Valentina is the youngest member of a long line of Anglo-Italian gourmets. Cook one of her finest desserts recipes below, and you’re sure to wow the whole family.


Tuscan cream and chocolate pudding

This delicious iced pudding is intended to look like the traditional helmet of a Tuscan mercenary going into battle, which in turn was named after a small, rounded pumpkin. It’s not difficult to make desserts like this; the most fiddly part is the stencilling at the end. If you prefer, just dust the whole thing with icing sugar, then lightly dust with cocoa powder. This is a great dessert to keep as a standby in the freezer. Divide the mixture in half and make two smaller bowls if you wish.


75g hazelnuts

115g unsweetened cooking chocolate

Ready-made basic sponge cake, preferably 25cm

90ml brandy

60ml amaretto di saronno

1 litre pints double cream

75g blanched almonds, coarsely chopped

30ml plain chocolate drops

30ml chopped mixed crystallised peel or glacé fruits

150g icing sugar, sifted, plus extra for dusting

30ml unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting

And now for the fun part…

  • Lay the hazelnuts out on a baking sheet and toast them under a hot grill, turning occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until golden. Hold a few hazelnuts at a time in a dish towel and rub off their skins. Cool and chop, then set aside.
  • Melt the cooking chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Remove the bowl from the pan.
  • Take a large bowl and draw a circle slightly larger than its circumference on a sheet of stiff paper. Cut out the circle and set it aside. Line the bowl with foil.
  • Slice the cake into strips about 4cm wide, dip each strip in brandy, then in Amaretto, and press the strips against the sides of the bowl to line it. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Fold the hazelnuts, almonds, chocolate, mixed peel or glacé fruits, and sugar into the cream.
  • Transfer half the cream mixture to another bowl. Stir the melted chocolate into one half of the cream.
  • Spoon the white cream over the base and sides of the cake-lined bowl, then use the chocolate cream to fill the hollow in the middle. Level the top with a spatula. Place in the freezer for at least 3 hours.
  • Meanwhile, fold the circle of paper into eight and cut out four alternate sections.
  • Shortly before serving, turn the zuccotto out on to a platter. Remove the foil carefully, and, using a sieve or strainer, dust with the remaining icing sugar.
  • Lay the cut-out circle of paper on top of the zuccotto. Carefully hold it in place and dust it with the cocoa powder. Remove the paper carefully. You should now have alternate segments of brown and white, which is the traditional design. Serve the dessert immediately.