Are you looking for the perfect no-bake dessert that can be prepared in advance and is utterly delicious? Well, look no further than my traditional Italian recipe for Zuppa Inglese!
When I was a child, my mother regularly made Zuppa Inglese and it’s no surprise why it was my favorite. Generous dollops of lusciously smooth chocolate and vanilla pastry cream are layered between ruby red savoiardi cookies that have been soaked in fragrant Alchermes.
This Zuppa Inglese recipe is an adaptation of the English trifle and originates from my dad’s region of Italy, Emilia Romagna. The vibrant red color comes from the Alchermes liqueur which is also produced in the area and is what makes this Italian trifle so visually stunning.
If you love no-bake desserts like my mini Tiramisu Cups or traditional Italian Tiramisu then you’re going to love this Italian trifle recipe! It is the perfect Italian dessert for entertaining because it can be prepared in advance and ready to serve in individual cups. Say goodbye to those entertaining woes!
Table of Contents
Why you’ll love this recipe
- This Italian trifle recipe is the perfect dessert made for entertaining because it is ideally prepared in advance.
- It is a classic Italian dessert recipe that should be a staple in your repertoire.
- Zuppa Inglese is so easy to make and takes only a few simple steps.
- You will be hooked by the delicious combination of lush Italian pastry cream and Alchermes soaked savoiardi cookies.
For complete ingredient quantities and full instructions, please scroll to the printable recipe card bottom of the page.
- Milk - this is not a low fat recipe, so please use whole milk here.
- Vanilla bean - Choose vanilla beans that are dark skinned, soft and have a strong aroma.
- Lemon - This Italian trifle recipe uses just the lemon peel to infuse into the pastry cream. I recommend using a vegetable peeler to get a strip of lemon peel without the bitter white pith.
- Eggs - I always prefer using free range, large eggs. Just the egg yolks are required but don’t forget to save the egg whites for other recipes like my Egg White Frittata or my Raspberry Torte.
- Sugar - I recommend using granulated white sugar preferably extra fine (also known as castor sugar or superfine sugar) because it dissolves quickly and easily.
- All purpose flour - Also known as regular or plain flour.
- Chocolate or cocoa powder - This is to flavor and color the chocolate pastry cream. I prefer using chopped chocolate because it produces a rich cream, but you could easily add a tablespoon of cocoa powder instead.
- Alchermes liqueur - This is an Italian spiced liqueur that gives the savoiardi cookies their vibrant pink hue in this Italian trifle. My mother used cherry brandy as a substitute when she couldn’t find Alchermes, but you could also try pomegranate juice instead.
- Water - Regular tap water is fine.
- Savoiardi cookies - Also known as Italian ladyfingers or sponge fingers. You can easily buy them in Italian food stores and some supermarkets but you can also make homemade Savoiardi Cookies for a special treat.
- Add the split vanilla pod and seeds, milk, and lemon rind to a medium sized pot. Heat over low heat until the milk is just before simmering. In another bowl, whisk egg yolks, granulated white sugar and all purpose flour until smooth.
- Slowly pour the hot milk onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Strain the mixture back to the pot and place over medium low heat, whisking constantly until it comes to a boil and thickens.
- Divide the pastry cream between two heat proof bowls. Cover one bowl with plastic wrap and add the chopped chocolate to the second bowl (stirring to melt the chocolate and combine). Cover the chocolate pastry cream with plastic wrap too and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
- To assemble the Zuppa Inglese, combine alchermes with the water in a medium bowl. Cut the savoiardi in half, dip into the alchermes mixture and layer three halves at the bottom of the serving glass. Top with chocolate pastry and vanilla pastry cream. Repeat with another layer and then repeat with the remaining five glasses.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to set then top with shavings of chocolate before serving.
Hint: When refrigerating the pastry cream, press the plastic wrap directly onto the surface so that the pastry cream doesn’t form a skin.
- If you can’t find Alchermes liqueur you could substitute it with cherry brandy or pomegranate juice. You could also use amaretto or rum, but just remember that it won’t give the savoiardi a lovely red color.
- Instead of using chopped chocolate for the chocolate pastry cream, you can add 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder.
- You can use a few drops of vanilla extract to flavor the pastry cream instead of vanilla beans.
- Kid friendly - make Zuppa Inglese kid friendly by dipping the savoiardi cookies into pomegranate or cherry juice instead.
- Flavor - Try making different flavored pastry creams by using espresso powder, and different spices like ground cinnamon or orange zest.
- No savioardi? No problem - add a different texture by dunking pieces of sponge cake into Alchermes instead of savoiardi. You can even use my Pan di Spagna recipe for this!
- Classic - instead of making individual glasses, you could easily make one big Zuppa Inglese as my mother would. Depending on the size of the bowl or dish, you may need to increase the quantities. Once it had been thoroughly chilled, my mother would turn it out onto a serving plate which is just stunning!
To make this Italian trifle recipe, you will need in six glasses of approximately 1 cup capacity or more.
Zuppa Inglese keeps well in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. If your ingredients (particularly the eggs) are very fresh, then they may keep up to 5 days in the refrigerator but these desserts won’t be at their prime.
Tips for Success and FAQ’s
To achieve perfectly smooth Italian pastry cream, it is very important to whisk constantly while cooking - don’t walk away from the stove! If you’ve ended up with lumps, pass the hot pastry cream mixture through a fine mesh sieve.
When dipping the savoiardi cookies into the Alchermes liquid be careful not to over soak or under soak. If you leave them in the Alchermes liquid for too long, you might find the Zuppa Inglese becomes too wet. But if you don’t soak the cookies long enough, it might lack flavor or be too crunchy. I find the first few savoiardi cookies that I dip into the liquid are a bit of a test run, until then I find the right amount of time to soak. At the end of the day - it’s really your preference! You can always make more of the Alchermes liquid if you need it.
You certainly can! Some say that the original Zuppa Inglese was only ever made with vanilla pastry cream so you can easily just skip the step which adds chopped chocolate or add cocoa powder instead. Also, you can flavor the pastry cream with anything you want - a little cinnamon, coffee, orange zest… The possibilities are endless.
Zuppa Inglese literally translates to ‘English Soup’ but it’s definitely more of an Italian trifle than a dessert soup. In Italian, the verb ‘inzuppare’ means ‘to dunk’ or ‘to soak’, which is an accurate description of the Alchermes soaked savoiardi cookies. The story goes that an English diplomat who was living in Italy, introduced a version of the English trifle and it immediately became a hit amongst Italians.
My recipe for Zuppa Inglese can easily be made gluten free. Just substitute the regular savoiardi cookies with a gluten free version or a gluten free sponge cake of your choice. To make the pastry creams gluten free, you can use corn starch (corn flour) in place of regular all purpose flour. Just be sure to choose a variety that is made with corn and not the wheaten corn starch varieties.
If you’re feeling very decadent, you can top the individual glasses with whipped cream before adding the chocolate shavings!
Made this recipe?
Let me know if you liked it by leaving a ★★★★★ star rating and a review below. Please share a photo of your creation by tagging me on Instagram @marcellina.in.cucina!
Zuppa Inglese Recipe
- 6 glasses of about 1 cup capacity
- 3 cups whole milk 710 mls
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1 strip lemon peel
- 6 egg yolks
- ¾ cup granulated white sugar 150 grams
- ⅓ cup all purpose flour 41 grams
- 2 ounces dark chocolate 60 grams , chopped
Assemble Zuppa Inglese
- ¾ cup alchermes liqueur 180 mls
- ¼ cup water 60 mls
- 18 savoiardi cookies or Italian ladyfingers
Make the pastry cream
- First cut the vanilla bean down the middle. With the back of a knife scrape out the seeds.
- Place the vanilla seeds, split pod, milk, and a strip of lemon rind in a medium sized pot.
- Heat over low heat until the milk is just before simmering point. Don't boil.
- In a bowl whisk egg yolks, granulated white sugar and all purpose flour until smooth. Take care that there are no lumps.
- Remove lemon rind and vanilla bean from the milk.
- Slowly pour the hot milk onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly.
- Strain the mixture back to the pot and place over medium low heat. Whisk constantly until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Simmer for 1 minute to cook the flour.
- Divide the pastry cream between two heat proof bowls. Cover one bowl with plastic wrap ensuring the plastic is in complete contact with the pastry cream. Add the chopped chocolate to the second bowl and stir until the chocolate has melted and is thoroughly combined. Cover with plastic wrap ensuring the plastic is in complete contact with the chocolate pastry cream
- Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
- Before using, stir until smooth.
Assemble Zuppa Inglese
- Combine the alchermes liqueur with the water in a medium bowl.
- Cut the savoiardi in half and dip quickly but completely into the alchermes mixture.
- Layer three halves at the bottom of the serving glass. Top with approximately two heaped tablespoons of chocolate pastry cream followed by two heaped tablespoons of vanilla pastry cream. Repeat the same layering of alchermes soaked savoiardi and two types of pastry cream.
- Repeat with the remaining five glasses using up all of the savoiardi, alchermes and pastry cream.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to set.
- To achieve perfectly smooth Italian pastry cream, it is very important to whisk constantly while cooking.
- If you’ve ended up with lumps, pass the hot pastry cream mixture through a fine mesh sieve.
- Be careful not to over soak or under soak savoiardi in the liqueur. Dipping the first few will help you figure that out. But this is your recipe so soak a lot if you like or don't soak very much.
Nutritional Information Per Serving
Nutritional information is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. For accurate results, it is recommended that the nutritional information be calculated based on the ingredients and brands you use.