I’ve always known this dish as “crema” which means cream. A simple and delicious combination of cookies and cream. This is the dessert that my mother ate when she was a child in Sicily. I’ve also been eating it since I was a child and it is a favorite of mine. This is definitely a poor man’s dessert. I see it as a cheaper version of tiramisu as it doesn’t require any pricey ingredients such as mascarpone. I tried to do some research on this dessert and found nothing when I looked for “crema”. Instead I saw similar versions referred to as “crema della nonna” or grandma’s cream. I’m not sure that it is distinctly Sicilian but since the origin of this version of crema came from Sicily, I decided that’s what I would call it! Some use pastry cream with eggs rather than a cream thickened with cornstarch as my mother always did. As a result, this crema has a pudding like consistency. Crema is the simplest dessert you can throw together at the last minute, well almost last minute since ideally you want it to set for a while in the fridge. It’s even better the next day as the cookies become softer having absorbed the coffee mixture.
My mother always colors the cream with colored sugar crystals and may vary the color she uses, usually pink or green. The second layer of cream is usually chocolate flavored using either cocoa or chocolate chips. She explained that, of course, they did not have chocolate chips in Sicily and their crema was usually all white. Any dry cookies you have on hand can be used but we’ve always used “Village” cookies. The recipe I’m giving you is a scaled-down version and enough to fit into a 9 -inch pie plate which will make about 8 servings. My mother always doubles the recipe and makes hers in a large shallow bowl. This is definitely not a fancy dessert and therefore probably not your company is coming over go-to dessert. I guess it’s an acquired taste but for me, crema is that homey comfort food that brings me back to my childhood and for this reason alone I had to preserve this recipe.
And don’t forget to check out my cool video (just below) with step-by-step instructions!
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3 oz. cornstarch
- 3 tbsp sugar
- Pinch of cinnamon
- 3 inch piece of lemon rind
- 1 tsp colored crystal sugar sprinkles
- 1 tbsp. chocolate chips
- Approximately 18 dry cookies depending on size of cookies
- ½ cup brewed coffee
- Optional: 1 tbsp rum or liquor of your choice
- Cinnamon or cocoa powder for dusting
- In a medium sized sauce pan, add milk, cornstarch and sugar. Stir to combine. Add cinnamon and lemon rind.
- Place on the burner and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower to a simmer and stir until the mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and remove the lemon rind.
- Divide the mixture evenly in two bowls.
- Add sugar sprinkles to one bowl and stir until dissolved.
- Add chocolate chips to the other bowl and stir until melted
- Place cooled brewed coffee and rum (if using) in a wide shallow bowl. Cover the surface of a 9 inch round or square baking dish with cookies dipped in the coffee mixture. Break cookies to fit corners if necessary.
- Spread cream from one bowl over the cookies with a spatula.
- Place another layer of cookies dipped in coffee over the cream and spread the remaining bowl of cream over the cookies. Sprinkle with cinnamon or cocoa, if desired.
- Let rest in the refrigerator at least 4 hours before serving
Zuppa Inglese can be varied in several ways:
- Make a basic pastry cream (crema pasticciera) instead of the pudding like cream in this recipe.
- Low fat milk may be substitued however whole milk is preferable in this recipe.
- Use sponge cake or a different variety of cookies such as savoiardi (as used in tiramisu) instead of "Village" cookies
- Vary the color of your cream with different colored sugar crystals.
- Top your zuppa inglese with cocoa, grated dark chocolate or even finely chopped nuts.