*Updated with US measurements
Even though this dessert is called Zuppa Inglese (Italian for English Soup), it did not originate in England but it is an Italian dessert typical of the Emilia Romagna and Tuscany Regions. It is a sponge cake layered in custard and soaked in Alchermes and Rum. I made this tonight as we had some guests over and it was gone in a flash.
Why is it called English Soup? Well, legend has it that it originated in the 16th century when the Dukes of Ferrara tried to replicate the English trifle that they had tasted in England where they were frequent visitors of the Elizabethan court.
It really isn't that difficult to make because it consists only of sponge cake and crema pasticcera or egg custard in English so it is important to get these two steps right.
Ingredients for the sponge cake:
- 100 grams of sugar
- 100 grams of flour
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup of granulated sugar
- 4/5 cup of all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs
Make the sponge cake. Begin by first mixing the eggs with the sugar. Beat well and then SLOWLY add the sifted flour a little bit at a time. Do not beat on high speed but rather beat at a low speed and once you see bubbles start to form in the mixture, it is ready.
This procedure takes time, be patient with it because if you notice there is no baking powder or baking soda (just sugar, eggs and flour) and if you don't take your time with it, the sponge cake will not rise well during cooking.
You can see the bubbles form while mixing below. This tells us that it is ready.
Transfer it to an 18cm (7 inch) buttered and floured baking pan and bake in a preheated oven at 190° Celsius (375° F) for 20 minutes. DO NOT open the oven until the full 20 minutes have passed.
The sponge cake is ready when you see it detach from the sides of the pan.
Cut it in slices as pictured below and let cool.
In a separate bowl add 10 tablespoons of Alchermes and 10 tablespoons of water. In another bowl add 10 tablespoons of rum and 10 of water. Once cooled, soak half of the slices of sponge cake in the Alchermes solution and the other half in the rum and set aside.
Now we can make the custard.
Ingredients for egg custard:
- 500 ml of whole milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 100 grams of white granulated sugar
- 50 grams of all purpose flour
- zest from 1 orange
- 2 cups of milk
- 4 medium egg yolks
- ½ cup of granulated sugar
- ½ cup of sifted flour
- Zest from 1 medium sized orange
This procedure is a bit tricky. Heat the milk and orange zest and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile in a separate pot beat the yolks with the sugar making sure to beat well for a good 5 minutes and then add the sifted flour to the mix little at a time.
Without placing the pot over the heat add the boiling milk stirring continuously and once everything is blended well add to stove and heat on low. Continue mixing never leaving it unattended until the custard becomes dense. It is important that you whisk the custard in the same direction the entire time.
Once it looks like this and is nice and thick, it is ready. In a glass dish add the sponge cake dipped in Alchermes and cover in a layer of custard. Then add the remaining sponge cake dipped in the rum solution and cover everything with another layer of custard.
You can decorate the top with whatever your heart desires. Many top with cocoa powder, some with almonds or whipped cream. I used redcurrant berries that go very well with this dessert in my opinion and then added some powdered sugar.
This was my first time making this and it was heavenly! It's a great dessert that you can make ahead of time because you can just cover with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for a couple hours before serving. It will be gone before you know it...I can assure you. At least that's what happened tonight at our house!