Zuccotto is a traditional dome-shaped cake originating in the beautiful city of Florence. It's made with a classic Italian sponge cake soaked in liqueur and filled with two delicious ricotta fillings including candied fruit and chocolate chips.
Zuccotto is an incredibly delicious and impressive looking Florentine dessert made with strips of Italian sponge cake (Pan di Spagna) soaked in ruby red Alchermes liqueur and stuffed with ricotta, whipped cream, candied fruit and chocolate.
It may look like there are quite a few steps involved in making Zuccotto but don't worry it's really not complicated at all and the sponge can be made in advance to make things easier.
The one ingredient that may be hard to source is Alchermes. It's an old, traditional liqueur from Florence used in all different kinds of Italian desserts such as Zuppa Inglese. It's pretty strong in flavour made with a mixture of various ingredients including cinnamon and rose water and has a bright ruby-red hue.
Can't find it? Don't worry there are a few alternative liqueurs you can use including Amaretto, Frangelico, Strega or even coffee.
See the recipe below including notes on ingredients, step by step photos, tips, variations and a video tutorial. For the full printable recipe scroll to the bottom or click the recipe link below
Ingredient notes and substitutions
- Pan di Spagna (Italian sponge cake) - eggs, Italian 00 flour (or all-purpose flour), corn starch and vanilla. The important thing here is to make sure the eggs are at room temperature. Savoiardi (ladyfingers) can be used instead of sponge cake.
- Alchermes - a spiced red liqueur used in many Italian desserts. If you can't find it you can use Amaretto, Strega, Frangelico or even coffee instead.
- Ricotta - let the ricotta drain through a sieve to remove excess liquid before using.
- Heavy cream - whip the cream to soft peaks and don't use any low-fat options.
- Candied orange - you can use a mix of candied fruit although I recommend sticking with citrus fruits only.
- Cocoa powder - use a good quality cocoa powder (70%+ cocoa).
- Chocolate chips - dark chocolate chips are best for this (bittersweet chocolate).
Step by step photos and instructions
How to make the Italian sponge
- If you're using Savoiardi (lady fingers) or pound cake for this you can skip these steps and go straight to preparing the filling.
Want to watch how to make the sponge? See our Pan di Spagna post for the recipe video.
Whisk eggs and sugar - using a stand mixer, whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt together until thick, pale and fluffy (about 15-20 minutes) (photos 1-4).
Add flour - sift the flour and cornstarch into the batter and gently fold together. Do this in three increments to avoid any lumps (photos 5 & 6).
Bake - pour the batter into a prepared cake pan and bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for about 40 minutes or until an inserted cocktail stick comes out clean (photos 7-9).
Cool - once baked, leave to cool in the cake pan for around 10 minutes then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely. Make sure the sponge is completely cool before starting the next stage below (photos 10-12).
How to prepare the filling
Whisk the ricotta - whisk the ricotta and sugar together in a bowl until smooth (photos 13 & 14).
Whip the cream - using an electric whisk whip the cream to soft peaks. Be careful not to over-whip the cream, it should be smooth and silky (photos 15 & 16).
Fold together - gently fold the whipped cream into the ricotta ½ at a time until combined (photo 17).
White ricotta cream - remove half of the mixture to a separate bowl and fold in the candied orange until combined (photo 18).
Chocolate ricotta cream - sift the cocoa into the other half of the ricotta and add the chocolate chips. Fold together until combined.
How to assemble Zuccotto
Prepare the bowl - Line the bowl with plastic wrap (cling film) making sure to leave enough of an overhang at each side to wrap over the top.
Layer the sponge - Remove the top golden crust from the sponge cake, you can do this with a knife or peel it off with your fingers. Cut the sponge into 1cm (½ inch) thick slices and use them to line the bowl (photo 20).
layer one - brush the Alchermes over the sponge then spread the white ricotta cream all over in an even layer (photos 21 & 22).
Layer two - fill the middle of the Zuccotto with the chocolate ricotta cream then place more slices of sponge cake over the top, trim any overlapping sponge to fit the bowl (photos 23 & 24).
Chill and serve - brush the remaining Alchermes over the top of the sponge then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours to overnight. Once chilled, remove the plastic wrap and overturn the Zuccotto onto a serving plate, dust with cocoa powder and serve (photos 25-28).
Recipe tips for making Zuccotto
- Prepare the sponge in advance - the Pan di Spagna must be cooled completely before using. You can make it 1-2 days in advance to make things easier. Alternatively, you can use Savoiardi biscuits (ladyfingers) instead.
- Drain the ricotta - sit the ricotta in a sieve over a bowl and let any excess liquid drain from the ricotta. I like to let it drain for at least 30-40 minutes but you can leave it overnight in the fridge.
- Line your bowl - it's super important to line the bowl or mould you're using with plastic wrap (cling film) before assembling the Zuccotto or it'll be extremely difficult to remove.
Savoiardi biscuits (Italian ladyfingers) are also often used to make Zuccotto and make a great alternative to Pan di Spagna (Italian sponge). It will also save a lot of time as you won't have to prepare the cake in advance.
Zuccotto will keep well in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Why is it called Zuccotto?
There are a few different theories as to where Zuccotto got its name and its shape.
Some say it was created to resemble the famous Duomo in Florence, where the dessert originated or that the name comes from the word 'Zucca' which means 'pumpkin' or 'squash' in Italian.
After doing some research on the origin of the name I discovered that Zuccotto is the name of a 16th-century Italian Renaissance military helmet which, is thought to have been used as the first mould to make the dessert.
Although it's difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of Zuccotto it's always fascinating to explore the history of traditional dishes.
Variations to try
While our recipe shows you how to make a traditional Zuccotto, there are so many ways to adapt it and have fun experimenting with different flavours.
Instead of using Pan di Spagna or Savoiardi biscuits as the base for your Zuccotto you can use Brioche, Panettone or Pandoro. Check out our Panettone Bombe which is an ice cream version using Panettone and drizzled with chocolate.
Instead of ricotta, you could fill your Zuccotto with whipped cream, chocolate pastry cream, semifreddo or ice cream.
More traditional Italian desserts to try
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📖 Full Recipe
Pan di Spagna (sponge cake)
- 4 large eggs
- 65 g Italian 00 flour (½ cup)
- 65 g corn starch cornflour (½ cup)
- 130 g caster sugar (¾ cup)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 pinch salt
- Butter for greasing
- 1 kg ricotta drained (4 cups)
- 240 ml heavy (double) cream (1 cup)
- 100 g caster sugar superfine sugar (½ cup)
- 80 g candied orange (½ cup)
- 1.5 tablespoons cocoa powder plus extra for dusting plus extra for dusting
- 4 tablespoons chocolate chips (90g)
- 120 ml Alchermes liqueur can also use Amaretto diluted with a little water, see notes (½ cup)
- 9 inch (23cm) springform cake pan
- 8x4 inch bowl (see note 1)
- Baking parchment
- Stand mixer with whisk attachment or electric whisk
- Plastic wrap (cling film)
To make the Pan di Spagna
- Pre-heat the oven to 160C. A static oven (no fan) is best for this recipe.
- Grease the cake pan with butter and place a cut-out disk of baking parchment in the bottom of the tin so the cake doesn’t stick.
- Put the eggs, vanilla, and a pinch of salt in a bowl of a stand mixer. Start whisking the eggs on a medium speed and gradually add the sugar in 3 goes.
- Whisk the eggs for 15-20 minutes until thick, pale and fluffy. You’ll know the eggs are whisked enough when you can draw a ribbon in the mixture without it disappearing.
- Sieve both flours into the egg mixture a third at a time making sure to gently fold the flour into the egg so you don’t remove too much air. Doing this in three goes will also help avoid lumps in the batter.
- Once the flour is fully combined transfer the batter to the cake pan and bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for 35-40 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
- Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the tin for 10 minutes, remove then let it cool completely on a cooling rack.
To make the filling
- Drain the ricotta in a sieve over a bowl to remove the excess liquid for at least 30-40 minutes. You can also leave it to drain in the fridge overnight.
- Once drained, put the ricotta in a bowl and add the sugar. Whisk the sugar and ricotta together until smooth with no lumps.
- In a separate bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks then gently fold it into the ricotta mixture ⅓ at a time.
- Now it’s time to create two different fillings. Remove ⅔ of the ricotta mixture and place in another bowl. Add the chopped candied fruit and mix until combined then set aside.
- Sift cocoa powder into the bowl with the remaining third of ricotta, add chocolate chips and mix until thoroughly combined.
To Asemble the Zuccotto
- Line an 8x4 inch bowl with cling film (plastic wrap).
- Remove the top golden crust from the cake. You can either thinly slice it off with a knife or gently rub it off with your fingers.
- Cut the cake into 1cm (½ inch) thick slices then arrange them in the bowl to create a layer. You can cut slices to fit your bowl and overlap edges if needed.
- Next, brush the sponge with the Alchermes or liqueur of choice (see notes). Spread the white ricotta cream all over the inside of the sponge in an even layer then fill the middle with the chocolate ricotta cream.
- Use the remaining slices of sponge to seal the top of the Zuccotto and brush with more liqueur.
- Wrap the top with plastic wrap then refrigerate for at least 6 hours to overnight. Once chilled, remove from the fridge, unwrap the plastic wrap from the top and overturn the Zuccotto onto a plate.
- Remove the plastic wrap completely then top with a dusting of cocoa powder, serve.
- Size of bowl - you can use a slightly smaller bowl if you don’t have an 8x4 inch bowl. Don’t use anything larger as you won’t have enough cake or filling. If you don’t have a bowl that’s the correct size or slightly smaller you can layer the Zuccotto in a casserole dish as you would Tiramisu.
- Alchermes - If you don’t have Alchermes (it’s a hard ingredient to find) you can use Amaretto (or you’re liqueur of choice) instead. I recommend diluting it with a little water so it’s not as strong tasting on the sponge.
- Don’t want to use alcohol? You can use coffee instead or sugar syrup. The Zuccotto will keep well in the fridge for up to 5 days or can be frozen.
- Storage - the Zuccotto will keep well in the fridge for up to 5 days or can be frozen.
- I always use extra virgin olive oil in all of my recipes unless stated otherwise
- When I use canned or jarred tomatoes of any kind I always use Cirio or Mutti brands for the best results and flavour.
- All vegetables are medium sized unless stated otherwise
- All recipes are tested and developed using a fan (convection) oven
- Find out more about how nutrition is calculated.
- Check out our must have Italian Pantry Staples.
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