Ricotta and chocolate filled sponge cake

Ricotta and chocolate filled sponge cake


1 small zuccotto
Lauren Bamford

Some say this very Florentine dessert of Italian sponge encasing a sweet ricotta filling dates back to the sixteenth century and may have been created by multitasking Renaissance architect Bernardo Buontalenti, who the Florentines also like to credit as the inventor of gelato. To me what makes this so Florentine is its shape – the dome so reminiscent of the more famous dome atop the Duomo. When I see rows of these bright pink domes in pastry shop fridges, I can’t help but think of the comparison, but actually the dessert probably gets its name from its similarity to the little red caps worn by priests, which are nicknamed zuccotti.

The pink liqueur that characteristically stains a zuccotto is Alchermes. A Tuscan liqueur that was once touted as an elixir for longevity and used to revive weary spirits, it’s now only used in a number of traditional desserts for its colour.

Zuccotto is made in two different ways: it’s either frozen and served as a semifreddo (rather like an ice cream cake) or it’s simply refrigerated and served fresh. With this one recipe, you can do either and both have good results, but I prefer the latter.


Quantity Ingredient

Pan di spagna (Italian sponge)

Quantity Ingredient
120g sugar
3 eggs
120g plain flour


Quantity Ingredient
500g fresh ricotta
75g caster sugar
200ml thick cream, whipped, (see note)
50g dark chocolate, finely chopped
30g candied orange peel, finely chopped
30g unsweetened cocoa powder


Quantity Ingredient
50g sugar
65ml alchermes


  1. Pan di spagna

    Preheat the oven to 160°C. Lightly grease a 22 cm round cake tin and dust with flour.
  2. In a metal bowl set over a bain-marie or double boiler, beat the sugar and eggs together with electric beaters until the mixture reaches 45°C and is doubled in size and pale, thick and creamy. This should take about 3 minutes. Fold in the flour, bit by bit, until smooth.
  3. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and springy. Gently remove the cake from the tin and let it cool on a rack.
  4. Filling

    Beat the ricotta and sugar togther until creamy. Fold the whipped cream through and divide the mixture evenly into two bowls. In one, combine the chopped chocolate and candied orange peel and stir to combine. In the other, add the cocoa powder and mix until thoroughly combined.
  5. Syrup

    Dissolve the sugar in 200 ml water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Take off the heat and add the Alchermes. Let cool.
  6. Assemble the zuccotto

    Line a deep, medium-sized bowl with plastic wrap. A mixing bowl shape is ideal, about 18 cm in diameter at the rim and 9 cm tall.
  7. Slice the sponge into 1 cm thick slices. Dip slices on the cut side, one by one, in Alchermes syrup and place a layer of the slices, with the dipped side facing outwards, side by side, until the bowl is completely covered. Brush the slices on the inside with some of the Alchermes syrup. Spoon on the white ricotta cream, covering the bottom and sides evenly. Spoon the cocoa ricotta cream inside and smooth over the top. Place more sponge slices side by side over the top, trimming where necessary, and brush with the rest of the Alchermes syrup.
  8. Cover with plastic wrap, place a plate on top with a weight (a couple of tins of tomatoes, for example) and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  9. To serve, remove the plate and plastic wrap from the top of the bowl and flip the zuccotto onto a serving plate. Remove and discard the rest of the plastic wrap and slice the zuccotto into wedges with a sharp knife.
  10. If you want to serve this frozen, freeze the zuccotto instead of refrigerating and remove from the freezer 1 hour before serving.


  • When whipping double cream it’s very easy to overwhip and end up with a grainy texture, so it’s best to either whip with a whisk to avoid overbeating or, if using electric beaters, to whip carefully on a lower speed until you see it become thick and fluffy. For those really nervous about over-whipping but who want to use electric beaters, add a tablespoon of milk to the cream before whipping to help avoid the problem.


  • If you have trouble finding Alchermes, a good substitute would be vin santo or another dessert wine (in this case you wouldn’t need the sugar syrup as it is sweet enough). Otherwise, use a mixture of kirsch, rum or Grand Marnier. If you are not a fan of candied orange peel, try the fresh zest of 1 orange in its place.
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