Zuppa inglese (Italian trifle)



The art of pastry making is based on three characteristics. The first is perfection: pastry making is pure chemistry. An example? The magic cake, a cake that consists of 3 different layers whose magic would not exist without carefully obtained balances. The second characteristic is making mistakes: particularly important desserts, such as torta caprese (chocolate cake) or French ganache, are the result of forgetting to add an ingredient. Finally, pastry making is also the mixture and transformation of great classics such as Saint Honoré or trifle, an English dessert that probably inspired this recipe: zuppa inglese (Italian trifle). Zuppa inglese (Italian trifle) is a very famous dessert, classified among the typical pastry specialties of Emilia Romagna and has become an Italian classic with regional variations. Preparing zuppa inglese is not difficult at all; by making the two bases ahead of time, it will be amazingly easy to assemble and serve as a dessert on a special day! It is difficult to resist this creamy dessert made of layers of sponge cake soaked in alchermes, with a sweet and light chocolate custard cream alternating with vanilla-flavored cream! If you have all the necessary ingredients, we are ready to start baking zuppa inglese!


Ingredients for a 7-inch (18 cm) round sponge cake
Eggs ½ cup (110 g) - (about 2 medium)
Flour 00 ¼ cup (30 g)
Potato starch ¼ cup (30 g)
Sugar 0.3 cup (60 g)
Fine salt 1 pinch
Vanilla bean 1
For the pastry cream
Whole milk 1.6 cups (400 g)
Heavy cream ½ cup (100 g)
Egg yolks 0.3 cup (72 g) - (about 4 medium eggs)
Cornstarch 0.3 cup (45 g)
Sugar 0.6 cup (140 g)
Vanilla bean 1
Dark chocolate ½ cup (50 g)
To decorate
Alchermes ½ cup (100 g)
Unsweetened cocoa powder to taste

Preparation of a 7-inch (18 cm) round sponge cake

To prepare the zuppa inglese (Italian trifle), start by making the pan di Spagna (sponge cake). Pour the eggs into a bowl at room temperature and beat them with a whisk while adding the sugar a little at a time 1. Continue for about ten minutes or until the mixture becomes clear and frothy: you can also do the "writing" test by lifting a spoonful of the mixture and letting it drip as if you were tracing letters with it 2. Next, place a strainer in the bowl and pour in the flour and potato starch 3.

Fold in the dry ingredients with gentle upward movements, making sure that no residue is left on the bottom of the bowl 4. Pour the dough into a previously buttered and floured 7-inch (18 cm) round mold  5. Level the surface with a rubber spatula and bake in a preheated oven, in static mode at 320°F (160°C) for about 40 minutes, placing the drip pan on the lower shelf (not in contact with the base); leave to cool and then remove from the pan 6.

Preparation of the pastry cream and assembly

Meanwhile, prepare the pastry cream. Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan 7, scrape the vanilla seeds, keeping them aside, from the pod and place the latter into the saucepan. Let it warm up to just under the boiling point 8. In the meantime, pour the vanilla seeds on the yolks 9,

add the sugar, beat quickly and then sift the corn starch 11. By now the milk and cream should be hot, so discard the pod 12

and pour a couple of ladles into the egg mixture to dilute it 13. Then pour into the pan 14 and stir with a whisk while cooking for a few minutes. As soon as the cream thickens, you can turn off the heat 15.

Divide the cream into two bowls 16 and pour the chocolate into one 17. Take advantage of the fact that the cream is still very hot to help you dissolve it, then cover both creams with plastic wrap and let them cool down 18.

Take the cooled pan di Spagna (sponge cake), use 2 oz (70 g) of it, cut it into vertical slices 1/4-inch (1 cm) thick 19, and trim to fit into 4 glasses of 2/3 cup (150 ml) capacity 20. Soak the sponge cake with alchermes, without exaggerating 21

and proceed by pouring a little chocolate cream first 22 and then the vanilla cream 23. Tap the glass to distribute the cream evenly and continue layering with soaked sponge cake 24,

and the two types of cream 25. Level the surface with a spatula and repeat for the other glasses. Finally put them in the refrigerator to settle for at least a couple of hours 26. Sprinkle unsweetened cocoa on your glasses of zuppa inglese before serving and enjoy your dessert 27!


Zuppa inglese (Italian trifle) can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, better if not dusted with unsweetened cocoa. If you prefer you can also freeze the single portions.

Pan di Spagna (Sponge cake) and custard creams can be prepared in advance and stored in accordance with their relevant recipes.


Instead of using pan di Spagna (sponge cake), you can make your zuppa inglese (Italian trifle) using a ready-made sponge cake base you can cut directly with the glass itself or with ladyfingers.

You can also make zuppa inglese (Italian trifle) in layers in an oven dish, to be served as a tiramisù (mascarpone cheese and ladyfingers dessert).

To make your dessert truly spectacular, garnish each cup with Italian-style meringue, to be caramelized just before serving: it will impress your guests for sure!

Interesting fact

Zuppa inglese (Italian trifle) is a soft dessert made of layers of pastry cream and cocoa-flavored cream, interspersed with pan di Spagna (sponge cake), or soft ladyfingers, soaked in Alchermes. According to the most accredited theories, zuppa inglese (Italian trifle) has its origins in the Renaissance, more precisely around 1500, when an Italian diplomat, returning from London, asked the cooks of the court of the Dukes of Este to prepare him a trifle, a typical English dessert he had tasted in England and very much appreciated. In an attempt to reproduce it, the cooks created an "Italian version" of the English trifle, substituting some ingredients to make this cake richer and more refined; pan di Spagna (sponge cake) replaced the English leavened dough, the pastry cream replaced whipped cream and, later in time, two ingredients were introduced to make the preparation more colorful: Alchermes, a fragrant and bright red liqueur in which the pan di Spagna (sponge cake) was soaked and cocoa, which served to create contrast with the pastry cream. Around 1800, zuppa inglese (Italian trifle) made its appearance in the towns of Ferrara and Bologna, prepared with the recipe that we all know today.