Truman Capote: Italian Summer Pudding

How long can you last before thinking about what to cook for dinner? It’s a rare occasion when I make it past lunch. Usually by my morning commute, I’m already gone – dreaming up recipes as I walk to the subway, devising shopping lists at lunch, dropping by the farmers’ market on the way home. So I know how Truman Capote felt when he wrote: “Food. I seldom think of anything else.” That kind of sums it all up, doesn’t it?

I’ve always loved eating food, but it wasn’t until I moved to New York—and had a kitchen to myself—that I began to love cooking it. If an aspiring writer needs a room of her own, a budding chef needs a kitchen: a private laboratory where she can experiment to her heart’s (and stomach’s) content. Capote’s chance came in 1950, when he settled down in Sicily with his partner Jack Dunphy. Capote always had a personal cook, but in Sicily he began to explore the kitchen himself – “an unmanly activity, I suppose, but very relaxing and the reward is delicious,” he wrote after a day making fruit preserves. Plus, he noted, storing jam was great way to “do something with these old gin and wine bottles,” a tip destined for the Pinterest boards of boozehounds everywhere.

What began as a way to pass the time became a food obsession, with a particular focus on sweets. After graduating from humble Toll House cookies to fancy chocolate confections, Capote ultimately took on the amateur cook’s triathlon: For Christmas in 1951, he presented Dunphy with a turkey, chestnut stuffing, and a multilayer orange almond cake.

Despite his new culinary chops, though, Capote’s favorite treat was something he didn’t make. In 1962, on a trip to England, he and his friend Cecil Beaton lunched with the Queen Mother. But the royal company didn’t impress Capote – the dessert did. It was “the best cake I’ve ever tasted – a sort of chocolate cream stuffed with fresh raspberries,” he wrote. He wasn’t shy about expressing his enthusiasm, either; years later, Beaton remembered his friend cheering with joy when it was served. Because when a good dessert is involved, who can be bothered with a stiff upper lip?

* * *

I thought about attempting Capote’s orange almond cake, but this Memorial Day weekend in New York was so hot and sticky, I couldn’t even contemplate turning on the oven. Luckily, there’s no baking necessary for Capote’s favorite dessert, the one he raved about at the Queen Mother’s tea party.

But what was it, exactly? The editors of Capote’s letters call the cake a “summer pudding,” but the typical English version doesn’t have the chocolate or cream that Capote praises. Italian summer pudding, though, hits his description on all counts: creamy chocolate mascarpone and macerated raspberries, with layers of coffee- and rum-soaked ladyfingers. It’s tiramisu with a summer twist – and after making it, I can say with authority that Capote had reason to jump for joy.

(Adapted from

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
3 cups raspberries, divided
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
4 tablespoons rum, divided
4 eggs, separated, plus one additional egg white [Using uncooked eggs can pose a heath risk, so use only grade A or pasteurized eggs in your pudding.]
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup mascarpone cheese
2 cups prepared instant espresso
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
14 ladyfinger cookies, with rounded edges trimmed to fit lengthwise in a 5×10 loaf pan

1. In the top of a double boiler over simmering water, melt chocolate, stirring until smooth. Set aside to cool.

2. In a small bowl, combine half the raspberries, the powdered sugar, and 2 tablespoons rum. Stir until raspberries are coated, and set aside.

3. With an electric mixer on high speed in a large bowl, beat egg yolks and granulated sugar until pale and thick. Beat in mascarpone and cooled chocolate. In a separate medium bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into mascarpone mixture.

4. In a shallow dish, mix espresso, vanilla extract, and remaining 2 tablespoons rum. Working quickly, dip ladyfingers into the espresso mixture and place in a single layer, lengthwise, in a 5×10 loaf pan. Spread half the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers, then cover with mascerated raspberries, followed by the remaining mascarpone. Cover and chill 4 hours.

5. Garnish top of pudding with remaining raspberries and serve. Whoop with joy. Invite the queen.


8 thoughts on “Truman Capote: Italian Summer Pudding

    1. I love no-bake too, especially this time of year! I’m still looking for a no-bake cookie that I like, though – I fear it can’t be done. If you find one, let me know!

    1. Thank you, Ileana! I would never go through enough jam to warrant a wine bottle’s worth, either. I usually just make them in tiny batches on the stove – enough for two days or so. Yum!

  1. What a great citation! I just hits the point of my own thinking, to be honest….perfect for the about page on my blog (just started it)! Thanks for the fun story of the queen mum tea party!

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