Zuppa Inglese Recipe | Traditional Italian Trifle

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Zuppa Inglese is a spoon dessert typical of Central italy, in particular Emilia Romagna region.

This Italian trifle is a really famous ancient Italian dessert, made with layers of ladyfingers (or sponge cake) dipped in Alchermes liqueur, pastry cream and chocolate cream. Zuppa Inglese is a great classic of Italian pastry, an evergreen dessert.

This terrific dessert is easy to make and, thanks to the layers of different colors, it has a great visual effect too.

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The success of this dessert depends on the quality of its ingedients. In particular the homemade preparation of Italian Pastry Cream and the quality of the Savoiardi Ladyfingers. Once the ingredients are ready, it’s only a matter of assembly.

Zuppa Inglese has many variations, like all traditional Italian recipes. Many use toppings and decorations, such as meringue, whipped cream, or pieces of chocolate.

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We are going to show you the simplest classic Emilian recipe. It’s perfect and balanced in taste, made only with Savoiardi Ladyfingers, Alchermes, pastry cream and chocolate cream.

So let’s find out how to make this terrific dessert at home!

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Try other Italian desserts:

How to Make the Traditional Italian Trifle Recipe (Zuppa Inglese)

  • Prep Time: 20 Min
  • Cook Time: 10 Min
  • Cooling Time: 3 Hour
  • Servings: 6


Doses for a container of about 20×25 cm (10×10 inch) or 6 single-portion glasses

  • 4 medium egg yolks (total weight about 70 g/2.47 oz)
  • 100 g (1/2 cup) of granulated sugar
  • 60 g (4 tablespoons) of all purpose flour
  • 1/2 liter (2 cups) of whole fresh milk
  • 30 g (2 tablespoons) of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • about 18 Ladifingers. Try VICENZOVO Savoiardi Ladyfingers or try our recipe: How to Make Authentic Italian Savoiardi at Home
  • 250 ml (1 cup) of Alchermes, a famous Italian liqueur for pastry, with a spicy taste and an unmistakable red color.

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Kitchen Tools and Equipment for Making Zuppa Inglese

You don’t need any special equipment to make Zuppa Inglese. It’s a really easy-to-make recipe. Anyway, a whisk can be very useful to avoid lumps in the Pastry Cream and a pastry bag, if you decide to make Savoiardi at home.

The most important characteristic of the Italian Trifle, are the beautiful colored layers. For this reason it’s better to use transparent containers that show the layers of cream and the red of the Alchermes.

They can be rectangular or square glass baking dishes for a not very tall Zuppa Inglese.

Very beautiful and above all comfortable, are the glasses or cups for single portions. They allow you to offer your dessert directly to your guests without having to portion it at the moment.

The most elegant and particular presentation is in  trifle bowl glass of various sizes and shapes. In these case, Zuppa Inglese will be higher and deeper. For this reason you have to serve it with a tablespoon in small glass serving bowls and not cut into portions on a plate.

Traditional Zuppa Inglese Recipe (with Ladyfingers): Instructions

First of all, to make Zuppa Inglese, you have to prepare the Pastry Cream. You can even prepare it the day before and keep it in the refrigerator.

So let’s see how to make Italian Pastry Cream (Crema Pasticcera).

How to Make Italian Pastry Cream (Crema Pasticcera)

For more details, tips, information and variants about Pastry Cream, read our more detailed recipe: Italian Pastry Cream Recipe (Crema Pasticcera).

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Step 1) – In a saucepan mix the egg yolks with the sugar, using a wooden spoon. Then add the sifted flour, a little bit at a time. Keep stirring for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is blended. Then set aside.

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Step 2) – Heat the milk and bring it almost to a boil. Then remove it from the heat and start pouring slowly into the mixture of sugar, eggs and flour. It’s important to mix constantly. Put on low heat and cook, always stirring, for another 3-4 minutes.

When the pastry cream is well thickened, pour it immediately into a cold container. Italian Crema pasticcera is ready!

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How to Make Chocolate Pastry Cream (Crema Pasticcera al Cioccolato)

Now you have to make the second important cream of this recipe, the chocolate cream. Let’s see how to do it!

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Step 1) – Set aside about 1/3 of pastry cream in another cup. Then add the unsweetened cocoa powder and mix well. The chocolate cream for our Italian Trifle is ready! Cover the two creams with cling film and let them cool in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

How to Make Zuppa Inglese (Italian Trifle): Assemble the Ingredients

Now that you have all the ingredients/preparations, it’s time to prepare the layers of your Zuppa Inglese.

If necessary, cut the ladyfingers to size (depending on the container you have chosen), before soaking them in the Alchermes. You can use individual glass, a trifle bowl or a baking dish, if you want to serve it family style.

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Step 1) – Pour the Alchermes into a bowl. If you don’t have this Italian liqueur, replace it with Brandy mixed with some Pomegranate syrup. Dip quickly the ladyfingers on both sides. Don’t moisten the ladyfingers too much. Dip them only for about 1 or 2 seconds per side.

Place the soaked Savoiardi ladyfingers on the bottom of a glass pan or a trifle bowl. If you want to use a single portion glass, in this case, cut the Savoiardi to size.

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Step 2) – Cover with Pastry Cream. Now add another layer of liqueur-soaked ladyfingers.

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Step 3) – Add a layer of chocolate cream.

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Step 4) – Then make another layer of soaked ladyfingers. Finally, cover the last layer with Pastry Cream. Traditional Zuppa Inglese is ready!

Put it in the fridge to cool for at least 2 hours before serving. The next day it tastes even better, because Savoiardi will be softer and completely soaked.

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Zuppa Inglese can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, covered with cling film. Do not freeze.

What can I use in Place of Ladyfingers for Zuppa Inglese?

Instead of Savoiardi ladyfingers, you can use spongecake or pasta biscuit. Pasta biscuit is generally used to make stuffed cake rolls, but left stretched and cut to size, it’s also ideal for layered desserts such as Italian Trifle or Tiramisu.

Can I Make Italian Zuppa Inglese Without Chocolate?

The oldest version is without chocolate! So, if you don’t like chocolate or you can’t eat it, don’t worry! You can make zuppa inglese without it.

Chocolate cream is an ingredient introduced in the 19th century to balance the sweet taste of this dessert. But the main ingredient remains the pastry cream, which in fact is greater in quantity.

Originally Zuppa Inglese was made only with Pastry Cream. Still today, in many Bolognese and Tuscan towns, they prepare this ancient recipe, the one without chocolate!

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Non-Alcoholic Zuppa Inglese (for Children)

The alcoholic note is typical of the Zuppa Inglese but, if you want to make a non-alcoholic dessert, suitable for children, it’s better to soak Savoiardi in a little sweetened pomegranate juice.

Many use to dilute Alchermes with a syrup make with water and sugar. But the alcoholic note is a typical feature of this dessert. When you eat Zuppa Inglese, you have to moderately taste the alcohol. If you don’t like alcoholic dessert, a completely non-alcoholic trifle is better than one with a watered down liqueur.

Zuppa Inglese: Decoration

Zuppa inglese is often decorated with various ingredients for aesthetic reasons. Many use whipped cream, others use cocoa powder as in Tiramisu, others still use chocolate chips or fresh fruit. All are great options.

But in doing so, you deviate from the authentic recipe. Even the taste becomes different from the traditional Italian Zuppa Inglese.

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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 later 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 it the nickname of the Medici Liqueur.

Try Alchermes by Marcati, a bright, ruby red color liqueur rich in spicy aromas and with hints of citrus.

Alchermes Substitute

We know that it’s quite difficult to find Alchermes outside Italy. So, if you don’t have Alchermes, you can use alternatively a mix of Brandy and Pomegranate Syrup. Try this Brandy Reserve 20 Years and use it for your delicious recipes or just to sip in your nights in with your friends!

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What does Zuppa Inglese Mean in Italian?

“Zuppa Inglese” has a misleading name that can lead to misunderstandings. If you read the definition on Wikipedia, it says: “Zuppa Inglese (pronounced [ˈdzuppa iŋˈɡleːze; ˈtsuppa iŋˈɡleːse]; Italian for “English Soup”….).

This is definitely an exact literal translation, but this Italian Trifle is not a “Zuppa / Soup.” And, moreover, it is not even “Inglese / English”.

The name “Zuppa” in Italy generally means a hot and steaming first course made with vegetables, legumes and bread soaked in broth. Instead here we are talking about a dessert!

Probably the Savoiardi dipped in liqueur resemble the bread soaked in broth in winter soups (Zuppa). In fact, the consistency of this dessert is very soft, much more like a pudding than a cake.

The reason for the adjective “Inglese / English” is in the origins of this dessert (see the paragraph below).

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Origins of Zuppa Inglese

The origins of Zuppa Inglese are not certain, but the most probable hypothesis traces its birth in Emilia, to the court of the Dukes of Este (Ferrara). In fact, it is said that an English diplomat asked the court cook to make a “trifle” for him, a typical Anglo-Saxon Renaissance dessert.

The cook, in desperation, reworked the recipe with local ingredients using as a base a leftover “Bracciatella“, a simple local cake in place of sponge cake/Savoiardi. Replaced the Sherry with Alchermes and the pastry cream with whipped cream.

The dessert was a resounding success! Soon it spread throughout Emilia, Tuscany and Marches. These are the regions where, even today, Zuppa Inglese is most consumed.

The name “English” would therefore be a sort of homage to the diplomat and to his land.

Surely Zuppa Inglese must be considered an Italian dessert, mentioned even by Artusi among the most classic and ancient Italian desserts.

Have a look to Zuppa Inglese web story

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