English Soup? Save it for dessert!

As Vern and I walked from our lodging to the language school in Sorrento, we passed a small bakery, often succumbing to temptation and buying a treat. The owner bantered with us, switching between our limited Italian and his limited English as he described the various pastries on display. One day a large rounded cake caught our eye, a little like the one pictured here which we bought later for Vern’s birthday.

“Zuppa Inglese,” he said when we pointed. He offered us a taste, and we fell in love.

Zuppa Inglese is described this way in the glossary of www.lacucinaitalianamagazine.com:

“TZOO-pah een-GLAY-zay

As the name suggests, zuppa inglese (“English soup”) is of English origin, and is derived from the trifle, a popular British dessert. To make zuppa inglese, wedges of sponge cake or delicate cookies such as ladyfingers are dipped in sweet wine or light liqueur, then layered with whipped cream, diced candied fruit, and chopped bittersweet chocolate.”

There are several stories about the origin of this dessert. The first we heard was that Admiral Nelson’s fleet made an unexpected call at Naples, and the king’s cooks were rushed to prepare something suitable for him. Zuppa Inglese was the result—a kind of hybrid between English trifle and tiramisu.

The internet abounds with recipes for Zuppa Inglese, from complicated (sponge cake
and custard made from scratch, hand shaved bittersweet chocolate, and so forth) to very simple (store-bought ladyfingers, instant pudding, chocolate chips). Find one you like the looks of, and adjust it to your cooking style. The basics are: a light cake of some kind in the bottom of the serving dish (clear glass looks pretty) sprinkled with a liquor such as rum or marsala; a custard or pudding with fruit of your choice mixed in, some form of chocolate as a highlight (not so much it overwhelms), and whipped cream. It can also be formed in a bowl or pan, layered and chilled, then inverted onto a platter and decorated with meringue or  whipped cream, the way we first encountered it in Sorrento.

Here’s a video demonstration featuring chef Jeff Michaud from Osteria Restaurant in
Philadelphia with a professional’s version of Zuppa Inglese.

And here is another video, definitely the home style version, with two sisters describing mamma’s shortcut recipe.

Whichever recipe you choose, this is a delicious dessert, and fun for a special occasion. Like, tonight!


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