BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked

Around the World in 80 Plates: Bologna, Italy

33 Comments

Florence and Bologna may be separated by a mere 75 miles or so, but the cultural differences are truly worlds apart. Bologna, Italy, part of the Emilia-Romagna region is nicknamed as both “the learned one” (la dotta) and “the fat one” (la grassa) in reference to its eponymous university and rich cuisine, respectively. A telling indication of what’s to come, Bolognese food pulls no punches, and doesn’t hold back when it comes to meats, cheeses, and pastas. What does this mean for a vegan with a sweet tooth? …Very little. After briefly toying with the idea of a dessert ravioli, I decided to spare you that cutesy interpretation, and look deeper into traditional desserts of the area. Like any city worth visiting, it does have a number of tried-and-true, classic sweets all its own. Nuts, wine, and many eggs seem to color the dessert menu, but what caught my eye was the curiously named zuppa inglese.

You’d be forgiven for believing that you were ordering “English soup” based on the direct translation, but in fact the dish couldn’t be further from that description. Thought to be named after the inspiration of an English-style trifle, it’s actually more like tiramisu, but minus the coffee and plus a more powerful punch of alcohol. Cake or lady fingers are dipped into bright red liqueur known as alchermes, which gains its otherworldly hue from cochineal (beetles.) Luckily, many variations on the theme exist on this very popular Bolognese dessert, and the general consensus is that anything red will do. Rather than an insect infusion, a simple mixture of bright red maraschino cherry juice and ordinary rum fit the bill quite nicely. In the same “anything goes” mentality, some recipes call for vanilla custard, while others lavish their lady fingers with a rich chocolate pudding. Why choose when you can have both? The alternating layers keep each bite interesting, and blend beautifully with the boozy, fruity biscuits.

Tune in to Bravo this coming Wednesday at 10/9c to see how the chefs manage a second round of Italian inspiration!

Zuppa Inglese

1 Batch of Lady Fingers from Vegan Desserts (page 222)

Cherry Syrup:

1/2 Cup Liquid from Maraschino Cherries, or Grenadine
3 Tablespoons Rum

Vanilla and Chocolate Custard:

1/2 Cup Raw Cashews, or 1/3 Cup Raw Cashew Butter
2 1/2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
5 Tablespoons Cornstarch
2 Teaspoons Arrowroot
1/2 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
Pinch Salt
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
2.5 Ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or Finely Chopped Chocolate

Chocolate Curls or Shavings
Natural Maraschino Cherries
Dark Chocolate Crisps

You’ll want to prepare the lady fingers first so that they’re completely cool before you use them. Cut them so that the pieces are 2-inches long and will fit flush against the sides of your mold. For the dipping syrup, simply stir together the cherry juice and rum in a small bowl. Set aside.

Place two 2-inch square silicon ice cube trays on a sheet pan for easy maneuvering later on. Have the lady fingers and syrup nearby before beginning to make the custards.

If using a high-speed blender, toss in the cashews and grind them down to a coarse meal. If using a food processor or traditional blender, just plop in the cashew butter. Whole cashews should only be used if you have the horsepower to blend them completely smooth; otherwise, your dessert will be gritty. Gradually pour in the “milk” with the machine running to more easily combine the two. Pause to add in the sugar, cornstarch, arrowroot, nutritional yeast*, and salt. Blend on high until completely smooth. Pass the mixture through a strainer to ensure there are no remaining bits of nuts.

Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and set over moderate heat. Whisk gently until it comes up to a full boil, and then remove the pot from the stove. Stir in the margarine and vanilla, whisking until the margarine has completely melted. Pour about 1/3 of the hot custard into a medium bowl, and to that bowl, add the chocolate. Let that sit for a moment so that the chocolate can melt, and then stir thoroughly until entirely smooth and perfectly chocolatey.

Working quickly, pour 1 – 2 tablespoons of the vanilla custard into the bottoms of each cube mold. Dip the cut lady fingers into the syrup, and press them gently into the molds to cover the bottom layer. Follow that with 1 – 2 tablespoons of the chocolate custard, and then another layer of dipped lady fingers. Finally, pour vanilla custard in to fill the molds to the top. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before moving the sheet pan of both molds into the freezer. By freezing them solid, they will be much easier to remove and handle. Let rest in the freezer for at least 3 hours.

Meanwhile, you can create a quick sauce from the leftover dipping syrup by cooking it over low heat, until it reduces down to a thicker consistency. Just keep a close eye on it and bear in mind that it will continue to thicken a bit as it cools. Set aside.

Once the custard stacks are thoroughly frozen, gently pop them all out onto the tray. The alcohol in the lady fingers won’t freeze, so those layers will have a tendency to separate. Just coax the whole thing back together as needed, and reassemble if necessary. Let the custards thaw at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before serving.

To serve, first drizzle a plate with the reduced cherry syrup, and place one cube of layered custard in the center. Top with a generous handful of chocolate curls or shavings, a chocolate crisp, and a maraschino cherry, to garnish.

Makes 10 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe

For participating in this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.

Author: Hannah Kaminsky

Author of My Sweet Vegan, Vegan Desserts, Vegan a la Mode, and Easy as Vegan Pie.

33 thoughts on “Around the World in 80 Plates: Bologna, Italy

  1. What talent, it’s lovely, art, perfection! You’re the best, you can be proud of you!

  2. So beautiful! I will HAVE to make this one. Thank you for sharing such beautiful food.

  3. oh my gosh!!! what a truly magnificent work of art!!! WOW!!!! it is plated so beautifully — i love the colors and the height! bravo!

  4. This is a piece of art, it looks too beautiful to eat :)

  5. That is absolutely stunning!

  6. Wow, that is beautiful! I want to lick my computer screen

  7. Amazing! I wouldn’t go so far as licking my computer as Sarah mentioned (lol!) but I do want to reach in and eat it.

  8. Sweet and smart :) Looks awsome…

  9. Beautiful! Your desserts are always so stunning. I do a lot of big Italian dinners for my friends and family, this would be perfect for those fancier occasions! Thanks for sharing.

  10. Oh Hannah, another amazing dessert…looks so tasty and so beautiful!
    Love all the layers…
    Thanks for sharing this recipe and hope you have a great week ahead :)

  11. This looks absolutely gorgeous my friend – I knew Italy had range but I didn’t realise like this :D
    Lovely!

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

  12. The premier chefs in Bologna will have you on their auto dial. Beautiful dessert. I do hope everyone in the Bologna area is recovering after the quakes. Take Care, BAM

  13. Gorgeous layering there!

  14. That looks spectacular!

  15. this looks amazing, can’t wait to give it a try!

  16. Anything that even so much as resembles tiramisu sounds dreamy to me! Ohhh how I want this.

  17. Cherries are much better than bugs for that nice red color. I love that you used both the chocolate and the vanilla too! Delicious!

  18. Oh wow, cherry, chocolate, lady fingers–this sounds like one incredible dessert!

  19. YUM! I love cherries. Cherries and lady fingers, now that’s a dream.

  20. Wow, is this dessert a real stunner! And beetles? Very interesting. I’d try it, but I think I’d much prefer your version, lol!

  21. Ummm… I’m speechless. That looks incredible, and I would pay you at least $750 if you’d come over and make me one right now! :)

  22. Amazing!
    searched for a cool recipe for a vegan dessert for a loooong time….
    will make one for my best (vegan) friend ;)

  23. Hi Hannah,
    This looks simply stunning ! I have a question about the recipe, why did you add two kinds of starches , just curious . Thanks

    • Thank you! I used the both arrowroot and cornstarch here because arrowroot provides a fantastically creamy, “stretchy” texture, but it would never thicken enough to solidify and hold together in layers by itself. Adding more would simply make a paste-like, slimy substance, which is not so delicious. The cornstarch gives it a bit more structure, so the two combined give you the best of both worlds.

  24. I can imagine the taste of this dessert! Alcohol, Maraschino cherries, chocolate and vanilla custard on a soft sponge! Love the way you glam up the dessert! =)

  25. Reblogged this on Cook Delizioso and commented:
    Looks delicious! :)

  26. It looks great and I am found of individual serving !
    The ingredients make me think of Black Forest, with chocolate sponge-cake layers with cream & cherries in between and some icing either white or chocolatey.
    I wonder if you taste the cashews a lot ?

    • You actually don’t taste the cashews at all! They are pretty bland to begin with when they’re raw, and a strong, full-bodied vanilla really does have much more power than it gets credit for.

  27. Then I need to re-work on my tiramisu, because I think you taste too much of the cashews in the mascarpone. I also soak them, so maybe if I use them raw as you did it would taste less.
    Thanks again for your response :D

  28. Pingback: Top 10 desserts of 2012 | Vegan Food In My Life

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,702 other followers