Zuccotto Cake, the Authentic Florentine Recipe

Zuccotto cake is a famous ancient Italian dessert, originally from Florence. It’s a spoon dessert, delicious for the balance of its ingredients and refined for its simplicity.

Tuscan Zuccotto cake often has pinkish hues, given by Alchermes, an aromatic liquor with a ruby red color with which the sponge cake is dipped. The filling of Zuccotto Fiorentino is made of whipped cream, ricotta cheese and chocolate.

zuccotto cake recipe

To make the Zuccotto, prepare the soft sponge cake according to the traditional recipe and let it cool. Then cut it into long, thin slices, with which you will have to line a Zuccotto mold, a hemisphere.

The cooking required for this dessert is in fact only that of the sponge cake, for the rest you just assemble its ingredients to make the Zuccotto, without cooking.

Then it’s necessary to let the cake cool in the refrigerator for a few hours, where it compacts and takes its dome shape. Once cooled, you can unmold the Zuccotto on a serving plate and sprinkle it with unsweetened cocoa powder.

zuccotto cake recipe

The Italian tradition is rich in spoon desserts, all of them truly delicious. Tiramisu is surely the most famous one, but also Zuppa Inglese or Panna Cotta. Even Zuccotto is a very loved dessert not only in Tuscany, but in all Italy and in the world.

Zuccotto is very connected to the Florentine tradition and its history, as we will see, is very interesting.       

“Zucca” in Tuscan dialect means “head”, in fact it seems that the first mold used to make this cake was a dome-shaped military helmet, hence the name “Zuccotto”.

During the years have been created many versions of this cake with all kind of fillings and flavors. But the only thing in common with the authentic Zuccotto is the shape.

We are going to show you the authentic Tuscan recipe of Zuccotto, which with its delicious layers will conquer and surprise everyone.

Now let’s find out step by step how to make the traditional Zuccotto Fiorentino.

zuccotto cake recipe ingredients

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How to Make the Traditional Zuccotto Recipe

  • Prep Time: 20 Min + 20 Min for the sponge cake
  • Cook Time: 50 Min for the sponge cake
  • Cooling Time: 4 Hours
  • Servings: 6

Ingredients

For Pan di Spagna

Doses for aspringform cake pan of 22 cm (9 inch)

  • 5 whole medium eggs
  • 150 g (5,30 oz = 3/4 cup) of granulated sugar
  • 75 g (2,65 oz = 2/3 cup) of “00” flour
  • 75 g (2,65 oz = 1/2 cup) of potato starch

For Zuccotto

Doses for a 8 inch (20 cm) Hemisphere Ball Cake Pan

  • 320 g (1 1/3 cup) of ricotta
  • 250 g (1 cup) of fresh whipping cream
  • 50 g (1/2 cup) of icing sugar
  • 30 g (1/3 cup) of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 50 g (1/3 cup) of chocolate chips
  • 70 ml (5 tablespoons) of Alchermes (Read the paragraph below “What are the substitutes for Italian Alchermes Liqueur?”)
  • 30 ml (2 tablespoons) of water

Directions

Make the Pan di Spagna

To make the Italian zuccotto cake recipe, start making the classic Italian sponge cake (Pan di Spagna). Obviously you can prepare it the day before. In this case the preparation of the Zuccotto will be faster.

Italian sponge cake_pan di spagna step 1 (1)

Step 1) – First, preheat the oven to 170°C (338 F).  Then sift together the flour and the potato starch in a bowl. Mix them well and set aside.

Italian sponge cake_pan di spagna step 3

Step 2) – Place the eggs and sugar in a planetary mixer. Whip at moderate speed. If you have an electric mixer graduated from 1 to 10, the correct speed is 6.

Italian sponge cake_pan di spagna step 4 (1)

Step 3) – Beat the eggs with the sugar for 15/20 minutes until the mixture has become light and fluffy and has doubled its volume.

Italian sponge cake_pan di spagna step 5 (1)

Step 4) – When the eggs and sugar are ready, puffy and frothy, turn off the mixer. Take the sifted flours and add them a little at a time to the cream of eggs and sugar. Mix RIGOROUSLY BY HAND and slowly making movements from the bottom up, so as not to disassemble the mixture.

Italian sponge cake_pan di spagna step 7 (1)

Step 5) – Cover your springform cake pan with baking paper and pour the mixture into the cake pan, using a spatula to level the surface.

Italian sponge cake_pan di spagna step 8 (1)

Step 6) – Bake the Pan di Spagna in a preheated oven at 170°(338 F) for about 50 minutes.

For more informations, tips and insights, see our recipe “How to Make Italian Sponge Cake (Pan di Spagna)”.

How to Make Zuccotto Recipe with Ricotta

Make the Ricotta Cream

zuccotto recipe step 1b

Step 1) – Remove the excess liquid from the ricotta by draining it through a sieve. Then place the well drained ricotta in a bowl and add the sugar. Mix well with a whisk to make a cream.

zuccotto recipe step 2

Step 2) – Whip the whipping cream. Slowly add it to the ricotta mixture, mixing from the bottom up to prevent it from deflating.

zuccotto recipe step 3

Step 3) – Take 1/3 of the mixture, transfer it into a second bowl and add the sifted bitter cocoa powder, mixing perfectly.

In the bowl with 2/3 of ricotta cream add the chocolate chips.

Now Make the Zuccotto Cake by Assembling all the Preparations

zuccotto cake recipe step 4

Step 4) – Take the sponge cake that has cooled completely, cut the top to remove the thin crust. Then cut it into long slices about 1 cm thick (about 1/2 inch).

zuccotto cake recipe step 5

Step 5) – Take a zuccotto mold and line the inside with plastic wrap. Arrange the sponge cake slices in the mold, covering it completely. Press well with your hands to compact the pieces of sponge cake together.

zuccotto cake recipe step 6

Step 6) – Then, using a brush, wet the sponge cake with the Alchermes diluted with a little water.

zuccotto cake recipe step 7

Step 7) – Now make layers with the creams. Put the chocolate cream on the bottom of the zuccotto and then fill with the ricotta cream and chocolate chips on top. This way you have two layers of filling.

uccotto cake recipe step 8

Step 8) – Level the ricotta and chocolate chip cream with a spoon. Then cover with more strips of sponge cake.

zuccotto cake recipe step 9

Step 9) – Wrap the Zuccotto with cling film. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours to allow it to cool and take the right shape.

zuccotto cake recipe step 10

Step 10) – After the cooling time has elapsed, invert the Zuccotto directly into a serving dish. Remove the transparent film and sprinkle it with unsweetened cocoa. Cut the zuccotto cake into slices and serve.

zuccotto cake recipe

Storage

You can store Zuccotto for up to 2-3 days in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap or in an airtight container.

Zuccotto Cake: Tips and Variations

Zuccotto with Ladyfingers

To make the “container” that holds the ricotta creams, you can also use Savoiardi. If you use ladyfingers remember to wet them before lining the mold and gently lay them in the shape of a dome so as not to break them too much.

Zuccotto with Cake Leftovers

It can be a good idea to make a delicious Zuccotto with leftover cake.

If you have a cake, maybe a little stale, instead of discarding it, you can use it to make Zuccotto. You can make some slices, soak them with Alchermes and continue as described above.

In Italy it’s common to make Zuccotto with leftover Panettone or Pandoro.

zuccotto cake recipe

Zuccotto with Candied Fruit

The oldest version of the Tuscan Zuccotto included the addition of candied black cherries or pieces of candied orange as well as dark chocolate chips in the ricotta cream.

Then over time the simpler version became more popular.

However, if you love candied fruit, you can enrich your Zuccotto in this way.

Tiramisu Zuccotto

A very unique idea is the Zuccotto Tiramisu. Here’s how to make it.

Line the mold with ladyfingers or sponge cake, wet with coffee and fill it with mascarpone cream.

In short, a real Tiramisu but with an original shape!

Zuccotto al Gelato

Another very popular variant is the Zuccotto al Gelato (with ice cream).

In order not to stray too far from tradition, we recommend filling your Zuccotto with a layer of Gelato alla Crema, Fior di Latte or Stracciatella and a layer of Chocolate gelato.

But of course you can use the flavors you prefer!

zuccotto cake recipe

What is Alchermes?

Alchermes (or Alkermes) is a scarlet-colored liqueur of Arab origin. It was acquired by the Spaniards and spread first in Italy and then in France and the rest of Europe. In Italy it has a great tradition in pastry.

Alchermes is red, alcoholic and quite sweet. Its basic ingredients are water, cinnamon, cochineal (red coloring additive of animal origin), cloves, cardamom, vanilla, rose water, sugar and pure alcohol (95 °).

According to legend, Alchermes was the favorite liqueur of the Medici family of Florence, so much so that it earned the nickname of Liquore dei Medici.

What are the Substitutes for Italian Alchermes Liqueur?

We know it’s quite difficult to find Alchermes outside of Italy.

So, if you don’t have this Italian liqueur, you can alternatively use a mix of Brandy and Pomegranate Syrup to maintain the red color.

Or you can wet the sponge cake with other liqueurs of your choice, always diluted with a little water.

To make Zuccotto, Zibibbo, a fortified wine of Sicilian origin, or Amaretto Disaronno, very popular in Italy, are often used.

Alternatively, you can make your Zuccotto completely non-alcoholic. Wet the sponge cake with a syrup made of water and sugar flavored with vanilla.

zuccotto cake recipe

Origins of Zuccotto

It seems that Bernardo Buontalenti was the inventor of the Florentine Zuccotto.

Buontalenti himself was also responsible for the invention of the Italian Gelato, by the way. He was a great architect and man of culture of the Tuscan Renaissance. He was also a great lover of gastronomy.

Buontalenti designed the Zuccotto in honor of Queen Caterina de’ Medici for a court banquet.

In fact, it seems that the first name of the dessert was “L’Elmo di Caterina” (Catherine’s Helmet). As a matter of fact, the first zuccottos were made using as a mold a small helmet used by the infantry of the Florentine army. Hence the name Zuccotto because in Florentine dialect “zucca” means “head” (in a joking way).

But there is another theory about the origin of the name “zuccotto”. Many believe the name derives from the headgear used by prelates of that time called “zucchetto”.

This was in fact red like Alchermes and had the shape of a hemisphere.

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