaretti cookies!

  7. On May 03, 2008 at 6:04am, Maryann said...

    wow! This brings back so many memories! I loved this too! Why don’t we see it around anymore? You’ve got the presentation in the paper cups spot on! haha

  8. On May 03, 2008 at 6:56am, Ginny said...

    I love it! I do not think we have ever made it in my family…we are more canolli people!

  9. On May 03, 2008 at 7:49am, jj said...

    Never heard or tortoni, either but this looks wonderful! Thanks!

  10. On May 03, 2008 at 8:50am, BMK said...

    Can’t wait to try this recipe. Tortoni is one of my favorites!

  11. On May 03, 2008 at 12:35pm, CookiePie said...

    Beautiful! I love amaretti – this looks like such a luscious treat! I remember having something similar at the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy… yum!

  12. On May 03, 2008 at 3:02pm, Kevin said...

    These sound so good! Almond treats are some of my favorites. Bookmarked

  13. On May 03, 2008 at 7:55pm, White On Rice Couple said...

    What a great story about “Duckie”! I have a pink piggy that has lasted through the years too….but my “piggy wiggy” is in storage! I’ll have to dig piggy wiggy out again!

    I have to say…mmmm…mmmm…mmmm! The tortonis pic is fabulous and another awesome Italian inspiration that we’ll try. We love anything with amaretti!

  14. On May 03, 2008 at 8:32pm, Alejandra said...

    Oh boy…this looks delicious!!

  15. On May 03, 2008 at 9:07pm, Obsessive Foodie or Food Addict....You Decide said...

    I love amaretto…..I am definately making these for an appetizer and sangria party! What a cute little bite of sweet….straight from my lips and down to YOUR hips hehehehehe.

  16. On May 03, 2008 at 9:17pm, StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

    RecipeGirl- I’ve been to Boston’s Little Italy. It’s a great place! If he can’t find tortoni there, I’d be surprised.

    Manggy- Thanks! Sadly, after we moved to Florida, I never saw them again. I heard they retired to Boca.

    Nina- Lol! Sure, they’re small ones.

    Noble Pig- Thank you! I’m glad you liked them. :)

    Lore- I’m glad you like them. So many of our fondest memories revolve around food, don’t they?

    Peter- Those crunchy little guys are good in lots of things.

    Maryann- I don’t know why. It used to be really popular. Now, its all about tiramisu! Lol.

    Ginny- Thanks! Canolli are great too.

    JJ- You’re welcome! Glad you like it.

    BMK- Great! Let me know how it turns out!

    CookiePie- Thanks! That probably was tortoni you had.

    Kevin- Thanks! I love almond treats too.

    WoRC- Thank you! You should dig Piggy out. Duckie’s listened to a lot of my troubles over the years. 😉

    I’m so glad you like the tortoni. I guarantee you’ll be addicted! 😉

    Alejandra- Thanks! Glad you like it.

    Obsessive- Lol! My hips have enough to deal with on their own! If you make these, let me know how you like them.

  17. On May 03, 2008 at 10:15pm, michelle @ TNS said...

    tortoni – yay! you almost never see these anymore.


  18. On May 03, 2008 at 10:27pm, Tarah said...

    Mmmm, thats looks so good!

  19. On May 03, 2008 at 11:10pm, Lina said...

    I’ve never heard of Tortoni before but it looks like a lovely dessert. I would love to try it.

  20. On May 04, 2008 at 12:22am, Pixie said...

    I’ve never heard of this dessert- wow, what have I been missing! Great story too. 😉

  21. On May 04, 2008 at 2:39am, Cakelaw said...

    These desserts look so adorable with their pleated paper cases and cherry on top. And of course, they sound delicious! Thanks for sharing the wonderful story behind them with us.

  22. On May 04, 2008 at 6:45am, diva@theSugarBar said...

    oooh i’ve never heard of this italian dessert before. but it looks so good and rich. can’t wait to give this a try soon. x

  23. On May 04, 2008 at 7:27am, Joyce said...

    What memories you have brought back. My Nonna used to make these in RI long long ago. Stella Lunardelli..what a beautiful name, and we called her Nonna, of course. I can not wait to make these.
    Thank you for awakening all the love and happiness I associate with this wonderful dessert.
    She use to make another one, using rice and cherries. It was baked and cut into squares, and so sweet and delicious, have you ever heard of it? Would love to have a recipe.

    thank you so much for posting this.

  24. On May 04, 2008 at 8:48am, Jen Yu said...

    I’ve never heard of such a thing, but it looks and sounds so delicious. I am a big fan of anything creamy and crunchy and almondy… Love the tiny servings you have there! So cute. Thanks for sharing a long lost tradition with us and keeping it alive :)

  25. On May 04, 2008 at 9:39am, Bellini Valli said...

    Wouldn’t we all have loved to visit Johnny’s Susan:D

  26. On May 04, 2008 at 12:48pm, Helene said...

    I never had a dessert like this but would love to try it. Yummy.

  27. On May 04, 2008 at 3:15pm, My Sweet & Saucy said...

    I love your addition of amaretti cookies!

  28. On May 04, 2008 at 5:52pm, Aran said...

    That sounds wonderful… I love stories about childhood and family and close friends. I am feeling a bit nostalgic myself lately. Lovely dessert. My type, with ice cream and crunchy add-ins. I could have that right now actually!

  29. On May 04, 2008 at 8:32pm, the southern hostess said...

    Yum! I absolutely love amaretti cookies. I will have to try this!

  30. On May 04, 2008 at 11:11pm, Heather said...

    Haha, I thought I was the only one who was happier before my little brother came along. :)

    Great memories you have here, Susan. Thanks so much for sharing this bit of your childhood with us.

  31. On May 05, 2008 at 3:48am, Mochachocolata Rita said...

    yummmm…almost time for dinner, can i eat dessert first? ^_^

    look at those crumbs…crunch crunch crunch!

  32. On May 05, 2008 at 6:30am, Maya said...

    I love ANYTHING with amaretti cookies…Lovely pics.

  33. On May 05, 2008 at 7:00am, The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

    I remember tortoni being available in Italian restaurants when I was a kid. They seemed to disappear with the popularity of tiramisu and fancy gelati.

    Seeing this recipe brought back some memories of a time when I saw these more often.

  34. On May 05, 2008 at 8:47am, StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

    Thanks, Everyone! I’m so glad you all liked the tortoni. Sorry it’s taken a while to respond to your comments. I appreciate them very much. I’ve had company this weekend, so my online time has been limited.

    Joyce- I’m glad my post brought back such happy memories for you. Your Nonna’s name is beautiful. Stella means star in Italian and Luna means moon.

    Short(dis)Order Cook- You’re right. When I was a kid, tortoni was really popular. I guess it isn’t fancy enough anymore. I still love it best, though!

  35. On May 05, 2008 at 11:20am, Cakespy said...

    I have not seen tortoni in the LONGEST time! Growing up in NJ there were Italian bakeries that would have it, but it’s a rarity in Seattle, where I now live!

    delicious and adorable!!!!!

  36. On May 05, 2008 at 12:09pm, Patricia Scarpin said...

    Susan, these are completely new to me – and my goodness, they look delish!

  37. On May 05, 2008 at 12:32pm, Tartelette said...

    I was just thinking about those the other day! It’s been forever sice I have had one. Problem solved thanks to you! Each individual ones look wonderful!

  38. On May 05, 2008 at 9:17pm, Proud Italian Cook said...

    2 words….Absolutely Perfect!!!

  39. On May 05, 2008 at 11:36pm, Marc @ NoRecipes said...

    Looks good. The paper cups are nice touch. Where do you get them?

  40. On May 06, 2008 at 4:53am, Astra Libris said...

    Heavenly… Positively heavenly… I’m practically speechless with awe! Your story is so beautiful, as well.

  41. On May 06, 2008 at 10:15am, Autumn said...

    YUM, YUM, YUM!! I worked in Baltimore’s Little Italy when I was a teenager and ate my weight in gelato and pinoli cookies… this is the best of both!! The next 5 lbs I gain thanks you :)

  42. On May 06, 2008 at 10:01pm, Megan said...

    Wow, I thought my mom was the only one that made tortoni. Her recipe is a little different than yours, but the end result is the same – delicious!

  43. On May 07, 2008 at 9:23am, Amanda said...

    What sweet memories. I loved reading this post–and it caused me to recall the tortoni of my own childhood.

  44. On May 07, 2008 at 7:47pm, StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

    Cakespy- Glad you like it! It used to be a really popular item when I was growing up. I don’t see it at all anymore.

    Patricia- Thank you! Give them a try. They are really easy to make. :)

    Tartelette- Thanks! I’m so glad you like them. Great minds think alike. 😉

    Marie- Awww! Thanks!

    Marc- Thank you! I got the cups at Sur la Table, but any baking supply store should have them.

    Astra Libris- You are too sweet! Thank you very much. I’m glad you like them!

    Autumn- Lol! Thanks. I’d be in big trouble with a job like that! 😀

    Megan- Thank you! I’d be interested to know how your mom made them.

    Amanda- Thank you! I’m so glad my post conjured up sweet memories for you. I love that!

  45. On October 10, 2010 at 7:34pm, Haydee said...

    I’m not Italian but I sure love authentic Italian food. It’s a shame that this is so hard to find. It’s very rare to find in a restaurant. This has always been one of my favorites. I met someone who came so close to recreating this special dessert and serves it every fourth of July. It’s so easy that I’ve done it myself and everyone loved it. Four simple ingredients: Good vanilla ice cream(she uses Edy’s 1/2 gal.) almond extract, 1/2 tub of Cool Whip and crushed Nilla wafer cookies. I like to stick to the almond theme also so I like to use some kind of Italian almond cookies of your choice. In a large bowl mix softened (melted) ice cream, Cool Whip and almond extract (to your liking) and combine all of the ingredients. Crush the cookies in a baggie as above. Line a large rectangular aluminum pan with some of the cookie crumbs. Mix some in with the ice cream and pour the mix into the pan top with the remaining cookie crumbs. I like to garnish with halved (or whole) maraschino cherries to stay true to this dessert. Cover and freeze over night. Enjoy! Great for parties because it serves many. You just need room in the freezer to store and serve right away.

  46. On June 02, 2011 at 12:48pm, Carol @ There's Always Thyme to Cook said...

    I have similar memories of having tortoni as a kid. Your recipe is fantastic, I have made it twice in the past two weeks. I just posted about it, thank you so much, it is an amazing dessert, exactly as I remembered!

  47. On November 01, 2011 at 12:39pm, Nello said...

    I’m Italian and never heard of it. I’m sure there’s something quite similar in Italy, but I can’t find the name. It looks like Meringa alla Panna con Amaretti, but I can’t find the Italin name for it. I can assure you nobody in Italy knows Tortoni.

  48. On December 14, 2012 at 9:10am, Mary said...

    OMG!! Always loved this as a kid!! Can’t wait to make it myself after all these years! Thank you for posting!

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Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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