Zuppa Inglese

The Zuppa Inglese (English soup) is a soft spoon dessert prepared with layers of ladyfingers soaked in liqueur (traditionally Alkermes), alternated with custard and cocoa cream. There are many variations of it and some use sponge cake instead of ladyfingers 

Soaking ladyfingers in Alkermes

 Alkermes, an aromatic liqueur with a bright red color. Both the Alkermes and the cocoa give liveliness to the dish creating a mix of flavors and colors. The Alkermes is of medieval origin,  used nowadays for desserts making. The name Alkermes derives from “al quermez” which means cochineal, the ingredient that made it red.

The origin of the Zuppa Inglese is not very clear. There are various regional hypotheses on the origin of this sweet dessert: an Emilian, a Tuscan, a Neapolitan and a Roman.

According to one version the Zuppa Inglese was born in the sixteenth century at the Court of the Dukes of Este, as a reworking and adaptation of the English “trifle”.

Custard preparation

According to the Tuscan hypothesis  the Zuppa Inglese would have been created by a housekeeper of an English family, who, in order not to throw away the leftover biscuits, invented a cake softening them in the sweet wine, then sprinkling them with a delicious cream or cocoa pudding. 

Then there is another hypothesis of Sienese origin: in 1552 a cake was created with the name of Zuppa del Duca in honor of the Duke Ippolito da Correggio, which Cosimo I de ‘Medici had sent to Siena to make peace between Sienese and Spanish at the time enemies. Then the dessert was offered as a specialty to the English people who lived in Florence , who pretended to be renamed “Zuppa inglese”, so much they loved it.


According to the Neapolitans the dessert was offered by King Ferdinand I on the occasion of a dinner in honor of Admiral Nelson who had defeated his enemy Admiral Caracciolo by returning the throne to the King. The butler ordered the waiter “Bring this soup to the English”.Anyway  let’s enjoy it. This is the recipe 

Mix chocolate in the custard

Approx. 120g sponge (lady) fingers

1 glass alkermes (or kasis or red kirsch)

6 egg yolks

6 spoonfuls of sugar

5 spoonfuls of flour

1 spoonful of potato starch

1l of milk

1 vanilla bean

2 tbsps cocoa powder or 100 gr.  melted bitter cooking chocolate


Boil the milk, flavoured with the vanilla.

 Beat the egg yolks to a froth with the sugar. Add the flour and the starch.  

Then add the boiled milk, taking the vanilla bean out. 

Let the mixture thicken over a low heat in a double boiler, mixing continuously, until you have a cream. 

Divide the cream into two bowls. Add the chocolate to half of the cream.

 Leave the creams to cool. Pour a glass of alkermes in a  bowl and add a glass of water. 

Place a layer of sponge fingers soaked in alkermes in a glass bowl and cover with a layer of the yellow cream. 

 Place another layer of sponge fingers soaked in alkermes on top and cover with the chocolate cream. Decorate as you please. Place the dessert in the refrigerator, in the least cold part.