Zuppa Inglese: when a name can be misleading...
Back on track after the loooong honeymoon/summer holidays! As you may have noticed, there are few new entries on our sweet menù! One of them, is the "Zuppa Inglese".
What is it? I thought it could be interesting for you guys to know a bit more about this simple but super yummy Italian dessert...
The “zuppa inglese” (literally "English soup") is a sort of trifle made up of layers of vanilla and chocolate pastry cream (crema pasticcera), with sponge cake (or Italian savoiardi) soaked in a liquor called “Alchermes” (but, as we will see, there are many variations of this recipe).
As you will read, England has nothing to do with it: it is actually a truly 100% Italian dessert, born between the regions of Emilia Romagna and Tuscany.
After tiramisù, the Italian dessert with the most controversial origins is certainly the zuppa inglese.
The city of Ferrara is the first to claim authorship of the "Zuppa Inglese". It is said that the dessert was born in the 16th century at the Este court, as a reworking of the English trifle, hence the name. Initially, the pastry chefs would have replaced the bread dough with the "bracciatella", a sort of donut. Then, in the eighteenth century, the "pan di Spagna" (sponge cake) became famous and started to be used in this recipe - inspired by the ladyfingers, often also used in this dessert. At that time, then, the pastry cream would gradually replace the whipping cream.
According to another thesis, the Zuppa Inglese was born in the 19th century in Tuscany, thanks to the governess of an English family residing in Florence. The woman would have prepared a "zuppa" with the left over biscuits softened in sweet wine, adding custard and chocolate pudding.
What's the truth? Let's try to investigate!
As Giovanni Ballarini notes, from the Italian Academy of Cuisine, the presence of alchermes - and, in some cases, of "rosolio" - “supports the Renaissance thesis, because they are both of medieval origin. Flower infusions were already in vogue in the late Middle Ages. The alchermes, however, is probably subsequent to the reopening of the trade routes with the Arabs, from which the ingredient that makes it red is imported: the cochineal ("al quermez").
Giovanni Ballarini therefore suggests to look for the origins of the Zuppa Inglese in Emilia. And, more precisely, in the Parma court of Maria Luisa of Austria, at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The roman Vincenzo Agnoletti was then the court's creditor - who, perhaps under the influence of ancient Tuscan-Emilian Renaissance recipes, developed a "zuppa inglese" where rum, the typical liquor of English sailors, was included among the ingredients. In his cookbook "Il Manuale del Cuoco e del Pasticciere di raffinato gusto" (1832) you can find a “zuppa inglese”, to be prepared like the "marangone”, but with the addition of rum and meringue as a final touch - meringue, "candied egg" or jam.
But, what's the "marangone"? Agnoletti himself explains it to us: it is an ancient dessert originating from Mantova, the "marangone alla mantuana", which was prepared by soaking the "biscotti delle monache" or the sponge cake in wine or rosolio, and making various layers interspersed with almonds, pistachios and candied fruit, with the final glaze-based couverture.
The recipe of Agnoletti was very successful, especially in Emilia, but it is also very different from the current one, and the role of the cream still appears to be secondary. The introduction of the cream could be an influence of the one used in Florence and Tuscany along with the use of alchermes.
So the Zuppa Inglese is a Tuscan-Emilian recipe. Born in Parma thanks to a Roman chef, who was inspired by a Lombard dessert, and then modified under the influence of an older Tuscan recipe. And with ingredients born from Italian-French patisserie such as "pan di Spagna" (sponge cake from Genoa) and savoiardi (from Piedmont): in short, more than a "English soup" it is an "Italian soup"!
There are actually many versions of it: the classic alternative is between pan di Spagna and savoiardi - but also between alchermes, rosolio and rum; then there are those that include fruits (especially strawberries) as a final touch on top; or even those who use ricotta cheese!
I can't help but tell you about - of course - the Neapolitan version of this "cake".
The Neapolitan culinary tradition has always been known throughout the world and is renowned for its ancient origins and its undoubted goodness. The success and the art of Neapolitan cuisine are not contained in who knows what big secrets, but probably in the capacity to add to every dish, that extra touch that makes the difference - as in the case of the Neapolitan zuppa inglese.
In this recipe, unlike the others, you will find amarene (cherries) an exquisite Italian meringue, soft inside and crunchy outside, that covers the cake. A rather caloric dessert, yes - but super fresh and delicate on the palate!
In Neapolitan pastry shops we can find it both in cake format, covered with meringue, and in pastry mignon format, the so-called "zuppetta", in this case without meringue and covered with icing sugar.
In our version, we have used layers of 2 delicious cream, savoiardi soaked in Alchermes and our final touch are the unique Fabbri amarene! And if you really don't want to miss the meringues... Well, you can simply ask to add them!
Well, I hope I made your mouth watering with the description and the pictures of this probably not well known (at least outside of Italy) dessert!
Time to go, but hey - you can't buy happiness but you can buy a cake... And it's kinda the same thing!