Last month, I wrote about the fun I was having with my new Thermomix and the brioche bread I could finally make without getting sticky fingers. So I started making it more often. However, I found that there were times when demand and supply didn’t meet. I don’t like wasting bread at all and tried to think of ways to upcycle excess brioche. I happened to mention this predicament to my mum. She reminded me of what my nonna would do with leftover panettone and pandoro after Christmas. Basically, she would use slices of leftover panettone to make a zuccotto with a gelato filling.
Intrigued by this idea, I started researching the history of this dessert. As it turns out, its origins are in Renaissance Tuscany. The ruling family of Florence, the Medici, commissioned noted painter, sculptor and architect (who just happened to be a passionate gastronome too!) of the day, Bernardo Buontalenti, to prepare sumptuous banquets to dazzle court guests. Buontalenti’s chilled dome-shaped dessert, dubbed ‘zuccotto’, appears to have made a particularly good impression on his patrons and visiting dignitaries.
Several legends abound about the origin of the name zuccotto, which means ‘little pumpkin’. Some say it was inspired by the shape of the dome of Florence’s cathedral. Others claim, that, at the time, ‘ zuccotto’ was the name for a helmet and the dessert was referred to as this for its resemblance to this piece of armour. Another theory has it that the name derives from zucchetto, the word for a cardinal’s skullcap, similar in shape to the dessert.
Originally, zuccotto was prepared in a semi-spherical mould lined with slices of pan di spagna dipped in Alchermes liqueur and filled with a paste made of sweetened ricotta, almonds and candied fruit. It was then placed in deep wells filled with snow and ice. It appears to be the first recorded semifreddo dessert in history.
These days, you will find many variations on the original recipe. For instance, you may come across zuccotto recipes with gelato fillings like my nonna’s. I, however, really like the ingredients – especially the ricotta and candied fruit – in the traditional filling. It must be my Sicilian heritage. I therefore decided to make my first zuccotto (with a couple of modifications) the traditional way. Here is my recipe for making it:
- 1 large loaf brioche bread
- 800 g sheep ricotta, well drained
- 200 g icing sugar
- 80 g candied fruit, finely chopped
- 80 g chocolate chips
- Marsala, for brushing brioche slices
- Extra icing sugar, for dusting
- A large bowl, for mould
- A mixing bowl
- A wooden spoon
- A pastry brush
- A potato masher
- Cling film
- Cover large bowl with cling film. Ensure wrap is hanging over edges.
- Cut the brioche bread into slices about 1cm thick
- Cover the bowl with brioche bread slices.
- Brush slices liberally with Marsala.
- Place ricotta in a mixing bowl and mash with potato masher.
- Add icing sugar, candied fruit, chocolate chips and a tablespoon of Marsala.
- Place ricotta mixture in brioche-lined mould and spread mixture.
- Cover the top with brioche slices.
- Leave in refrigerator to set overnight.
- Remove zuccotto from mould onto a cake platter.
- Dust with icing sugar and slice. Buon appetito!