Zuccotto is a traditional Tuscan dessert that originated in Florence and is shaped like a dome. The original name of this famous dessert was actually “Catherine’s Helmet” because it was first made for Catherine de’ Medici by Bernardo Buontalenti in the 16th century for a banquet feast and guests thought the dessert looked like a round helmet. Often served at Christmas, this delicious recipe is sure to become your new favorite.
Traditional zuccotto dessert
This dessert has many variations, but the traditional recipe we are sharing with you here has a sponge cake base and is filled with creamy ricotta, sugar, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, and bright red Alchermes liqueur to make the entire dessert an explosion of color.
What equipment do you need to make zuccotto?
Here is a list of everything you’ll need to prep your kitchen to make this delicious Florentine dessert invented for the nobility.
whisk or electric hand mixer
mold for Zuccotto or medium-sized aluminum bowl
spatula or wooden spoon
9 in | 24 cm springform cake pan
Several medium-sized bowls
This dessert has a few different layers, so you will need to follow the recipe in order. However, none of the steps are difficult and you should be able to cook and assemble the dessert in about one hour. Be sure to leave plenty of time to let it chill in the refrigerator before serving.
Ingredients for making zuccotto
Flour (0.6 cups | 75 grams) – All-purpose flour or cake flour will work for this recipe.
Potato starch (0.47 cups | 75 grams) – not to be confused with potato flour, potato starch is used to make your sponge cake hold together.
White sugar (0.75 cups | 150 grams + 0.35 cups | 70 grams) – regular white sugar is all you will need for this recipe.
Eggs (5) – we love the bright color and fresh taste of farm-fresh eggs, but if you don’t have them then freshly purchased supermarket eggs will work well here.
Water (5 spoonfuls) – tap water or bottled water is fine, and then bring it to a boil either in the microwave or on the stovetop.
Baking powder (1 spoonful) – in Italy they usually use special packets of baking powder for making desserts, but you can simply use a large spoonful of baking powder.
Vanilla extract (1 small spoonful) – a small spoonful of vanilla extract will give your cake a delicious vanilla flavor.
Salt (1 pinch) – our preference is always for sea salt, but any fine salt will work here.
Ricotta (3.02 cups | 750 grams) – if you can get Italian-style ricotta, or better yet ricotta from Italy, we highly recommend doing so, but regular ricotta will work here as well. Make sure you buy it no more than one day ahead and use it as fresh as possible.
Heavy cream (0.63 cups | 150 ml) – you will want very fresh heavy cream, also called whipping cream, to give your zuccotto a rich, smooth flavor.
Unsweetened cocoa powder (2 tbsp | 10 grams + as needed for topping) – we love the bitter hint that unsweetened cocoa powder gives zuccotto and the elegant look of it dusted on top.
Chocolate chips (2.67 tbsp | 40 grams) – be sure to use a high-quality, dark chocolate chip for this recipe. Get the smallest mini chips you can find. If you don’t have chocolate chips, you can finely chop dark chocolate instead.
Alchermes liqueur (1.06 cups | 250 ml) – a bright red liqueur used in other desserts such as zuppa inglese, this unique liquor adds a splash of fantastic scarlet to the sponge cake. However, it isn’t always easy to find so you can substitute with rum, grappa, or brandy if desired.
How to make traditional Florentine zuccotto step by step
To make the sponge cake, start by preheating the oven to 350° F | 180° C.
Separate the yolks from the whites (photo 1) and put the whites aside.
Put the yolks in a bowl together with the 0.75 cups | 150 grams of white sugar (photo 2) and whip them with an electric mixer until fluffy and frothy (photo 3). When ready, the mixture should fall slowly from the whisk and form peaks (photo 4).
Add the boiling water one spoonful at a time, and continue to mix.
Finally, add the vanilla extract.
In a separate bowl, sift the flour together with the potato starch and baking powder (photo 7).
Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture one spoonful at a time, folding each spoonful gently into the whipped eggs with a spatula (photo 8).
Then add a pinch of salt.
In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites (photo 9) with an electric hand mixer and then gently incorporate the egg whites into the other mixture, folding them in carefully (photo 10).
Line a 9 in | 24 cm springform cake pan with baking paper and pour the dough in (photo 11).
Bake the cake for 30 minutes in the center of the oven and then test to see if the cake is done by inserting a toothpick in the middle to see if it comes out dry (photo 12).
Once done, remove from the oven and remove from the springform siding and let cool completely.
Now to make the ricotta and chocolate filling, start by draining the ricotta well and then straining it with a fine-mesh strainer to remove any excess liquid (photo 13). The ricotta should be as dry as possible.
In a medium bowl, add the ricotta and the 0.35 cups | 70 grams of sugar (photo 14) and mix well to make a cream.
In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream until it forms peaks and is stiff.
Now add the cream to the ricotta a little at a time, folding it and incorporating it gently.
Remove 1/3 of the ricotta cream mixture and place in a separate bowl and mix in the cocoa powder (photo 16).
To the other ricotta mixture add the chocolate chips and stir until uniform.
To prepare the zuccotto itself, take the cooled sponge cake and remove the crust, and then cut it into long slices about 1 cm thick (photo 17).
Take a zuccotto mold or a medium-sized round metal bowl and line the bottom with tin foil. Arrange the sponge cake slices in the mold so that the entire mold is covered in a layer of cake (photo 18).
Next lightly wet the sponge cake with the Alchermes liqueur (photo 19) so that the sponge cake turns a uniform scarlet (photo 20).
Fill the sponge cake dome first with a layer of ricotta cream and chocolate chip filling (photo 21) and then with a layer of ricotta and cocoa filling (photo 22).
Create a sponge cake “cover” (photo 23) which will be the base when you remove the dessert. Wet this layer of sponge cake with the remaining Alchermes (photo 24).
Cover the cake with tin foil and place it in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours to let it cool and take the form of a mold.
After the cooling time has elapsed, remove the first layer of tin foil and place the serving dish upside down over the mold. Now flip the zuccotto with the dish underneath so that it comes out directly onto the serving dish (photo 25).
Remove the tin foil gently and dust lightly with unsweetened cocoa (photo 26).
Your zuccotto is ready to be served!
Expert tips to use while making zuccotto dessert
Be sure to let your sponge cake cool completely before using it to form the zuccotto. Also, be sure to let the zuccotto chill in the refrigerator for at least three hours in the coldest part of your refrigerator so that it has time to harden into the mold and create the right shape and also won’t fall apart when you flip it over to remove it from the mold.
Variations: Can I use different types of cake or filling in zuccotto? What variations to the traditional zuccotto recipe can I try?
The answer is yes, and many! You can use all kinds of different cake-like substitutes for the sponge cake if you don’t have time and want to skip this step. For example:
Use Savoiardi or Pavesini cookies (also called ladyfingers in English, about 300 grams of this type of cookie will be needed to substitute the sponge cake in this recipe) instead of sponge cake. You can wet the cookies in milk or a water and sugar mixture before lining the zuccotto mold with them so that they are soft and malleable when creating the dome shape.
Use pandoro or panettone. In this case, you will use about 300 grams of either pandoro or panettone cut into 0.4 in | 1 cm thick slices to line the zuccotto mold. You will not need to wet it, as it should already be soft enough to form into the mold and then you can prepare exactly as you would the sponge cake by adding the Alchermes liqueur and then the filling as described.
Use gelato or ice cream instead of ricotta filling. Instead of making a ricotta and chocolate filling, you can use ~1 lb | 400 grams of chocolate chip or pistachio ice cream and ~1 lb | 400 grams of chocolate ice cream. Line the zuccotto mold as normal with sponge cake, then add a layer of the first type of ice cream which has been softened, and then add a layer of the second type of ice cream (also softened). Cover with sponge cake and then with tin foil. Put the entire cake in the freezer for at least 3 hours or until the gelato has become firm and the zuccotto has taken the form of a mold.
Check out other layered desserts:
How do I store zuccotto?
Zuccotto should be stored in an airtight container or Tupperware in the refrigerator.
Can I make zuccotto ahead of time?
Yes, zuccotto can be made ahead of time. Just keep the zuccoto in the mold and put in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Remove the dessert about 30 minutes before you want to serve it and dust lightly with cocoa powder before serving.
How do I serve zuccotto?
Zuccotto can be served cold on a dessert platter or cut into individual slices and served on plates. If you have filled with ice cream, consider drizzling it with chocolate syrup instead of cocoa powder.
Can I freeze zuccotto?
Yes! Zuccotto can be frozen, in fact, it must be frozen if you are using ice cream instead of ricotta filling. Just be sure to remove from the freezer at least 1 hour before if filled with ice cream to let it soften a little before serving. For the traditional zuccotto recipe, remove from the freezer at least 3 hours before serving so that it has time to thaw and is cool but not frozen when served.
How long does zuccotto last in the fridge?
You can store zuccotto in the fridge in an airtight container like a Tupperware or cake container for approximately 3-4 days.
Can I make gluten-free zuccotto?
You can make a gluten-free zuccotto by substituting the sponge cake with gluten-free pandoro or by substituting the regular wheat flour with rice flour in the sponge cake recipe. If you do decide to make the sponge cake, be sure that you choose a gluten-free baking powder (although most should be naturally gluten-free).
Tuscan Zuccotto Dessert with Ricotta and Chocolate Recipe
For the sponge cake
75 grams all-purpose flour75 grams potato starch150 grams white sugar5 eggs5 spoonfuls boiling water1 spoonful baking powder1 small spoonful vanilla extract1 pinch salt
For ricotta cream filling
750 grams fresh ricotta150 ml heavy cream70 grams white sugar10 grams unsweetened cocoa powder40 grams chocolate chips
To wet the sponge cake
250 ml Alchermes liqueur
Unsweetened cocoa powder as desired