Requires: 1.5 litre pudding bowl (alternatively a round bowl), electric mixer (or hand beater)
Steps 1-8 to be completed 1 day ahead.
Preheat oven to 180°C conventional oven (400° Fahrenheit/Gas 6). Grease a 30cm round cake pan by lightly buttering the base and sides with margarine or butter. Line the base with baking paper, then lightly butter over the baking paper. Add a tablespoon of 00 flour, then turn and shake the tin to coat the butter in flour on the base and sides of the cake pan.
To make the Pan di Spagna (Italian sponge cake), use an electric mixer or hand beater to beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form. With the mixer (or hand beater) running, add the egg yolks, one at a time. Add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the cornflour, one tablespoon at a time. You want to see air bubbles rise to the surface of the cake mixture before adding additional tablespoons of cornflour. Stir the sifted baking powder and vanellina into the cake mixture. Add the lemon zest and stir until well combined. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared cake pan.
Bake the Pan di Spagna for 30 mins or until a skewer inserted in centre comes out clean. Allow to cool in the cake pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the alchermes syrup, combine the water, alchermes and sugar in a small saucepan over low-medium heat. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Set aside to cool.
To make the strawberries and cream filling, place the thickened cream in a bowl. Add the sifted icing sugar, instant skim milk powder, vanilla bean seeds (or vanilla bean paste) and orange zest. Use an electric mixer or hand beater to beat until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to use. Place the chopped strawberries in a bowl and set aside.
Tip: The skim milk powder is used to stabilize the whipped cream.
To make the zuccotto, line a 1.5 litre pudding bowl (or round bowl) with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic wrap to hang over the edge of the bowl. Cut the Pan di Spagna into 1.5cm slices. Arrange the Pan di Spagna slices tightly inside the entire bowl, trimming any excess and leaving no gaps.
Using a pastry brush, generously soak the sponge using 2/3 of the alchermes syrup. Spoon 1/4 of the cream mixture into the cake-lined bowl and smooth the surface using the back of the spoon. Arrange 1/4 of the strawberries on top of the cream. Continue layering using the remaining whipped cream and strawberries. Top with cake layers to tightly cover the top of the bowl. Brush the top of the Pan di Spagna using the remaining alchermes syrup. Cover the Zuccotto with the overhanging plastic wrap and top with a flat plate. Place a heavy can on top of the plate and place in the fridge to set overnight.
To serve, turn the zuccotto onto a serving plate. Remove and discard the plastic wrap. Dust the top of the zuccotto with icing sugar. Cut into 8 wedges to serve – buon appetito.