Zuppa Inglese

Italian Trifle

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Appears in

Great Italian Desserts

By Nick Malgieri

Published 1990

  • About

A type of trifle, zuppa inglese takes its name from inzuppare, which means “to soak” or “moisten,” since the layers of cake are soaked with syrup. Different interpretations of the zuppa abound, and, like a trifle, it can be varied endlessly according to what is on hand when it is prepared. This version is one that I have served and taught for about ten years, and it never fails to impress. When I have them on hand, I drizzle a few spoonfuls of sour cherry preserves on the layers of pan di spagna under the orange pastry cream.

This is an excellent dessert for entertaining because it can be prepared the day before and improves on standing. Cover it with the whipped cream a few hours before serving.

In Italy an unusual liqueur called Alchermes is used to flavor the syrup. Alchermes has a spicy flavor, a bright red color, and the distinction of being colored with cochineal, a natural dye derived from cochineal flies, similar to ladybugs. To achieve a similar flavor, I add a cinnamon stick and several cloves to the syrup, along with rum and vanilla. Needless to say, I dispense with the red color. If you are interested in acquiring Alchermes, it is available all over Italy — the bottle I have comes from Ai Monasteri, a store near the Piazza Navona in Rome that sells products from convents and monasteries.


    Pastry Creams

  • 1 quart milk
  • cups sugar
  • 12 large egg yolks
  • cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon


  • cup sugar
  • cup water
  • 2-inch piece of cinnamon stick
  • 3 whole cloves
  • ½ cup dark rum


For the pastry creams, bring the milk and half the sugar to a boil in a large nonaluminum saucepan. Whisk the egg yolks in a mixing bowl and beat in the remaining sugar. Sift in the flour and beat it in. Beat one-third of the boiling milk into the yolk mixture. Return the remaining milk to a boil and beat in the yolk mixture, continuing to beat until the pastry cream thickens and comes to a boil. Cook, beating, about 1 minute.

Remove the cream from the heat and divide between 2 bowls, pouring half the mixture into each. Stir the orange zest and vanilla into one and the chocolate and cinnamon into the other. Press plastic wrap against the surface of each and refrigerate until cold.

For the syrup, bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small pan with the cinnamon and cloves. Cool, remove the spices, and add the rum.

To assemble the zuppa inglese, cut the pan di spagna into vertical slices about ¼ inch thick. Place a layer of the slices in the bottom of a -quart glass bowl and moisten with the syrup, using a brush. Spread with half the orange pastry cream. Cover with another layer of pan di spagna slices, moisten with the syrup, and cover with a layer of the chocolate pastry cream. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, ending with a layer of the cake slices and moistening with the remaining syrup. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 24 hours at this point.

To finish the zuppa inglese, whip the cream until it holds its shape but is not too firm, and spread it on the top. Decorate with some chocolate shavings and the candied fruit. Keep the zuppa inglese in the refrigerator.

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream Chocolate shavings Candied fruit

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