Zuppa inglese is a dessert dear to many Italian regions. It is a little démodé cake, especially with pastry chefs, but it never fails to please and is still very popular at home.
Pan di Spagna with the outside crust removed
Amarene Fabbri in syrup, 16-20 cherries or as many as you like
90 g egg whites (approximately you’ll need 3 large eggs, a good way to use some of the egg white from the pastry cream and the pan di Spagna)
150 g granulated sugar
Some powdered sugar for dusting
For the “bagna” soaking liquid:
150 g granulated sugar
150 g water
50 g Rum or more if you prefer a more alcoholic taste
- Prepare the bagna by first making a simple syrup. In a small pot combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Remove from the stove and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Once it has cooled to room temperature, add the rum to the syrup.
- Slice the pan di Spagna in 3 equal layers and soak with the bagna using a brush. The cake should be evenly moist throughout. You should still be able to lift up the cake without it breaking.
- Layer a shallow bowl with film wrap and cover the surface with a layer of pan di Spagna.
- With the pastry bag make an even layer of pastry cream, using half the cream mixture.
- Dot the top of the cream with half the amarene cherries drained from the syrup.
- Repeat with one more layer of pan di Spagna soaked in the bagna and the remaining pastry cream and amarene.
- Place the final layer of pan di Spagna on top. Cover with film wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- For the meringue: Whip the egg whites at room temperature. Once the egg whites start foaming, add the sugar in 2-3 parts while still beating. Beat until firm shiny peaks are formed.
- Take the zuppa inglese out of the refrigerator and invert on a heat resistant tray or plate. Remove the wrap and, with the help of an offset spatula, spread a thin layer of meringue all over the zuppa inglese. Place the remaining meringue in a pastry bag with a pastry tip make many small spikes of meringue all over the zuppa.
- Dust with powdered sugar and place in a very hot oven (250 C / 480 F) or broiler until the meringue is lightly golden. Watch the meringue carefully to avoid it burning. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
- Chill in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. It will taste much better the next day.
Zuppa inglese is traditionally served as a dessert following Sunday lunch - the most important meal of the week when the family gathers together.
The recipe shown above is the traditional Neopolitan version. Zuppa inglese, as with many Italian dishes, has many variations according to the different geographic regions:
In Emilia Romagna, for example, Pan di Spagna is generally replaced by savoiardi cookies soaked in Alchermes, a bright red sweet liquor. The layers of savoiardi are interposed with crema gialla (yellow cream, also known as pastry cream in this area) and crema al cioccolato (chocolate pastry cream). Usually the final layer is the yellow cream and gets dusted with cocoa powder. This zuppa inglese is not inverted and is sliced and served from the bowl.
In Ferrara, instead of savoiardi or pan di spagna, zuppa inglese is made using old “ciambella”, a pastry typical from this area, and is quite common to find visciole jam (a variety of cherries) in between the layers.
In Zuppa inglese alla Romana you often find candied fruits. In Sicily, I’ve seen versions of zuppa inglese using 3 different liquors: marsala, maraschino and alchermes. Only crema gialla (pastry cream) is layered between the cakes and topped with a lush layer of crema gialla instead of the meringue, dusted with cocoa powder or cinnamon.