A dessert which, notwithstanding its name, is neither English nor a soup. There is no consensus on the exact origin of the name. Some say the English trifle acted as inspiration, while others advocate an Italian birth for the dessert, with English residents in the country playing the role of enthusiastic fans. Zuppa inglese is made by spreading crema (pastry cream) over a base, usually layers of pan di Spagna moistened with alchermes, an Italian liqueur flavored with vanilla, several spices and rose water, whose deep scarlet color provides a nice contrast to the yellow crema and pan di Spagna (which owe their sunny color to egg yolks). The combination is charming to the eyes and the palate. The predominant texture is creaminess, because the feathery pan di Spagna – moistened not only by the alchermes but also by the liquid component of the crema - partially dissolves into the latter retaining enough body, though, to provide strategic support.
I love the classic zuppa inglese, but at home, when I was granted some (limited) freedom in my mother's kitchen, I would usually make a variation, using as base slices of either panettone, the traditional tall Christmas cake with raisins and diced candied fruit, or colomba, the dove-shaped Easter cake with candied orange peel. In substituting pan di Spagna with the other cakes I traded some delicacy of texture for the additional flavor contributed by raisins and candied fruit.
An important detail for this dessert is temperature: in my opinion, zuppa inglese should be savored at the temperature of a fresh spring breeze. It is a sensuous dessert and tasting it refrigerator-cold would be like falling into a chilling embrace. The exception is the gelato flavor that bears the same name: it is one of my favorite and it should be tasted at its own gelato-specific temperature.
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