This Zuppa Inglese recipe is the perfect festive layered cake for a birthday or holiday. It features layers of sponge cake (Pan di Spagna) soaked in liquor or fruit juice and filled with layers of silky chocolate and vanilla pastry cream. One of the most beloved Italian desserts that you can make with the Italian sponge cake (Pan di Spagna).
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Learn how to make this Zuppa Inglese recipe with our video recipe, filmed in Italy:
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How to Make Italian Zuppa Inglese
This Italian dessert is similar to an English trifle—one of the possible origins of the dessert. Instead of making a layered cake as we do in this video recipe, you can layer the cake and custard into a trifle bowl or pyrex bowl or dish.
The beauty of this cake is in the visible layers and the contrast of the red cake and the pastry cream. We think making the Zuppa Inglese as a cake is the easiest way to showcase its beauty!
To make this Zuppa Inglese recipe, you simply need:
- 2-3 layers of cold sponge cake (called Pan di Spagna in Italian)
- pastry cream (use our Crème Pâtissière Recipe!) for the cake filling and
- some kind of liquor to soak the cake layers.
This recipe can be used to make any of the following…
- 3-layer rectangle cake. Cut the baked sheet cake into 3 equal vertical layers. Layers in this case are (from bottom to top): sponge cake, chocolate pastry cream, sponge cake, vanilla pastry cream, sponge cake.
- 2-layer cake. Cut out 2 equal shapes of 8″ – 9″ (20-22 cm) from the baked sheet cake. Layers will be (from bottom to top): sponge cake, chocolate pastry cream, sponge cake, vanilla pastry cream (also called crème pâtissière)
- 3-layer square cake. You’ll need to bake one more sponge cake for this option. Cut 2 equal layers out of the first sheet cake. Cut a third layer from the second sheet cake. Layers will be (from bottom to top): sponge cake, chocolate pastry cream, sponge cake, vanilla pastry cream, sponge cake. Layers should be 8″ – 9″ (20-22 cm)
Traditionally, Italians use a red liquor called Alchermes for soaking the cake, sweet marsala or cherry liquor with a bit of natural red food coloring for punching up the red color. Alternatively, you can use cherry juice.
Instead of the traditional Italian Alchermes liquor, you can use cherry liquor or sweet marsala wine. Add a bit of natural red food coloring to boost up the red color.
Want to make a non-alcoholic cake?
Try cherry juice to soak the layers of sponge cake!
Pastry Cream as a Cake Filling!
Our versatile Crème Pâtissière Recipe is the perfect recipe anytime you want to use pastry cream as a cake filling. It’s thick enough to support the cake layers yet silky enough to make you think you’ve wandered into a fine European pastry shop.
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Zuppa Inglese Recipe
- Stand Mixer (or electric hand mixer)
- 15" x 12" (40 cm x 30 cm) Baking Pan or Cookie Sheet
- 6 whole eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tbsp hot water
- ¾ cup cake flour or all-purpose with low gluten
- ¾ cup cornstarch
- 1 lemon zest from one
- 2 cups whole milk
- 10 egg yolks
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1 lemon zest from one
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- 3 ½ tbsp cornstarch
- 3 ½ tbsp flour
- 2.5 oz dark chocolate shaved
- 1 ¼ cup red liquor Alchermes (traditional) or cherry liquor or sweet marsala wine
MAKE THE SPONGE CAKE
- Sift together the cornstarch and flour and set aside.¾ cup cornstarch, ¾ cup cake flour
- Add whole eggs, granulated sugar and lemon zest to a stand mixer bowl fitted with the whisk attachment.6 whole eggs, 1 lemon zest, 1 cup granulated sugar
- Begin whipping the eggs at medium speed. Add 3 tbsp of hot water and continue whisking for no less than 15 minutes.3 tbsp hot water
- Whisk until you can ‘write’ with the egg mixture. In other words, when you drop egg on top of the rest of the whipped egg, they should sit on top distinctly and not sink into the rest of the eggs.
- Fold all of the sifted flours into the whipped eggs, 1 tablespoon at a time.
- Cover the bottom (but not the sides) of the pan with parchment paper.
- Spread the cake batter evenly into a large baking pan or jelly roll pan.
- Bake the cake at 350° F (180° C) for 15 minutes. Shut off oven, crack the oven door, and let cake cool inside of the oven slowly for 5-10 minutes.
- When cake is cooled, loosen edges and remove from the pan. Chill before cutting into layers.
MAKE PASTRY CREAM
- Add shaved chocolate to a large bowl and set aside.2.5 oz dark chocolate
- A half an hour before starting the pastry cream, put another large bowl in the freezer to chill.
- In a medium pot, bring the milk and vanilla to a simmer—hot but not boiling. If using fresh vanilla, split the pod and remove the seeds. Add the seeds and the pieces of pod to the milk as it warms.2 cups whole milk, 1 vanilla bean
- While the milk is warming, combine the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and flour into a large bowl. Whisk until the mix is thick and smooth.10 egg yolks, ⅔ cup granulated sugar, 3 ½ tbsp cornstarch, 3 ½ tbsp flour
- When the milk is hot, remove the pieces of vanilla bean pod. Then, slowly pour the milk into the egg mix, whisking continuously. When all of the milk is whisked into the eggs, strain the liquid back into the milk pot.
- Add the lemon zest and and heat the custard over medium heat until it thickens. Whisk constantly to prevent lumps.1 lemon zest
- When the pastry cream has thickened, add half of it to the bowl with the shaved chocolate. Mix vigorously until smooth and creamy. Cover with plastic wrap and chill.
- Pour the other half of the pastry cream into into the chilled bowl, whisking continuously—this time to quickly cool down the custard.
- When the custard is mostly cool, lay plastic wrap or a silicon lid directly on top of the custard and put that in the refrigerator to chill as well.
CUT THE CAKES
- Cut the sponge cake into three vertical layers for a 3-layer rectangle sponge cake. Alternatively, cut two square layers out of the cake for a 2-layer cake—in this case, you'll end with the layer of vanilla custard on top.
ASSEMBLE THE CAKE
- Soak one layer of sponge cake with about ½ cup of the soaking liquid you've chosen. Use a pastry brush or fingers to be sure the outside of the cake is a solid red. It's ok if the entire layer isn't soaked. However, we do want the outside to be a solid, impressive red.Place the soaked layer of sponge cake on your serving tray. Then…1 ¼ cup red liquor
- Top the first cake layer with all of the chocolate pastry cream. Spread it evenly. You can use a pastry bag (no decorative tip required) to pipe on the pastry cream to keep your layer of custard neat and tidy.
- Top the cream with a second layer of soaked sponge cake.
- Top the second layer of soaked sponge cake with all of the vanilla pastry cream. Spread it evenly. You can use a pastry bag (no decorative tip required) to pipe on the cream to keep your layer of custard neat and tidy.
- Top that cream with a third (and final) layer of soaked sponge cake. (optional)
CAKE TOPPING (OPTIONAL)
- Top with freshly whipped cream or…
- Top with Italian Meringue, piped on using a pastry bag with a decorative tip.