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What is Zuccotto?

By Tracey Parece
Updated May 16, 2024
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Zuccotto is an Italian dessert made with pound cake, pan di spagna, or ladyfingers. Pan di spagna is a homemade spongecake used in various types of desserts. Although there are different recipes for zuccotto, it generally contains sweetened whipped cream or pastry cream, chocolate, and nuts. Its domed shape is reputed to be modeled after the main cathedral in Florence, Italy. The word zucchetto refers to a cardinal's skullcap, which the dessert resembles as well.

To make zuccotto, one starts with an inverted bowl lined with plastic wrap and lightly coated in vegetable cooking spray. The bowl's interior is then covered with the sliced poundcake, pan di spagna, or ladyfingers that have been moistened with brandy. Alternatively, other liqueurs may be used, such as Alkermes or Maraschino — Alkermes is a Medici liqueur while Maraschino is a fine Italian liqueur. Cherry liqueur or orange liqueur may also be used as long as they are not too sweet. The inverted bowl is what gives the zuccotto its traditional domed shape.

Once the dome is formed with the cake, the filling is added. Common choices for the filling include sweetened whipped cream and pastry cream. Since zuccotto is a chilled dessert, ice cream may be used for the filling instead. Chopped nuts like almonds or walnuts are added to the filling along with grated chocolate. Another option is to add strawberries or other berries to the cream filling. There are numerous variations on the recipe for this dessert.

After the filling is in place, it is covered with the remaining slices of cake or ladyfingers. This will form the base of the zuccotto once it has been inverted and removed from the bowl. The cake is then refrigerated from several hours to several days before serving. If ice cream has been used as the filling for the zuccotto, the cake needs to be placed into the freezer until it is time for serving.

To make the zuccotto easier to prepare, several components of this Italian dessert can be made ahead of time. Then the components can be assembled and refrigerated or frozen as usual. Either the sweetened whipped cream or the pastry cream can be prepared the previous day. If pan di spagna is being used instead of poundcake or ladyfingers, it can be made the prior day as well. If time is an issue, the dessert can be made with store-bought cake and store-bought filling.

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