The famous Oscar Wilde quote, “Life imitates art,” means that art affects how we see the world around us instead of the other way around. To take this idea even further, does Italian architecture affect Italian desserts? Is that too much of a stretch? Take zuccotto, as an example; it is modeled after the famous Duomo in Florence. This chilled dessert’s dome shape comes from lady fingers or sponge cake soaked in liqueur molded in a round bowl filled with sweet delights. It is then served upside down and comes out in a beautiful dome shape. Perhaps architecture imitating dessert isn’t such a stretch after all. Either way, it’s a fabulous fun dessert and oh, so yummy.
Another reason I really love this dessert, other than its aesthetic beauty, is its similarity to tiramisu, sans raw eggs. I tend to be a bit of a worrier, and as much as I love tiramisu, I tend to be frightened of eating the uncooked egg yolks and whites. However, I can usually talk myself into eating tiramisu because anything that delicious, tried and true could never hurt you. Thus far, that philosophy has worked. Zuccotto, like tiramisu, uses lady fingers softened in a favorite beverage- in tiramisu, it’s coffee, zuccotto uses liqueur such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier.
This dessert really has a wow affect. Bring a dome of dessert to a dinner party or pot luck and you have an instant conversation piece. Because of its rustic charm, Zuccotto is easy to make and isn’t fussy like some other desserts. (I won’t mention any names). This creative dessert deepens my love for Italian cuisine.
There are many variations of zuccotto, only limited by our imaginations. Try adding fresh berries to the whipped cream or top the cake with fruit syrup or jam. You can also experiment with different liqueurs. One time, I soaked the lady fingers in limoncello, a much more subtle flavor than the Grand Marnier and Cointreau, but equally as spectacular. If you want to stay away from alcohol, try soaking the lady fingers in sugar syrup or fruit sauce. It’s a win-win.
- Special equipment- round or dome shaped bowl
- 2 ounces almonds, blanched
- 1 package Lady Fingers (24 cookies)
- 3 tbsp Cointreau (or Limoncello)
- ¼ cup milk
- 4 tbsp Grand Marnier
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 tbsp powdered sugar
- ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped in small chunks or use semi-sweet chocolate chips
- ⅛ tsp vanilla extract
- To blanch and peel almonds: bring 2 cups water to a boil and add almonds. Boil for 1 minute then drain. After a couple minutes, when the almonds have cooled, squeeze them out of their skins and discard the skins. Chop the almonds and set aside.
- Mix the liqueurs and ¼ cup milk. Spread the lady fingers out in a flat pan or dish and drizzle the liqueur/milk mixture over the top. Turn the lady fingers over to coat both sides. The goal is to just infuse the liqueur into the lady fingers enough to soften them a bit, but not for them to get soggy.
- Line a round glass or metal bowl with parchment paper. You can use any round bowl, and try to use one that is as dome shaped as possible.
- Now line the parchment-lined bowl with the infused lady fingers. Lay them very close to each other and break one or two in half as needed to fill any empty spots. Gently press the lady fingers into the shape of the bowl. Leave about 4-5 lady fingers aside for the bottom layer.
- In a metal bowl, beat the heavy cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks have formed.
- Divide the whipped cream in two. In one half, add the cocoa powder and mix will. Using a soft spatula or frosting knife, spread the whipped cream/cocoa powder mixture inside the layer of lady fingers, smoothing the mixture all around to create an even coat over the lady fingers.
- With the other half of the whipped cream, add the chocolate chunks, almonds and vanilla extract. Mix well and spoon into the center of the cake, next to the cocoa powder layer. The cavity should now be filled. Now place a final layer of lady fingers along the bottom to form the bottom layer. Cover and chill for at least 3 hours. This is a dish best served chilled. To serve: Turn the cake over onto a pretty serving dish and remove parchment paper. Sprinkle the entire surface of the cake with cocoa powder. Slice with a serrated knife into wedges to show off the various layers. The cake will last for 3 days in the refrigerator. When storing any leftover cake in the fridge, keep it in its round bowl so it will retain its shape until the next serving. Do not freeze because the whipped cream does not hold up well in the freezer. I hope you enjoy this fabulous cake! Please let me know if you try any variations!