Zuppa Inglese – Italian English Trifle

Zuppa Inglese – Lungoleno CC BY-SA 4.0

Zuppa Inglese – Italian English Trifle

The Zuppa Inglese is a sweet Italian spoon made with custard and sponge cake soaked in liqueurs such as alchermes, rosolio, bitter almonds, or rum. Very famous in Italy, mainly spread in Emilia-Romagna, Latium, Marche, Tuscany, Umbria, and Abruzzo. In every region, some minor variations to the basic recipe differentiate it significantly.

Appearance and variants
The sweet is prepared by overlapping sponge cake or ladyfingers, soaked in different liqueurs, to custard layers. The liqueur usually used is alchermes, which gives the lovely red color and the flavor. Sometimes it is prepared in a transparent baking pan to make visible the variously colored layers. The cake is then kept in the fridge to make it more compact and served cold.
It is a cake which has some variants. Besides custard, sometimes chocolate cream is also used, thus contributing to the taste and a more colorful presentation of this homemade cake. Some recipes appear apricot jam, very loved by nineteenth-century confectioners, and in others, fruit preserves. Other recipes integrate the preparation with coffee, making it similar to tiramisu. Some, finally, add a touch of cinnamon.
In Ferrara, instead of sponge cake, it is sometimes used brazadèla, the typical and straightforward traditional cake with a dough similar to a donut but with a flattened loaf. A variant from Modena and Ferrara’s border area may be spread in the ’60s, where mint syrup is added to the traditional mixture of alcohol.
In Turkish cooking, there is a sweet called supangle (soup Anglais, that is “English soup” in French), which, however, being a chocolate pudding, is not similar to English soup.

Zuppa Inglese is undoubtedly an Italian sweet, but its name’s origin and etymology are highly doubtful, and there is no documentation about it. However, there are many legends about its birth. The invention is attributed to many regions of Italy or some European countries. The name already appeared at the end of the 1800s in the “bible” of Italian cooking written by Pellegrino Artusi, La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar bene. The recipe is n. 675.
Its spreading has been attested since the 1800s in at least three Italian regions: Emilia-Romagna, Marche, and Tuscany.
In Emilia-Romagna cuisine, for more than a century, it has been prepared in Bologna, Parma, Piacenza, Modena, Ferrara, Reggio Emilia, and Ravenna.
In the Marches, particularly in Ancona, this cake’s use is also documented since the mid-nineteenth century; English travelers in the Marches were amazed by the name, having never seen this cake in their homeland. Interesting is the explanation they received from the Italians: the English term was meant as a synonym of alcohol lover, as they believed English people were, as the recipe requires the use of liquors.
Even in Tuscany, Zuppa Inglese has been spread at least since the nineteenth century. Artusi felt the need to inform the Tuscans about the difference between the cream they usually prepare and the custard needed to prepare the Zuppa Inglese. He describes the Tuscan recipe as more similar to the one of today in a cup instead of a cake to be unmolded, which is his recipe.

Zuppa Inglese can be round and flat or egg-shaped. You may also prepare in a bowl. Moreover, the cream may be divided into two flavors, such as vanilla and chocolate. Alchermes is a liquor essential to this dessert, but you may substitute it with curacao or Grand Marnier.


Eight eggs, separated
1/2 vanilla stick
Eight oz. confectioners’ sugar
sponge cake
One qt. milk
1 oz. alchemies
One tbs. flour
1 oz. rum

How to make the Zuppa Inglese – Italian English Trifle:

Prepare a vanilla cream with eight egg yolks, 2/3 cup sugar, milk, flour, and vanilla. Warm the milk and add egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and flour. Keep mixing over low heat until you get a smooth cream, but do not allow it to boil.

Cut the sponge cake into slices about 1/2-in. thick and 1-in. wide. Arrange a layer of sponge cake in a deep serving platter, sprinkle with alchemies to moisten, and then pour a cream layer. Cover with another layer of sponge cake. Sprinkle with rum, spread with cream, cover with the last layer of sponge cake and drizzle with alchemies.

Whip the egg whites. Combine them gently with the remaining sugar, and cover the cake. Brown the meringue with a burner or in the salamander.

Serves 4

Zuppa Inglese – Italian English Trifle is a Regional Recipe from Emilia-Romagna, Lazio, Marche, Tuscany, Umbria, Abruzzo

Enrico Massetti was born in Milan, Italy.
Now he lives in Washington, DC, USA.
Still, he regularly visits his hometown
and enjoys going around all the places in his home country
especially those he can reach by public transportation.

Enrico loves writing guide books on travel in Italy
to help his friends that go to Italy to visit
and enjoy his old home country.
He also publishes books on the Argentine tango dance.

You can reach Enrico at enricomassetti@msn.com.