Italian Trifle (Zuppa Inglese)

This colorful and creamy dessert in neither a soup nor is it English. It’s basically an Italian trifle-like dessert whose origins have been fiercely debated for centuries.

One version has a royal chef in 18th century Parma creating a layered dessert of sponge cake dipped in rum (an English favorite and thus “Inglese”) and layered with cream, jam, and dried fruit. Over the years, the recipe has taken on various regional twists and turns- in this version, ladyfingers are dipped into bright-pink Alchermes liqueur and layered with vanilla custard and chocolate creams.

Italian Trifle- Zuppa Inglese

In Italian, Dolce al Cucchiaio means a dessert you eat with spoon. This magnificent dish is that and so much more. The bright-red soaked lady fingers are layered between smooth vanilla and chocolate crema and embellished with colorful fruit and crunchy almonds. Delicious!
5 from 1 vote
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Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian, Northern Italy
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Resting time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Servings: 12
Author: My Hungry Traveler


  • Medium saucepan
  • Large bowl
  • 2 medium bowls
  • Whisk
  • Small baking dish


  • cups Whole milk
  • 3 cups Sugar
  • 4 oz All-purpose flour
  • 9 large Egg yolks
  • 4 tbsp Cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp Vanilla extract
  • tsp Lemon or orange zest
  • 1 cup Alchermes liqueur or substitute (see Notes)
  • ¾ cup Water
  • 24 large Lady fingers
  • Berries or sour cherries and/or sliced almonds to decorate


Crema Pasticcera (Pastry Cream)

  • Bring the milk, vanilla, and lemon zest to a low boil. In a large bowl, mix egg yolks and ½ of the sugar, and then mix in the flour.
  • Pour hot milk into the bowl and whisk quickly. Return to saucepan placed over low heat. Continue to stir until the pastry cream is thickened, about 6 minutes.
  • Remove pastry cream from heat and divide between 2 bowls, with a bit more in one of the bowls. Add ½ of the remaining sugar into the fuller bowl and the powdered cocoa into the other. Mix both well, cover, and let cool.

Color Ladyfingers

  • In a flat baking dish, combine water, remaining sugar, and Alchermes liqueur. Dip the lady fingers into the syrup for exactly 2 seconds per side so they can sop-up the bright-pink color and Alchermes flavor. Set aside.

Assemble and Serve

  • Place a bottom layer of ladyfingers across the bottom of a glass bowl. Cover that with a portion with a portion of coca cream. Add another layer of ladyfingers perpendicular to the layer below. Cover with the vanilla pastry cream. Repeat process until lady fingers and pastry cream is used up. The top layer should be vanilla pastry cream
    Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2-3 hours or more. One hour before serving, remove from refrigerator, decorate with berries or cherries, or chocolate shavings, and almond slices. Serve with bowls and spoons.


  • Sponge or pound cake cut to fit the serving dish may be substituted for the ladyfingers.
  • Amchermes may be replaced with brandy mixed with pomegranate juice, rum mixed with grenadine or, for a non alcoholic version, just grenadine.   
  • Dish may be decorated with slivers of dark chocolate instead of berries. Almonds may be added or excluded in either case.
  • In Emilia-Romagna, a tsp of powdered instant espresso is often added along with the cocoa powder.  


Calories: 468kcal | Carbohydrates: 82g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 197mg | Sodium: 77mg | Potassium: 219mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 61g | Vitamin A: 454IU | Calcium: 144mg | Iron: 2mg