Tag Archives: Alchermes liqueur

Marmellata di cigliege (Cherry jam) and Zuppa Inglese

When your partner comes home from the market with an abundance of cherries, pick out the best looking ones to place on the table (the glossy ones that have fresh green stems) and make jam with the rest of them.

And the jam turned out very well, so good in fact that I used some of the cherries as a topping for a Zuppa Inglese, an iconic Italian dessert. I will also use the jam as a topping for ice cream or to make ice cream.

The cherries: remove the stems and wash them. cut out any blemishes.

Weigh the cherries.

Place the cherries in a heavy based saucepan.

Use a potato masher to crush about 2/3 of the cherries to release their juices. Add the zest and juice of 1 lemon to the potand place over low heat ( I had about 500g of cherries, add more lemon  and zest if you have greater amounts). Cook them on low to medium heat until the cherries are tender

If you look at recipes for making cherry jams, most  advice is to use equal amount of sugar to the weight of the fruit.  Commercial jams may use even a greater ratio of sugar to the fruit. I like to use less sugar – which is usually half the quantity of fruit. If I have 500g of fruit I add 250g of sugar.

Add the sugar and cook on moderate heat, stirring, for  about 20 minutes (or longer) until sugar dissolves and you have a jam like consistency…. test the setting point by placing a little jam  on a saucer that has been in the freezer .

Remove the jam from the heat and set aside for 10 -15 minutes.

Choose glass jars with an airtight lids  and sterilize them. There are different ways to do this but I usually do this by pouring boiling water in them and submerging lids in boiling water. Washing them in a dishwasher is also effective but you will need to coordinate the time of cooking the jam and the wash cycle.

Ladle hot jam into jars; I always use jars when they are still hot.

And here is the Zuppa Inglese with the cherries on top.

Zuppa Inglese is one of the easiest and most decadent desserts to make BUT without Alchermes liqueur it cannot be Zuppa Inglese.

Alchermes is a Florentine ancient liqueur, red in colour and specifically used for making certain desserts.

In the photo above you see savoiardi (sponge fingers), egg custard and Alchermes.

The Zuppa Inglese is layered, just like a trifle – biscuits soaked in Alchermes, custard, biscuits… 3 layers.

Top with  a layer of whipped cream (with a little caster sugar and vanilla = Chantilly cream)… and the cherries.

See more detailed recipes for:

ZUPPA INGLESE, a famous, Italian dessert

LONG LIVE ZUPPA INGLESE and its sisters

ALCHERMES/ALKERMES (The liqueur used to make Zuppa Inglese)

ZUPPA INGLESE, a famous, Italian dessert

I use Alchermes (or Alkermes) to make the famous Italian dessert zuppa inglese (literally translated as English soup). 

Zuppa Inglese is the Italian version of the English trifle generally made with sponge cake, moistened with fruit syrup or/and sweet sherry, layered with cream/and or custard, jam, and most times red coloured jelly made with jelly crystals.

Trifle is still being made in UK and countries like Australia (that initially inherited much of the British cuisine). Over time there have been some little variations to the recipe, for example I have often eaten trifle in Australian homes that included preserved fruit – particularly canned peaches. Recently fresh fruit has become a popular edition, particularly strawberries, that in Australia can be purchased cheaply and all year round.

There are many stories about how this English dessert came to be part of Italian cuisine. Some say that perhaps Italian diplomats tasted trifle on a visit to London and this may have been their interpretation of this dessert. Others say that it probably eventuated in the kitchens of the well-off English; there were many living in Florence in the late 1800’s till the lead up of the Second World War.  Most of them employed Italian staff; perhaps some signori inglesi missed some of their cooking from home and this was what their Italian kitchen maids prepared as trifle. They had to use Italian ingredients – savoiardi (sponge fingers – mostly used in layered Italian desserts) and Alchermes the ancient Florentine, red liqueur commonly used to moisten and flavour cakes. Fresh cream was (and is) rarely used in cakes in Italy, but pastry cream called crema pasticcera (also crema inglesecrème anglaise) is very common. And it is easy to see how this sloppy mess could be calledsoup”(zuppa).

I have seen modern Italian versions of recipes for zuppa inglese, which include red fruit (like berries) and many include chocolate. My mother’s version sometimes included grated dark chocolate on the top; I think that this was partly for decoration, but chocolate was never part of the dessert. Other modern versions may have a sprinkling of coffee beans and I wonder if the makers are getting confused with tiramisu, which because it contains coffee is often decorated with coffee beans.

I often make zuppa inglese especially when I am stuck for ideas, or have little time to prepare a dessert; it is so easy to prepare and never fails to impress.

I still use the traditional way to make it. I always assemble it in layers: sponge fingers moistened with Alchermes (either homemade or purchased at a good wine shop), cover these with crema pasticcera, repeat x 2-3 layers finishing with a layer of sponge fingers.

I use a large glass bowl to assemble the layers of ingredients (it is a pretty dessert) and keep the zuppa inglese, in the fridge for at least four hours or overnight before I intend to present it – it gives the dessert time to settle and the flavours to develop.  I finally cover it with a layer or tuffs of panna montata (literally meaning cream made into mountains – isn’t the Italian language marvellous!). it is also known as Chantilly cream, whipped cream with a little caster sugar flavoured with vanilla bean –Italians would never think about using plain cream in cakes.

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In the Zuppa Inglese above I have placed a sprinkling of crushed pistacchio nuts and chioccolate on top .

At some stage during my research about Alchermes I found out that the name is likely to have been derived from the Arabic “al” (a) and “qirmiz” (worm). This is because it contains cochineal, which gives the liqueur its red colour. Cochineal used to be made with a particular insect which was crushed and dried, this produced a rich, red dye.

In the photo I have included a bottle of purchased Alchermes (32% volume). I also make my own and there is a recipe on a previous post. I usually purchase the savoiardi but in the photo are savoiardi courtesy of a friend’s neighbour (her version as the shop bought variety are not usually ribbed) .The only recipe for this dessert is for the crema pasticcera:

INGREDIENTS

3 egg yolks, 3 tablespoons caster sugar infused with a vanilla bean, a pinch of salt 3 tablespoons of cornflour, 1 litre of milk, rind of 1 lemon, and a cinnamon stick.

 

PROCESSES

In a saucepan, mix the egg yolks with the sugar and slowly add the flour, salt and a little milk to make a smooth paste – a whisk could be useful. If you do not have sugar that has been infused with a vanilla bean, use a little vanilla (not artificial).
Add the rest of the milk and incorporate to dilute the mixture evenly.
Using a vegetable peeler remove the rind in one piece from ½ lemon. Add this to the milk mixture. Add the cinnamon stick.
Use low – medium heat, stir it constantly with a whisk or a wooden spoon and slowly bring it to the boil- the custard should have thickened. Cool before using. To prevent a skin from forming, I place a piece of baking paper or butter paper on its surface.
SEE: How to make Alchermes Alkermes the liqueur to make Zuppa Inglese