This is a special post for me...........It's the one year anniversary of the start of "The Italian Next Door" food blog! (Well, technically, it was yesterday, but let's not get too picky.) Yes, it was just one year ago that I decided to launch out on "A New Adventure" ; an adventure that would allow me to indulge my love of cooking and baking in a whole new way......an adventure that would encourage me to be creative in new areas. I have to say that, over the past year, my computer and I have developed quite a close relationship. Yes, there have been bumps along the road, but, any relationship that means anything to you will require a high level of commitment and willingness to work it out, no matter what, right?
Last, but not least, this adventure has been a way to connect to all of you! I've made some new friends in the blogging world and have really appreciated their help and encouragement. I've loved sharing some family memories and a little bit of who I am with all of you that read and follow "The Italian Next Door". I'm looking forward to sharing more recipes, stories, etc. in the coming year but, for now, let's just celebrate with an Italian Cassata Cake!!
Since my Italian ancestors are from Sicily, I thought it only fitting to make a traditional Sicilian dessert to celebrate this little milestone. Cassata cakes are a traditional sweet from the area of Palermo in Sicily, Italy. There are many variations. This particular recipe is one I put together using elements from two sources...........Great Italian Desserts by Nick Malgieri (one of my favorite Italian cookbooks!) and a recipe I'd clipped from a magazine many years ago. I won't lie; this cake is a bit time consuming to make because it has several components. It's not something you whip up in an afternoon to have for dessert that night. But, it's really a celebration cake and, since this is a celebration, I think it's perfect!
A typical Sicilian cassata cake is made of sponge cake layers moistened with fruit juices or liqueur, filled with sweetened ricotta, candied fruits, and bits of chocolate, and covered in pastel-covered marzipan. The cake is then decorated with candied fruits, etc. My skill with rolling and draping marzipan still needs a little work, so I opted to cover my cake in a yummy chocolate icing this time around..Rich and delicious!!
One 9 or 10-inch sponge cake, baked and cooled (recipe follows.....or you could use a store-bought one)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. rum extract (traditionally 2 tblsp. white rum would be used, but since I have kids in the house,....)
Ricotta Cream Filling
2 pounds dry ricotta
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted after measuring
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. rum extract (again, the white rum would be used)
3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup diced, mixed candied fruits
1 cup apricot preserves
2 tblsp. water
6 squares semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup butter
2 tsp. instant espresso powder
1/2 cup hot water
3 cups powdered sugar
Decorations (or as you desire)
Mixed Candied Fruits
4 large eggs, separated
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
First, butter and line with wax paper or parchment, a 9-or 10-inch round cake pan that is 2" deep. Then, whisk the egg yolks with the vanilla.
Whisk in half the sugar and beat until very light and frothy, about 5 minutes.
Mix the flour and cornstarch and sift once to aerate.
Beat the egg whites with the salt, in a clean, dry bowl until they hold a very soft peak.
Add the remaining sugar in a very slow stream, beating faster, until they hold a firm peak.
Carefully fold the yolk mixture into the egg whites with a rubber spatula.
Sift the flour/cornstarch mixture over the eggs in 3 additions, folding them in gradually. DO NOT OVER MIX the batter!
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake at 350 degrees until it's well risen and feels firm when pressed gently with the palm of your hand. Immediately loosen the cake from the side of the pan with a small knife or spatula. Invert it onto a rack (Leave the paper stuck to it). Then invert it again onto another rack to cool completely. * * If you're not going to assemble the cake within a few hours, double wrap the cooled layer in plastic wrap an put in the refrigerator, up to 5 days (or freeze).
While the cake is cooling, you can make the other parts of the cassata cake. To make the rum syrup, bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small pan, stirring occasionally. Take off the heat and add the rum extract. Set aside to cool.
To make the ricotta cream filling, press the ricotta through a fine sieve into a mixing bowl.
Now, sift the powdered sugar over it and beat it in, using the whisk attachment. Continue beating until it's very light textured.
Beat in the vanilla, cinnamon, and rum extract. Then stir in the chocolate and candied fruit. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill until you need it.
To make the apricot glaze, combine the preserves and water in a small pan and bring to a boil over low heat, stirring occasionally. Then strain it into a bowl and cover loosely, at room temperature.
Now you're ready to assemble the cake:
Divide the chilled cake horizontally into 3 even layers. Remove the parchment from the bottom layer and place on a serving plate.
Brush the layer with some rum syrup and spread half of the ricotta filling over the top.
Add the middle cake layer, brush with syrup, and spread on the other half of the ricotta filling. Place the top layer over the filling and brush with more syrup. Now brush the remaining syrup and the apricot glaze over the entire cake. Carefully cover with plastic wrap and chill to firm up the filling.
While the cake is chilling, make the chocolate icing:
Melt the chocolate and butter together over hot, simmering water.
Remove from the heat and add the espresso powder that has been dissolved in the water.
Mix in the powdered sugar until smooth. Now, chill until thick enough to spread.
When the icing has thickened, remove the cake from the refrigerator and place waxed paper strips underneath to protect the plate while you're frosting and decorating. Frost the cake and decorate as desired.
Carefully remove the strips of waxed paper. Store in refrigerator, loosely covered in plastic, and take out a little before serving to let icing soften a bit.
Note: I know this seems like a rather complicated recipe, but, keep in mind, you don't have to do everything on the same day. All of the components of the cake can be made 1 or 2 days ahead. Then just assemble it the day you want to serve it. NO FEAR, FRIENDS! It's worth it!!
This Cassata Cake is DELICIOUS!!
It tastes like Italy to me!
For a printable recipe, click here.