Zuccotto (pronouced zoo-KOHT-toh) is a molded and richly layered pastry cream filled sponge cake dessert. It is widely believed to have been inspired by the dome of Florence, Italy's, duomo (the city's main cathedral.) Others allude to its shape as closely resembling a cardinal's skullcap which is also called a zuccotto. This dome-shaped dessert begins with a bowl lined with liqueur-moistened cake. Usually pound cake or pan di spagna slices are used but ladyfingers are another alternative. The bowl is then filled with a mixture of sweetened whipped cream and/or pastry cream, chopped or grated chocolate and various chopped nuts before being topped with additional cake slices. The zuccotto is refrigerated at least a day so the filling can set. It is inverted onto a plate before serving. Although zuccotto is not associated with any specific holiday, it is commonly served at special family celebrations in Tuscany.
There are many variations of zuccotto. One recipe calls for the sponge cake to be soaked with the Medici liqueur known as Alkermes. This results in a cake with a striking red color. In another recipe, the cake is brushed with a fine Italian liqueur called Maraschino. You could substitute a not too sweet cherry liqueur.
We are providing you with two zuccotto recipes. The first uses hard Italian ladyfingers called savoiardi as the sponge cake. The second uses a store-bought pound cake. The two fillings are also quite different. You could use either filling with your choice of cake. Although zuccotto appears to be very labor intensive it really is not, if you plan it in advance. You can make the pastry cream or whipped cream filling a day of two in advance. You can also chop the chocolate and toast the almonds in advance. Assemble the cake in the morning for dining later in the day or refrigerate it overnight for serving the next day. Zuccotto can be refrigerated for a few days before presentation.
Zuccotto (with ladyfingers)
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup orange liqueur *(see note below)
2 (7 ounce) packages ladyfingers (savoiardi)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1 cup sliced strawberries
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped medium-fine
Confectioners' sugar for garnish
To make the Pastry Cream:
Bring the milk to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Set aside. In the top of a double boiler, whisk the yolks. Whisk in the flour and then the milk. Place the double boiler over medium heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until thick, about 12-15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar. Place the pastry cream in a bowl. Place a piece of waxed paper directly on the surface. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
To Construct the Cake:
Line a bowl (approx. 9-inches wide by 4-1/2 -inches deep) with plastic wrap.
Allow several inches of the wrap to hang over the sides of the bowl.
Lightly brush each of the ladyfingers with the orange liqueur as you add them to the bowl. Start lining the side of the bowl with the ladyfingers, standing them up lengthwise. The tops of the ladyfingers should be even with the rim of the bowl. Cut ladyfingers to fit the bottom of the bowl and fill in any spaces.
Spread about 1/2 cup of the pastry cream in the bottom of the bowl.
Remove 1-1/2 cups of the whipped cream and set it aside for later. Stir the almonds into the remaining whipped cream.
Spread about 1/2 cup of the whipped cream with the almonds over the pastry cream. Spread 1/2 of the strawberries over the whipped cream, pressing them in gently. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of the chocolate over the berries.
Arrange a layer of ladyfingers, brushed with the liqueur, over the chocolate.
Spread remaining pastry cream over the ladyfingers. Add a layer with remaining strawberries, and again sprinkle with some of the chocolate.
Set aside 2-3 tablespoons of the chocolate for a garnish; sprinkle the remaining over the berries. Spread with the remaining whipped cream with the almonds. Add a final layer of ladyfingers brushed with the liqueur. The filling should be completely covered. Bring the overhanging edges of the plastic wrap up over the cake. Press down gently on the cake to compact it. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
To Unmold the Cake:
Unwrap the top of the cake. Place a serving dish on top and invert the bowl.
Remove the plastic wrap from the cake. Sprinkle the cake all over with confectioners' sugar.
Using the whipped cream that you set aside, fill a pastry bag with a star tip.
Make a decorative border around the base and on top of the cake.
Sprinkle with the chocolate that you set aside. Serve by cutting into wedges.
You may substitute rum, brandy, or a spirit of your choosing for the orange liqueur to moisten the ladyfingers. You may not use all of the ladyfingers in the 2 packages and may have more filling than will fit in the cake. Depending on the size of your bowl, these amounts may vary slightly. For the best results, prepare the dome cake 1 day ahead and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.
Zuccotto (with pound cake)
1 (12 ounce) loaf pound cake
1/4 cup brandy
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Unsweetened cocoa powder
Line a 1-1/2 quart bowl with plastic wrap.
Cut the pound cake crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cut each slice diagonally in half, forming 2 triangles. Line the bottom and sides of the prepared bowl with the cake triangles. Brush some of the brandy over the cake triangles lining the bowl. Reserve the extra triangles.
Microwave the chocolate in a glass bowl about 1 minute or until the chocolate melts. Allow the chocolate to cool slightly.
Using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup of cream in another large bowl until firm peaks form. Fold 1/4 of the whipped cream into the chocolate. Fold in the remaining whipped cream. Spread the chocolate cream over the cake, covering completely and creating a well in the center.
In another clean large bowl, add the remaining 1 cup of cream and almond extract. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium speed, gradually adding the confectioners' sugar. Beat until firm peaks form. Fold in the almonds. Spoon the cream mixture into the center of the well of the cake. Brush the remaining cake slices with brandy and arrange them, brandy side down, over the cake.
Cover the filling completely and trim to fit, if necessary. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Invert the cake onto a platter. Remove the bowl and the plastic wrap.
Sift the cocoa powder over and serve.
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