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August 27, 2010


I know I’m getting a bit Italo-centric here, but what can I say? I cook what I know.

I didn’t know about this dessert at all until a gorgeous dinner during a trip to Italy last year. We had been invited to Francesco’s aunt’s house in the countryside near Bologna. A family affair, the kind I love: piling into the car, getting lost, arriving late and grumpy and starving. And then sitting down in a warm room with a fire and the smell of rosemary and a roast and a table full of unopened bottles.

store-bought sponge cake

And though it would have been a night to remember for the food alone (Francesco and I still remember vividly the menu: salumi and cheeses, a vegetable mold warpped in prosciutto and baked, pasta e fagioli, roast beef with roast potatoes, zuccotto), that night remains crystallized in my mind because it was one of the last nights we saw Antonella.


Though I didn’t know her well, she was a force to be reckoned with. So warm, so welcoming, so forgiving of my botched Italian, so talented in the kitchen, and so generous. After an entire evening of my raving (excessively) over her amazing cooking, she didn’t hesitate to scribble down the recipe for the zuccotto, a really classic Florentine semi-frozen dessert. Until a few days ago, I kept it stashed in a drawer. And when my craving for baked pasta hit, I knew exactly how I wanted to follow it up.

Zuccotto is so named because, I’m guessing, it resembles a pumpkin (zucca in Italian). There are so many ways to make it, but I’m fairly confident this version is hard to beat.

Though Antonella’s instructions were vague in that typical Italian way (“beat the egg whites then add them to the cheese, which you pour into the mold, which is covered with the sponge sprinkled with rum”), and we’d forgotten to write down the quantity of sugar, it turned out amazing. The guests were raving, just as I did last year. It’s perfect for hot or cold weather and the perfect way to end a meal. It’s probably not the same as hers, but then again, nothing really is.

Printable Recipe


Grazie ad Antonella per questa ricetta, che viene dal Mad Cafè a Marina di Ravenna. Feel free to play around with the quantities of mascarpone and ricotta. As for the sugar, the amaretti are quite sweet, so you may feel that you want to reduce the added sugar even more. This serves 6-8 and lasts for a few weeks in the freezer. It can be made and frozen well in advance. 


1 1/4 cup (250 grams) mascarpone (or more)

1/2 cup fresh ricotta (optional) (or more)

2 eggs, separated

1/2 – 2/3 cup sugar (to taste)

1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

1 1/2 cups (150 grams) amaretti cookies, crushed

1/2 cup candied citrus peel, chopped finely

4 oz. (120 grams) good-quality dark chocolate, in shards (or chips)

sponge cake (pan di spagna) or savioardi biscuits/sponge fingers/lady fingers (store bought is OK), about 350 grams

1/2 cup alchermes (Italian liquer), rum, amaretto, or St Germain (you can water down the liquor if you want)

Beat the egg whites in a small bowl until they are very stiff, about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until creamy. Add the mascarpone and ricotta, vanilla, amaretti, candied peel and chocolate. You can add more of either cheese if you want more volume.

Now, take a large bowl and line it with plastic wrap. Don’t worry, it doesn’t need to be neat. Now take your sponge cake or lady fingers and slice it into triangles so you can easily line the bowl with cake. Patch up any missing holes so that the bottom and sides of the bowl are completely lined with cake. (Make sure you save some cake to line the top of the zuccotto with more cake.)

Sprinkle the liquor all over the cake, trying to saturate it evenly. If you think it could use a bit more, go ahead and douse a bit more (which never, ever hurts).

Pre-alcohol: see how not pretty it can be and still turn out delicious?

Pour the cheese mixture into the bowl. Cover the top with remaining sponge cake to seal, then cover with plastic wrap. Push down on the plastic a bit then pop it in the freezer for at least 5 hours.

freezer time!

If the zuccotto is frozen solid, put it in the fridge a few hours before serving. (You want to serve this dessert very cold but not completely frozen. It doesn’t melt easily, so don’t worry about leaving it out.) To serve, invert the bowl onto a serving plate, remove all the plastic, and cut into slices.

Not so photogenic, but oh so delicious

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Meredith permalink
    September 8, 2010 1:43 pm

    There is a big beautiful chunk of zuccotto left in my freezer.



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