Ricotta, chocolate, orange and pistachios. Not a bad combination, right? Well, that what we Bakenistas chose to bake this month, meaning cassata a la siciliana.
It´s the typical cake I would probably not tackle on my own, but is likely to surprise me, and this one certainly did, I absolutely loved it, it´s moist, chocolaty without being overwhelming, and has some extra crunch and flavor on top with the almonds and the candied orange peel.
The original recipe called for a rum syrup to soak the cake in, but I´m not much of a fan of rum and a friend of mine who is pregnant was going to be eating this cake, so I went with an orange-flavored syrup instead… oh and no almond extract in the glaze either, because I hate almond extract with a passion. I just covered the cake with actual almonds and candied orange peels and that was that.
Before I forget, I need to warn you that this cake is very filling (I´m thinking it´s the ricotta since it doesn´t have tons of butter or anything crazy like that), so you easily need 8-10 people to eat it. Luckily, Sunday was Día del amigo in Argentina, which is a day in which we celebrate friendship and friends, so a bunch of friends helped dispose of the cake that night. The recipe doesn´t say anything about freezing, so do a couple of minicakes halving the recipe or halve the recipe and do it in a loaf pan if you don´t want to be eating cake forever and ever… not that the cake isn´t worth it, but I just thought I´d let you know beforehand.
If you want to check out different takes on this cake and even some different frostings, see what : Lis, Ivonne, Helene, Ben, John, Chris, Stephanie, and Kelly did (Tanna, Sara , Laura and Mary didn´t bake with us this time around).
Recipe after the jump
Cassata alla siciliana
Makes one 9-inch cake, 10 servings
2 cups bleached cake flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a pinch
8 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick/4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
FOR THE RUM SYRUP
2 cups granulated sugary
3/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup rum
FOR THE FILLING
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup shelled whole unsalted pistachios
3 cups fresh, whole-milk ricotta
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Freshly grated zest of 2 medium oranges
FOR THE ICING
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 large egg white
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 cup sliced blanched almonds, toasted and
cooled, for garnish
Maraschino or amarena cherries, for garnish(optional)
Candied orange zest, for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F and position a rack in the center. Lightly grease two 9-by-2-inch round cake pans with butter or nonstick cooking spray, line them with parchment paper, then grease the parchment (since I don´t have two identical cake pans, I just did it all in one pan, which means increasing the baking time and a little less rising on the cakes).
To make the sponge cakes: Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt into a medium bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, use the whisk attachment to beat the egg yolks with the sugar on medium speed until very light and pale yellow in color and doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract, followed by the melted burte: Transfer the egg mixture to a large, clean mixing bowl. Fold in the dry ingredient-quickly and lightly, using a rubber spatula, stopping just before they are fully incorporated. Clean the whisk attachment and mixing bowl.
Place the egg whites and the pinch of salt in the cleaned bowl of the electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment on medium-high speed, beat the egg whites until the-form firm peaks. Fold the egg whites into the batter quickly and lightly; this will also incorporate any streaks of dry ingredients that remain.
Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans, smoothing the tops with a spatula. Bake the cakes for 35 to 40 minutes, or until they are golden brown, a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, and the cakes have begun to pull away from the sides of the pan. Allow the cakes to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then carefully rum them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
While the cakes are cooling, prepare the rum syrup: In a medium saucepan, stir together the sugar, water, and rum. Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring the contents to a boil, then lower the heat slightly and allow the syrup to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool.
Next, prepare the filling: Using a microplane or box grater, grate the chocolate into fine, feathery shreds. Using a sharp knife, finely chop the pistachios. Place the ricotta, confectioners’ sugar, and cinnamon in the bowl of an electric mixer and, using the paddle attachment, beat until the ricotta is creamy and soft. Add the grated chocolate, chopped pistachios, and orange zest and beat just until combined.
To assemble the cassata: Have ready a 9-inch springform pan. Using a serrated knife, carefully split each cake layer in half horizontally to make four layers. Place one of the layers in the bottom of the pan and, using a pastry brush, moisten it generously and evenly with some of the rum syrup. Spread the cake layer evenly with one third of the ricotta mixture. Repeat twice with another cake layer, more of the rum syrup, and another third of the ricotta mixture. Place the final cake layer on top and generously brush with the rum syrup. Wrap the springform pan tightly in plastic wrap; this helps the layers fit snugly on top of each other. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.
To prepare the icing: Place the sifted confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the egg white and water and beat the ingredients together with the paddle attachment on medium speed until the mixture is smooth. Beat in the almond extract (no almond extract for me, thanks!, I simply added a tiny bit of lemon extract, but no extract works as well since the cake is flavorful enough).
To finish the cassata: Remove the cassata from the refrigerator and carefully remove the sides of the pan. You may need to run a hot knife around the sides first. You may leave the cake on the bottom of the springform pan, or carefully transfer it to a cardboard cake circle with an offset spatula. Place the cake on a wire rack to ice it; you can place some parchment or wax paper underneath to catch any drips.
Spread the icing over the top and sides of the cake, spreading it evenly with a spatula. Scatter the toasted almonds over the top and let the cake sit until the icing sets. Return the cake to the refrigerator to chill until you are ready to serve it, at least 3 hours.
Before serving, carefully transfer the cake to a platter or cake stand, and, if desired, decorate the cassata with maraschino or amarena cherries and some strips of candied orange zest.