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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, mostly spread in Emilia-Romagna, Latium, Marche, Tuscany, Umbria, and Abruzzo. In every region, some small variations to the basic recipe differentiate it in a significant way.
Appearance and variants
The sweet is prepared by overlapping layers of sponge cake or ladyfingers, soaked in different liqueurs, to custard layers. The liqueur usually used is alchermes, which gives the sweet red color in addition to 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 usually served cold.
It is a cake which has some variants. Besides custard, sometimes chocolate cream is also used, thus contributing not only to the taste but also to 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 extremely doubtful, and there is no documentation about it. However, there are many legends about its birth, in which 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 is 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 is spread at least since the nineteenth century. Artusi felt the need to inform the Tuscans about the difference existing between the cream they usually prepare and the custard needed for the preparation of Zuppa Inglese, describing the Tuscan recipe more similar to the one of today in a cup instead of similar to a cake to be unmolded which is his recipe.
Zuppa Inglese can be round and flat or egg-shaped. It may also be prepared 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 it may be substituted with curacao or Grand Marnier.
8 eggs, separated
1/2 vanilla stick
8 oz. confectioners’ sugar
1 qt. milk
1 oz. alchemies
1 tbs. flour
1 oz. rum
How to make the Italian English Trifle:
Prepare a vanilla cream with eight egg yolks, 2/3 cup sugar, milk, flour, and vanilla. Warm the milk, add the 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.
Regional Recipe from Emilia-Romagna, Lazio, Marche, Tuscany, Umbria, Abruzzo