Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A truce, a birthday and english soup

Okay Texas- I'm calling a truce. Since we'll be living in Texas for God know how long, I need to make peace with the state. I guess it's not that bad- out of the month and a half we've been here we've had sunshine every day. And yes, its hot, but its not too humid, so it feels good.

Besides the weather, Texas has a lot to offer. It is the biggest state in the union, so there's so much to do and see. We've been to Dallas a few times, and are looking forward to trips all around the state. So I guess Texas and I can be friends. Whew- our little feud was getting tiring.

Now that that's out of the way- I had a recipe for you ( or y'all as the Texans would say).
Yesterday was Gian Luca's birthday and to celebrate, I made his favorite dessert Zuppa Inglese.

Zuppa Inglese translates to "English Soup" and the only reason I can think of for the name is that this dessert is like an English Triffle and is sometimes served in a bowl.

Originally created to use the scraps from a cake, Zuppa Inglese is layers of cake, cream, chocolate, coffee and Alchermes, a spicy, sweet liquor from Italy.

It's almost impossible to find Alchermes here in America. I actually just googled it and no one sells it. It's not even imported and there are no recipes to make a bath-tub version either.

Last year, for Gian Luca's birthday I drove to all the best wine shops in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, asking everyone who I talked to about it. No one had ever heard of it, and back then, I didn't know what it tasted like, so my only description of the liquor was that it was bright red. Upon hearing this, people in the first two stores led me to the Campari, which is bitter and wonderful but nothing at all like Alchermes. I gave up in frustration and made Tiramisu instead.
This June, when we went to Italy, Gian Luca's mom bought us a bottle to take home. If you're interested in getting a bottle you apparently have to do the same. Or ask a friend who's going to Italy.
If no one you know is going to Italy any time soon, you can still make the Zuppa Inglese because the rest of the ingredients are delicious, even without the Alchermes. And if you want the beautiful splash of red color- just fake it and use grenadine.

Zuppa Inglese can be made with either Savoiardi ( Dried Lady Fingers) or Pan di Spagnia ( yes, translated that means "bread from Spain"- what an international dessert!). It was impossible for me to find the Savoiardi here in Texas, so I opted for the Pan di Spagnia, which I can easily make at home.

Basically Pan di Spagnia is Italy's version of Angel Food Cake, though you don't have to bake it in a tube pan or hang it upside down on a bottle ( I never understood the need for that!). My mom's version of Pan di Spagnia ( see recipe below) is make in a 9 inch spring form pan, which makes it easy to remove.

But even if you break the cake, or, if like me, you don't cook it long enough and the center turns out a bit raw, it's not big deal. Zuppa Inglese is made by layering pieces of cake with cream, so feel free to cut, tear, or rip off big hunks of your freshly baked Pan di Spagnia.

The cream in Zuppa Inglese is Crema Pasticchiera- Italian Pastry cream, which can also be used in a variety of desserts like Italian Rum Cake, or cream puffs. Its lemony and not too sweet, perfect for a Zuppa Inglese.

Besides the cake and the cream, all you need is a little chocolate powder or chocolate chips and a nice strong double shot of espresso.

My husband was on to something with this one. Who wouldn't love a dessert that combines Liquor, Cream, Chocolate and Espresso?
Happy Birthday Gian Luca!

Zuppa Inglese:
Zuppa Inglese can be made as one large Trifle, or in individual glasses, as I did. This recipe makes enough for six people and can be kept in the fridge for one day.

Pan di Spagnia
5 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon Baking powder

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9 inch spring form pan with wax paper. Set aside
2) In a large bowl, beat egg yolks with sugar until soft yellow ( about two minutes)
3) In a different bowl, beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
4) Sift together flour and baking soda.
5) Alternate folding the egg whites into the yolks, adding a small bit of flour after each incorporation. Repeat until all the egg whites and flour have been added.
6) pour into prepared pan and tap the pan against the counter a few times to settle any air bubbles.
7) bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

8) For the Crema Pasticchiera recipe click here

9) Once you've made your cake and cream, and the cream has chilled for at least an hour, take half of the cream and place it in a separate bowl. Set the rest aside.
10) depending on whether you like dark or semi-sweet chocolate, you can either add coco-powder to the cream, stirring until incorporated, or you can melt 1/4 cup of chocolate chips and stir that into the cream. I actually did a mixture of both.
11) Brew a double shot of espresso and add a shot of hot water to weaken it a bit.
12) Cut the cake into cubes and begin layering you Zuppa Inglese like so: Cake, coffee poured directly on top, a drop of Alchermes ( or grendine), plain crema, and chocolate crema. Repeat as necessary.


  1. Oh. My. Gosh. Can it be my birthday too? I'd never heard of this dessert, but now I've got all kinds of cravings for it.

    P.S.: Good for you, calling a truce. Consider exploring your new state an adventure!

  2. I do adore this dish and never make it. Why? Why? Why? (Why not?) This is a beautiful wake-up call. Planning my first trip back to Italy in decades. Maybe I should make a list of what we cannot get in the USA! Glad you are settling in to your new state. You will love it in the winter.

  3. Happy Birthday to Gian Luca! I know that you love NJ but I am sure that you will love Texas more and more especially once the summer heat subsides. I agree with Claudia that you will love being there in the winter. Your dessert looks fabulous!

  4. Happy, happy birthday, Gian Luca! It's good for you that you have such an amazing wife,who not only knows HOW to make all these incredible delicacies, but then does just that for you!

    I do hope you had a special evening with your sweetheart.--Jann

  5. Hey Antonietta. I like your blog. Can you just go ahead and post all of your mother's recipes and your new ones, which I'm sure are just as delish, so I can put on another 10 lbs. Hope all is well.

    P.S. Alsaka is the largest state. Although if you listen to Texans, you wouldn't know it.

    -Chris Fadigan