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Zuppa inglese

Zuppa inglese

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Don’t be fooled by the name – this is neither a soup nor is it English. It’s an Italian trifle-like dessert whose origins are somewhat debated, though they seem to trace back to eighteenth-century Parma. There, at the court of Queen Maria Luisa, the in-house chef devised a layered dessert of sponge cake or ladyfingers dipped in rum (the drink of choice of English sailors at the time, hence the name of the dish) and alternated them with cream, jam and dried fruit. In time, the recipe took on various twists and turns, until it became what it is today: a so-called dolce al cucchiaio (a dessert you eat with a spoon) where biscuits are plunged into bright-pink Alchermes liqueur and layered with custard cream and chocolate pudding.

You can make your zuppa inglese in a traditional trifle glass bowl to increase the vintage appeal of this dessert. Alternatively, you can prep it in a square glass dish, or in single-serving cups or glasses. If you can’t find Alchermes, opt for brandy mixed with pomegranate juice to preserve part of the colour, or skip the booze altogether for a version suited to all ages.

Ingredients

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  • 4 egg yolks
  • 80g of caster sugar
  • 50g of plain flour, sifted
  • 500ml of whole milk
  • 1/2 vanilla pod
  • 50g of cocoa powder, sifted
  • 16 ladyfingers
  • 250ml of Alchermes, or brandy mixed with pomegranate juice
  • 50g of dark chocolate, finely chopped, to decorate
  • whipped cream, to decorate (optional)
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Method

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1
In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks with the sugar until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is airy and pale yellow. Stir in the flour and mix until combined
2
In a saucepan set over a low heat, gently warm the milk and vanilla pod, bringing to a gentle simmer. Discard the vanilla. Gently stream the milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly, to form a loose, even consistency
3
Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and set back on the stove over a low heat. Whisk continuously until the custard cooks and thickens
4
Mix a third of the custard with the cocoa powder. Leave the remaining two-thirds plain
5
Pour the Alchermes into a bowl. Dip four ladyfingers, one by one, into the liqueur, then layer them in the base of a serving cup, cutting to size if needed. Cover with plain custard, then add another layer of liqueur-soaked biscuits. Add a layer of chocolate custard, then another layer of soaked biscuits, then a final layer of plain custard, topped with more soaked biscuits
6
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving, then serve topped with whipped cream and chopped dark chocolate
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