Zuppa Inglese

Zuppa Inglese, English Or Italian Dessert?

Zuppa Inglese is one of the most popular spoon dessert in Italy. Many countries love it and say they invented it. The contenders are Naples, Rome and two region: Tuscany and Emilia Romagna.

England is not between them. It’s for sure that it has nothing to do with the Zuppa. The “English Soup” (Zuppa Inglese) is italianissima, no doubt!


Emilia Romagna stands out from the other. In this region there is more than one city that claims to invented it. For sure this is not the absolute truth, it’s  only the best hypothesis we have. 

In Emilia Romagna there are two contenders.  We have to go back at Renaissance time. At that time Emilia Romagna region had different court. Cities were independent one from each other and sometimes in war with each other. That’s why there is, still today, a little competition between them. Regional differences enrich Italy not only with many recipes but also with many variations of these recipes. Naples, in particular, has is own version of the zuppa that is  decorated with  whipped cream, cocoa powder and candied fruit on top.

Why Italians call it English if it is not? 

There are many legend about the origin of the term and recipe. One of these is dates back to the court of the dukes of Este in Ferrara, Emilia Romagna. In the XVI century Ferrara was one of the most important court of the time. The house was patron of arts and Renaissance culture and a lot of people from other European courts used to visit the duke’s court. One of the several story around the zuppa tells about a man of the English crown asking to the chefs for a typical Renaissance English cake, the English Trifle. The old English Trifle was made with fluffy dough, replaced by the  Italian chefs with a Bundt cake, in old times  called bracciatella.

Nice to see, good too eat

Sponge cake (pan di Spagna in italian) comes after, in the eighteenth century, and still remain the basic ingredient of the zuppa till today. The Zuppa Inglese today is a spoon cake made by different layers of sponge cake or savoiardi (another typical italian biscuit from the Savoia’s court) soaked in liquor. The most used is the Alchermes. The sponge cake is alternated with custard. Custard is the strong point of this dessert but not only for its delicious flavor.  What makes it truly extraordinary are the bright colors of the two custard; the yellow of the classic custard and the dark brown of the cocoa custard next to the red sponge.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, another story tells about the name “English” for the zuppa comes from the rum, a liquor that English navy used to drink. It’s Vincenzo Agnoletti, born in Rome, to say that in his book: “Manual of the cook and pastry chef”, published in 1832.

Agnoletti works to the court of Maria Luigia d’Asburgo- Lorena, duchess of Parma and Napoleone’s wife. Agnoletti was highly regarded at the Parma court. He wrote many other books well known to all the rich families of that time. 

Zuppa Inglese Cake
Zuppa Inglese Cake

Alchermes or Rum?

The Zuppa inglese made by Agnoletti is with rum and comes from Parma. From there the cake become common in all the other cities of the region. Bologna, Modena, Forlì and Ravenna have their own Zuppa Inglese. Today Zuppa Inglese is a traditional dessert of the Emilia Romagna cuisine. The main ingredient is no longer rum but alchermes or rosolio. Rosolio is a red  Italian liquor made with rose petals. it was popular  in the Renaissance era too. Pellegrino Artusi, well know as an authority in Italian cuisine confirm that. The appropriate ingredient of the Zuppa is alchermes not rum.

Pellegrino Artusi’s recipe

He wrote the recipe of the Zuppa Inglese in his famous book “The art of eating well” simply best know as “The Artusi”. Pellegrino Artusi was obviously born in Emilia Romagna. At the same time, however, Artusi’s recipe is very different from the classic recipe that we can find on the menus of almost all the restaurants in Emilia Romagna. The Artusi’s recipe is made only by the classic custard without chocolate and, on top, is spreaded with  a few spoonfuls of peach or apricot jam. 

For orange and vanilla lovers there are also two suggestions for obtaining a cream with their aroma. 

Taste something different

The custard can also be enjoyed with two small ingredients of your choice: orange peel instead of lemon or with vanilla flavor add to milk. Even the liquor can be replaced with strawberry syrup expecially if you want to prepare a dessert for a child’s birthday. 

The Zuppa Inglese is really something for everyone!

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