Bergamo, Polenta e Osei and Other Desserts

A quick day trip from Milan, Bergamo is an interesting city that is cleanly divided into two parts: Bergamo Alta and the newer, more modern Bergamo. Bergamo Alta sits back on a hill, overlooking the bustling city center below.

Piazza del Duomo in Bergamo Alta, Italy

Bergamo Alta can be reached easily by taking a short funicolare ride up to the upper city. A perfect place for a passeggiata, Bergamo Alta is a maze of small streets and window shops.

And many, many pastry shops and bakeries to tempt you along the way.

More fresh pastries in Bergamo Alta, Italy

Ever eaten sweet polenta? No? This dessert is a Bergamasco specialty, and even though it’s called Polenta e Osei, it is in no way actually made of polenta. It resembles a mound of polenta with a little bird (osei) on top of it.

The polenta-like appearance is due to a yellow fondant covering rolled in big crystals of sugar, with a dollop of apricot jam on top. Inside, a yellow cake (pan di spagna) hides a cream center of usually hazelnut. The marzipan birds perched on top range from the very elaborate to more impressionist/abstract art. I won’t tell you what I thought some of the “birds” were on some polenta e osei that I saw, but if a brown marzipan shape gets wilted…. Polenta e Osei mimics its savoury (and real polenta) twin of the same name, yet the sweet version seems to be the more well-known one. Rowena has another Polenta e Osei with a less-abstract marzipan bird.

Polenta e Osei in Bergamo Alta, Italy

If Polenta e Osei isn’t to your taste, there were many more pastries to be seen and eaten. Lucky for you, you’re doing a passeggiata at the same time so you can walk off some of those pastry calories! This Torta Millefoglie looks especially interesting and I would love to break it open. I love that they stack everything!

Torta Millefoglie in Bergamo Alta, Italy

These Cannoli alla Crema aren’t made the traditional way but filled with meringa, meringue instead of ricotta.

Cannoli alla Crema (Meringue) in Bergamo Alta, Italy

Pear and chocolate is a popular combination in Italy. Here they are tucked inside a pastry shell called Sfogliate Pere e Cioccolato.

Sfogliate Pere e Cioccolato - Pear and Chocolate Pastries in Bergamo Alta, Italy

There weren’t only sweets in Bergamo – here are some fresh pasta and bread – oh wait, there are desserts in this picture, too.

Fresh Pasta & Pastries in Bergamo Alta, Italy

Which one of these pastries would you try? The Polenta e Osei?

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  1. Lieludalis says

    I’ll take one of each…
    As an American with a wicked sweet tooth, I found the pastries in Italy to be less sweet than I was expecting them to be. So as a result, I didn’t eat that many sweets while I was there…ok, except for the gelato (of course)!
    What did you buy for yourself?

    Pear and fig are such great flavors that don’t get much play in the states.
    We were just given some pear syrup from my husband’s co-worker here in Brussels.
    I’d never have thought to combine it with chocolate…but how appropriate as we’re in Belgium!

  2. says

    You know, I’ve been trying to avoid Bergamo Alta for awhile now because I can never, ever resist the pastries! :sigh: Looks like I’ll have to rethink that one…you make me wish Fat Tuesday was still going on.

  3. says

    I was telling my husband last night that we should go to Bergamo, as we have never been. I just finished reading Adriana Trigriani’s trilogy, and her descriptions of the town, and now your descriptions of the food are making me restless. I will have the torte millefoglie for sure!

  4. says

    Sara, we’re planning to take a trip to Bergamo while we’re in Milan… And we’ve also heard about a polenta festival in the Piemonte (Monastero Bormida) that we’re interested in – just in case you wanted to come, too! :)

  5. says

    one of each please…

    oh you mean of the three you mentioned? lol I’d either do the pear/chocolate thing or the polenta. I love spongey cake with creme fillings. and even though I don’t love pears they are really good with chocolate!

    ahh italy – how i covet your pastry shops. so delicious and the walking totally makes up for the indulgence! Thats the only place I’ve been where I actually lose weight while eating to my hearts content.

    so jealous… hehe

  6. says

    The pair and chocolate thing sounds amazing! At least in NY there are some immigrants to bring us these delicatable treats, but unfortunately in Texas, not so much luck :(

  7. anna l'americana says

    Yeah, window shopping – just as good as eating over the sink for nullifying calories!

    Wow this northern display looks so much better than the stuff I used to see in Rome – Italian pastry was never my favorite. But I’m betting that millefoglie cake is something! A large slice over here, please……..

    What is that in the 1st window shot between the 2 kinds of sfogliatelle that looks like 2 large stacked books with dark edged pages????

  8. Nicole says

    I am thrilled to see that you featured Bergamo, my soon to be home on your blog! Cita Alta is lovely and on Sundays when you can’t bring cars in, its a great walk( work off those sweet treats) from Bassa with lovely views of rest of the city.

  9. says

    I love Bergamo!! Great post!! I bought one of the larger Polenta e Osei to share with a friend I was visiting after leaving Bergamo. It was so ono (delicious). I wish I had bought more. I guess I will just have to go back there again.

  10. Andrew says

    I have been obsessed with polenta e osei since I first discovered them over 20 years ago and have returned numerous times to track down new ones.

    Are these desserts available anywhere in the US?

    Is there any way to get them shipped to the US.

    I’ve seen the recipe twice here but they were radically different from one another. Anyone have a simple recipe for this incredible dessert?

  11. kass says

    I was looking for Italian desserts when I found your blog…and honestly all those look good. I’ve stopped liking super sweet stuff so all this looks good and I’d try a little of each.

  12. italynothanx says

    maybe you do not know the real “polente e osei”
    it’s a real horror
    little nice roasted sing birds on polenta !!!!!!
    please remove this horror from your website

    • Ms. Adventures in Italy says

      Thanks for your comment, but I’m talking about the dessert, so I don’t see a problem. Cheers.

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