Make Ahead

Zuppa Inglese

February 21, 2014
0 Ratings
  • Serves 8-10
Author Notes

This recipe below is a little Artusi – a layer of apricot jam appears, a little English trifle-like – and this easy pastry cream is his. But I've included a layer of chocolate pastry cream, as the bitterness of the dark chocolate contrasts wonderfully with the rest of the dessert, and it's topped it with plain whipped cream. But some like to top it with a fine layer of bittersweet cocoa powder instead. If you can't find Alchermes, Pomegranate liqueur or syrup can be easier to find (and is a lovely, slightly sour flavour in this) but it won't have the same colour that the more traditional Alchermes does. If you want to make a non-alcoholic version, use simply the sugar syrup and pomegranate syrup or juice. —Emiko

What You'll Need
  • For the pastry creams
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup (170 grams) fine sugar
  • 3/4 cup (80 grams) cornstarch
  • 1/2 vanilla pod, seeds scraped
  • 4 cups (1 litre) milk
  • 3.5 ounces (100 grams) dark chocolate
  • For the assembly:
  • 17 ounces (500 grams) lady finger biscuits
  • 1 cup (250 ml) water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 ounces (50 ml) of rum or marsala
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) of Alchermes (or Pomegranate liqueur or syrup)
  • 3 ounces (100 grams) apricot jam
  • 1 cup (250 ml) of cream, whipped
  1. To make the pastry creams, whisk the yolks and sugar until smooth in a heatproof bowl. Add the cornstarch, vanilla seeds and then the milk, a little bit at first then the rest. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (double broiler) and stir steadily until thickened. It will thicken quite suddenly, so pay attention to the point when you see it begin to thicken – shortly after, you're done.
  2. Set aside two-thirds of the pastry cream in a separate bowl to cool. With the rest, stir through the chocolate, broken or chopped into small pieces, while still hot, so the chocolate melts and incorporates into a smooth, chocolate pastry cream. Set aside to cool.
  3. Prepare a syrup by dissolving the sugar in the water in a small saucepan and allowing to simmer about 5 minutes. Let cool, then add the rum and Alchermes (or pomegranate). Dip the lady fingers, one by one, into this syrup mixture and place side by side to cover the bottom of a glass bowl.
  4. Cover the first layer of lady fingers with the apricot jam, then a layer of half the vanilla pastry cream (should be about half an inch to an inch high). Place another layer of dipped lady fingers over the pastry cream, followed by the layer of chocolate pastry cream. A final layer of dipped lady fingers is then topped with the rest of the vanilla pastry cream and finally freshly whipped cream.
  5. Chill in the fridge at least 2 hours (or overnight) before serving.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Valentina Solfrini
    Valentina Solfrini
  • Emiko
  • Jenna Snow
    Jenna Snow
  • Stef_art

8 Reviews

Jenna S. February 28, 2014
As noted in my question, the pastry cream really does not taste good. I'm going to start over and use Julia Child's recipe pastry cream, which uses 5 egg yolks to 2 cups of milk and flour with no corn starch.
Emiko February 28, 2014
Hi Jenna, sorry - I didn't see the question (for some reason I'm not notified about them). The pastry cream is a very traditional recipe that comes directly from Pellegrino Artusi's cookbook from 1891, highly regarded as the "Bible" of Italian cooking. I've used this many times and personally think it's delicious and very authentic (how much more authentic than a 120 year old recipe for zuppa inglese?), so I included it in here to share with others. Also, as Artusi notes, if you are going to use this recipe for a dessert that unmoulds, then it really does hold up very well. I'm not sure how or in what way it doesn't taste good to you but I'm just wondering if it's a language thing - sometimes corn starch can be confused with corn flour, which would be disastrous! So hopefully that wasn't the issue!
Emiko February 28, 2014
p.s. By all means you can always use your favourite pastry cream for this too, if you prefer!
Stef_art March 10, 2014
Hi there
Emiko's version is very traditional indeed and it looks good in my opinion.
But I would like to point that Artusi's book is by now a very old cookery book, that is to say that very many of his recipes and techniques reflect a long-gone style of cooking. It is a fundamental read for anyone interested in Italian cooking but it cannot be considered any more as the guiding light it used to be: tastes have changes and new techniques have been discovered, new lighter (sometimes better) ways of cooking are being used now. It is still regarded as The Bible of Italian Cooking, but more from an historical point of view rather than for it real relevance today (Artusi's book was a best seller and it was one of the very few books to be found all over Italy in middle class houses, alongside Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio/it did play a major role in creating the concept of "Italy as a single nation"). There are other books that might reflect better the very complex and fascination reality of Italian regional cooking: Le ricette regionali italiane by Anna Gosetti della Salda (also translated in English)(1967) for instance. Another very important source (for English readers) would be the seminal Italian Food by Elizabeth David (1954)....
Having said that Artusi remains an excellent read and very funny too. There is a very good American edition with an excellent preface by UCLA professor Luigi Ballerini
ps: here in UK corn starch and corn flour are the same thing by the way.
Emiko March 10, 2014
No need to tell me all about Artusi and Elizabeth David, just have a good look through all the articles in my Regional Italian Food column right here on Food52 (or my own blog!) to see that I reference them all the time! ;) The reason I talk about Artusi so much is exactly because of its historical relevance (and I also love his anecdotes, they do make for an excellent read) - and also because, to be honest, there are many, many dishes of his that are still made the same way today and this I find fascinating and interesting and particularly relevant to all the writing I do about Regional Italian cuisine. A case in point is this recipe for pastry cream - historical it may be, but it is still the most popular way of making pastry cream at home in Italy! But his zuppa inglese recipe is quite "dated" and different from the ones you most commonly see today. Thanks for your comment! (p.s. Yes, in Australia too and other commonwealth countries, corn starch and corn flour are the same thing but in other places, corn flour can mean corn meal or polenta - quite different!)
Stef_art March 10, 2014
Hi there... thanks for your reply.
Do u know Olindo Guerini? He was a contemporary of Artusi and wrote a delightful book about leftovers.
I too put chocolate in my ZP, but not Alchermes, which I loath... I prefer Brandy and Rhum.
ps: I have also made Louisa's cake few times and it is very good. Ciao Emiko
ps 2: in my Blog too I have often praised Artusi and I wrote a long article yrs back for an Italian on line food webiste...I like it very much and I was just elaborating for people who might not know him. ... I think I am now off to assemble a ZP (but I use Dorie Greenspam's pastry cream, I confess)
Valentina S. February 25, 2014
This looks absolutely gorgeous.
There's just one thing I'm wondering: I guess you used pomegranate syrup instead of Alchermes? As an italian, to me Zuppa Inglese means layers of blazingly bright fuchsia sponge cake and custard, and that's about it. I've only had it layered with chocolate custard and whipped cream incorporated into the custard when someone made it at home. I never liked Zuppa inglese much, but your version is really interesting! I might totally decide to pull it off at the next party :)
Emiko February 26, 2014
Yes, you're right! It's pomegranate syrup, which I was actually hoping would stain a brighter colour. For me, zuppa inglese is ALWAYS bright pink too! But I wanted to try it this way as I was predicting that many outside of Italy can't get a hold of Alchermes (I can even here in Australia but it's not always easy to find). The result, I have to say, is very pleasing - a nice, sweet but slightly sour flavour. And the colour much more delicate, even if not so traditional!