Serves 8 or more
This moist, creamy, and flavorful dessert, Zuppa Inglese (“English Soup”), has its roots in the English trifle and it was thought that it first appeared during World War II, when British soldiers were stationed in Italy only with meager custard rations. However, the recipe appears in Pellegrino Artusi’s book, published in 1891, before any allied forces had been stationed in Italy. Other theories reach as far back as the Renaissance.
Zuppa Inglese is traditionally made with sponge cake, but I use savoiardi (ladyfinger) cookies, as are used in tiramisù, hence making the assembly much quicker. This dessert was a staple of every Italian American restaurant, and every Italian bakery made a version of it.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 4 teaspoons cornstarch
- Pinch kosher salt
- 3 large eggs
- 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup diced candied orange peel
- 1/4 cup rum
- 2 cups heavy cream, chilled
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 36 savoiardi (lady fingers)
1. For the pastry cream, pour the milk in a medium saucepan. Whisk in 1/2 cup sugar, the cornstarch and pinch of salt. Bring milk to a simmer, just to dissolve the sugar. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs. While whisking, slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs to temper them. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Return saucepan to medium-low heat. Cook, stirring and whisking, until mixture just simmers and thickens. Immediately remove from the heat and scrape into a bowl to cool. Once cooled, mix in the chopped chocolate and candied orange. Refrigerate until chilled and thickened, at least 1 hour.
2. For the sugar syrup, bring 3 cups water and 1 cup of the sugar to boil. Boil until reduced by about 1/4. Remove from heat, stir in the rum and let cool completely.
3. When you are ready to assemble the zuppa, whip the cream and remaining 1/4 cup sugar to soft peaks. Fold half of the whipped cream, along with the cinnamon, into the chilled pastry cream.
4. In a 9-by-13 inch Pyrex or other rectangular dish, make a flat layer with half of the savoiardi. Brush with half of the sugar syrup to moisten all of the savoiardi. Spread half of the pastry cream over the savoiardi. Top with another layer of savoiardi and brush them with the remaining syrup. Spread the rest of the pastry cream over top in an even layer, the spread with the whipped cream. If you have any savoiardi left, crumble them over top. Chill several hours, or overnight, to let the flavors come together before serving.