The Zuccotto Fiorentino
The Zuccotto Fiorentino
Duration: 110 mins
Nutrition value: 295 kcal
Portions: 6
Level of difficulty: Easy

Signor Buontalenti was, in my humble opinion, one of the most inventive cooks of all time. He worked for the aristocratic family de Medici, which surrounded themselves with talent, just like Michelangelo who worked under the Medici's tutelage as well. This recipe is one of those classic and ancient Buontalenti recipes, the zuccotto, a sponge cake dough drowned in liqueur with a center of semifreddo.


Today Zuccotto is defintiely considered a typical Florentine dessert, mostly thanks to Bernardo Buontalenti who played such an important role in the culinary traditions of Florence, however it seems to have spread throughout Italy and has many different versions. The Zuccotto used to have a much more distinguished name, which is rarely used today: The Elmo di Caterina, the helmet of Caterina. It is said that the first ones were formed using a combat helmet from Catherina de Medici's infantry, Zucca meaning "head" in Tuscan dialect.

The original recipe used ricotta cheese mixed with cream, chocolate or candied fruit (citrus) for the semifreddo filling, the outer layer was flavored and colored with bright red alchermes liqueur. Alchermes is notoriously difficult to find outside of Italy so just use Maraschino cherry liqueur or another type of sweet liqueur. 

lmo di Caterina a zuccotto with the red color of Alkermes liqueur
Elmo di Caterina

The association of ice cream makers who still make the original Elmo di Caterina

According to an expert from the association of artisanal Florentine ice-cream makers there are only two authentic recipes for zuccotto. One includes fresh cream, Italian meringue, ricotta, cake dough, plus the Alchermes of the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella and 70% Amedei Toscano chocolate. The other zuccotto uses candied fruit instead of chocolate but also includes fresh cream, Italian meringue, ricotta, cake dough, the Alchermes of the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella.

This recipe I am using today is derived from the original recipe by the association of Elmo di Caterina. After some experimentation, including an attempt with rose petal flavoring, they chose to keep the white colored filling of ricotta and use 70% Tuscan chocolate (Amedei) and a light sponge cake made of oil and flour. Just use the recipe below as a guideline and don't be afraid to make with your adaptation of choice. 

When in Florence

When visiting Florence you may like to drop by the following ice cream parlors, all members of the association of Elmo di Catherina to taste their version. 

Ballerini -  via L. Da Vinci, 2/4 - Signa
Gelateria Malotti  - Piazza Cavour, 14-16 - Scandicci
Ice Dream in de Via Costetti 7/9 in  Florence
I Gelati del Bondi in Via Nazionale, 61r - Florence
Trattoria Nerone in Via Faenza, 95/97R - Florence
Trattoria Cornelius in via Faenza, 62R - Florence
Trattoria Bondi in Via Nazionale 45/47R - Florence 
  • 1 250-300 g sponge cake slices or lady fingers
  • 320 g ricotta 
  • 250 ml fresh cream
  • 50 g confectioners' sugar
  • 10 g cocoa powder
  • 50 g chocolate chips or candied fruit 
  • 70 ml red alchermes liqueur, maraschino or another sweet liqueur
  • 30 ml water
  • round baking pan or a deep pudding dish
Recipe steps:
  1. The simplest way to make zuccotto is by buying sponge cake and cutting it into thin slices each of about two thirds of an inch, I actually used the broad lady fingers or Savoiardi from Sardinia called Pistoccus.
  2. Line the dish with a layer of plastic cling film and place the cake slices in the dish next to each other taking care not to overlap. 
  3. In a small bowl, mix the liqueur with water and brush the cake with the liquid.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta cheese with the powdered sugar.
  5. Beat the cream until light and add it to the ricotta mixture, gently fold the two mixtures together.
  6. Now take 1/3 of the mixture, transfer it to a second bowl and add the sifted cocoa to it and mix into a creamy batter.
  7. In the bowl with 2/3 of the ricotta, add the chocolate chips or candied fruit.
  8. Pour the dark mixture into the mold and smooth it out using a spatula. Pour the light mixture on top and again smooth it with the spatula.
  9. Cover with a few more slices of cake and press lightly. Cover with plastic cling film and refrigerate for at least three hours. Serve by turning the whole thing over and onto a plate and sprinkle with cocoa powder.

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