I enjoy making my own liqueur from time to time. So when I came across a recipe for an ancient Italian liqueur called Alkermes, I jumped at the chance to make it. Alkermes is a spicy-sweet liqueur with a subtle floral aroma. It originated in Tuscany and has been popular throughout Italy since the Renaissance era. Today it is still made by the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy in Florence, using the same recipe they have used since the 1700’s. They use a combination of spices, rose water, and a small insect called kermes to give the liqueur it’s bright red color, hence the name Alkermes. This same small insect is also used to color Campari.
Alkermes is used in many different Italian desserts, to include the Zuccotto. The Zuccotto is a dome shaped cake, out of Florence, made from pandoro or sponge cake and filled with a whipped cream (or ice cream), ricotta, and mascarpone mixture. It’s a fairly simple cake to put together and a great dessert to present at a dinner party. The sweetness of the Alkermes goes great with cake.
Zuccotto is usually made with a bit of candied fruit in the filling, but since it’s hard to find in the major markets in my area outside of the holidays, I used chopped pistachios instead. Their flavor worked well with the different spices of the Alkermes and the chocolate in the filling. Once the Zuccotto has had time to set in the fridge (or freezer if you’re using ice cream), it is generally served with a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar over the top.
Makes: 1 1/2 quarts
2 1/3 cups pure grain alcohol or vodka
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 to 2 blades whole mace or 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
4 whole cloves
3 tablespoons candied orange peel
3 whole star anise
1/2 vanilla pod, cut into small pieces
2 1/2 cups sugar, plus more to taste
3 1/2 ounces rose water
Red food coloring
Combine the alcohol with 1 1/4 cups of water in a sealable glass container such as a mason jar. Add the cinnamon, coriander, mace, cardamom, cloves, orange peel, star anise, vanilla, and stir to combine. Leave the container, sealed, at room temperature for two weeks, shaking the container daily to combine the ingredients.
After two weeks, combine the sugar in 2 cups of warm water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add it to the alcohol and seal the container. Let it rest for another day or two, then taste, and add more sugar or water if you like. Strain it into a clean sealable glass container and stir in the rose water and enough red food coloring to get a bright red color.
Serves: 8 to 10
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup Alkermes
12-15 ounces pandoro cake, pan di Spagna or sponge cake, thinly sliced
1 1/4 cups heavy cream or 2 pints of your favorite flavor ice cream, softened
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for garnish
2 1/2 cups ricotta
3 1/2 ounces milk or dark chocolate
2/3 cup chopped candied orange peel, candied fruit, or fresh fruit
3 ounces mascarpone cheese
Put the sugar in a small bowl and add 1/2 cup boiling water. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then stir in the liqueur.
Line a 2-quart bowl with plastic wrap and brush with the liqueur mixture. Line the bottom and sides of the bowl with most of the cake slices. Fill in any gaps with small pieces of cake.
In a large bowl, using a whisk or electric mixer, whip the cream until it soft peaks form, then add the confectioners’ sugar and whip until stiff. (If you’re using ice cream, just let it soften a little, then follow the rest of the directions here) Fold in the ricotta. Divide the mixture into two roughly equal parts, between two different bowls.
Grate 1 ounce of the chocolate and blend it and the candied fruit into one mixture.
Combine the mascarpone with the remaining chocolate in a small bowl and heat, either in a microwave or over a double boiler, until the chocolate melts. Blend the chocolate-mascarpone mixture into the second ricotta mixture.
Brush most of the diluted liqueur mixture over the cake. The cake should be almost saturated. Reserve the rest of the liqueur mixture for the final bottom layer of cake.
Spread the chocolate-mascarpone mixture, over the cake slices. Next, fill in the remaining area with the ricotta-candied fruit mixture.
Brush the remaining cake slices with the remaining liqueur and arrange them, liqueur side down, over the cake, then brush the bottom of the slices. Cover the filling completely and trim to fit, if necessary. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate (or freeze if using ice cream) at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.
Invert the cake onto a platter. Remove the bowl and the plastic wrap. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and serve.
Note: The liquid to moisten the cake can vary from sweet liqueurs to diluted jam.
Recipes from Italy Magazine