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Unlike most recipes today, this hemisphere-shaped semifreddo has a date of birth and a sure signature. We are around the middle of the sixteenth century, when, to honor the Florentine noblewoman and queen of France, as well as exporter of many gastronomic specialties, Caterina de’ Medici (perhaps on the occasion of a visit by Spanish ambassadors, but we are not sure), the architect and artist Bernardo Buontalenti conceived a preparation called “Catherine’s Helmet”.

How come? It seems that, initially, the zuccotto was made using the helmet of the infantrymen of the Florentine army as a mold. And furthermore, why did an architect think of this? Because in the midst of the Renaissance the boundary between intellectual and practical arts was much more blurred, and it often happened that artists were also engineers and that architects, as in this case, also created sumptuous desserts (have you ever heard of Leonardo’s recipes from Vinci and his plans for a “blender” and a “rotisserie”?). It was the same Buontalenti who designed the Forte Belvedere and completed the Uffizi and Palazzo Pitti who also invented a first, rudimentary ice cream maker with paddles – taking advantage of the availability of ice preserved in wells and cellars – thus contributing to the birth of another much-loved dessert.

The Zuccotto evolution

“Although the first testimonies say that sponge cake cut into slices to line the mould, Alkermes syrup with a beautiful red color and a filling of ricotta cream and candied fruit, the recipe has evolved. Today Strega liqueur is also used, for example. The filling? With ice cream and chocolate ganache. Or even ricotta, but flavored in various ways”

Then there are regional interpretations that take its shape but vary freely on the other ingredients. Like the Apulian one, more often called “spumone”, which includes ice cream on the outside and sponge cake in the center, with the addition of Marsala, dried fruit or meringue.

In Campania, especially in Avellino, they prepare it around August 15th, with the classic filling of ricotta and ice cream, but also hazelnut cream or cream. In some towns in Romagna, however, it is made at Christmas with zabaione and nougat; the same period in which, in almost everyone’s homes, zuccotto is a great joker for reusing pandoro leftovers.

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