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Zuppa inglese (Trifle)
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Recipe by Chef Massimiliano Gentile
Restaurant BaBaleus – Ravenna
BaBabeach – Punta Marina

Ingredients for 6 people

  • 4 tablespoons of flour
  • 10 tablespoons of sugar
  • 4 whole eggs + 4 egg yolks
  • 150 g of dark chocolate bar
  • 20/30 Ladyfinger biscuits
  • 1 litre of milk
  • Alchermes just enough
  • 1 vanilla berry


Massimiliano Gentile, a chef with thirty years of experience, partner of “RavennaFood”, and owner of the Restaurant-Pizzeria “Babaleus” in Ravenna and “BaBabeach” in Punta Marina, has grown up with the leftovers of donuts and alchermes since he was a little boy and it was his grandmother Alda and his mother Ambra who prepared it for Sunday lunch.

Today, with the affection that only family tradition can leave as a legacy together with the satisfaction given by his young sons Mattia and Dennis, who are already following in his footsteps in the kitchen, Chef Massimiliano has chosen it as one of the iconic recipes of Ravenna cuisine.

Exuding his usual confidence, the chef does not use scales for this recipe.

After breaking the eggs in a bowl already containing the vanilla, he then adds flour and heated milk, continuing to stir with a whisk.

Once a homogeneous mixture has been obtained, he puts it back into the pot, over medium low heat, continuing to stir it with the whisk to make it thicken.

In the meantime, he has set out some single glass cups, but a single baking dish will do just fine, and dips the sponge ladyfingers in alchermes (but in home kitchens the leftover Romagna doughnut is also widely used), just enough to colour them red and then place them on the bottom of the cup.

The chef breaks the soaked ladyfingers or sponge cake into the bottom of the container and pours a little custard over them, while still warm. In the meantime, he adds to the rest of the hot cream in the pot, a whole bar of dark chocolate, continuing to stir to melt it well.

Having thus obtained a chocolate cream, Chef Massimiliano Gentile pours it over the layer of custard already in the container, alternating the two layers until it is filled.

On top, as a decoration, the chef finally lays a last piece of ladyfinger dipped in alchermes.

The zuppa inglese (trifle) can be eaten cold or – very good – still warm.


The recipe that does not come from afar

The first written recipe for zuppa inglese is contained in the most widely read Italian cookbook ever, “La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene”, by Pellegrino Artusi, published in 1891. From this we are informed that, at the end of the 19th century, zuppa inglese was widespread in at least three Italian regions – Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and Marche – but also that in Emilia and Romagna it was already known since the 18th century.

So England has nothing to do with it? Its origins are not entirely clear and several regions, not only Italian, claim the invention of this cake.

We know, however, that in England, already in the 1600s, trifle was widespread, a dessert that could be regarded as the forerunner of zuppa inglese.

It is a dessert made of pastry moistened with sweet wine, enriched with fruit and covered with cream.

This dessert might have arrived in Italy, on Renaissance tables, at the end of the 17th century, thanks to the marriage of James II, the last sovereign of the dynasty, with Maria Beatrice d’Este of the Duchies of Modena and Reggio.

It then spread to Romagna with the name “zuppa inglese” (English soup) to recall its inspiration and also to Italianize its original name: Trifle in English means “foolishness” just as, in Italian, “zuppa” is also synonymous with “guazzabuglio”.

Depending on the country, the base of zuppa inglese is essentially a leftover of other desserts: the Romagna doughnut in Ravenna, chopped Savoiardi biscuits or sponge cake elsewhere.

A unique and characteristic ingredient of zuppa inglese is alchermes, an intense red liqueur composed of pure alcohol, sugar, water, cochineal (whose dried and powdered body provides a red substance used in the preparation), orange peel, rose water and numerous spices, such as cinnamon, carnation, vanilla, cardamom and aniseed flowers.

The name derives both from the Arabic Al-qirmiz, which means “cochineal” (literally “the worm”), and from the term “crimson”, a shade of intense red that characterises this liqueur.

Alchermes arrived in Italy in medieval times with Marco Polo and the reopening of trade with the Arab populations.

It then began to spread on the tables of the nobility during the reign of the Medici, who were very fond of it and renamed it the “elixir of long life”.

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Ultima modifica: 8 January 2021

Eat & Drink