Italian sweets

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.

cassata

cassata

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.

candied orange peels

candied orange peels

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.

cassata

cassata

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.

cassata

cassata

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

(from Gina de Palma´s Dolce Italiano)

Makes one 9-inch cake, 10 servings

FOR THE SPONGE CAKES
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.

Instead of the rum syrup, I made candied orange peels and used the leftover syrup from that with some extra water and sugar as the syrup for the cake.

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.

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13 Comments

Filed under food, sweet

13 responses to “Italian sweets

  1. Great thinking…replacing the rum with orange. This cake is a perfect offering for celebrating friendships. Like our little virtual baking sessions. 🙂 Looks beautiful!

  2. Beautiful production. Wish I had the guts to try it.

  3. Your cake is soooo pretty! I love the orange peel & almonds on top!

    And I hate almond extract with a burning, searing passion too! heee!

    xoxoxoxoxoxo

  4. Ben

    I absolutely loved this cake because I love anything that has to be soaked in rum overnight :-p But I bet your orange syrup was great, too. It looks so lovely and yummy. I still have some in the fridge and I need to eat it today before it goes bad. I’ll have to make the BIG sacrifice. LOL

  5. Your cake looks really great Marce. I actually think I like the look of the dry ricotta filling. Makes for a truly rustic look. I may have to try and find some here when I finally get to make it.

  6. sleepingbear

    Oh yes, this was definitely a cake for friends and I am sure those you shared with loved you for it!!! Wonderful job!

  7. Ok…am I the only one giggling at the 6th picture (cake on table)…looks like a divine intervention!! Not that you needed help but it made me jump. Wonderful job!

  8. Itsasne

    Ciao dalla Italia!!

    just few words to say that your cassata may be really good and original but doesn’t look to me as cassata siciliana. Check it with youtube.

    Anyway, I enjoy your blog very much.

    Grazie!
    Itsasne (I am not Italian, I live in Verona since 2003… ups! I getting old…)

  9. Susan in CA

    Been missing your posts. Glad to see you back and the cake looks great!

  10. Thanks everyone!

    Helene: I totally agree with you, that 6th picture is totally unusual, but honestly I just love it for some reason. And a divine intervention never did hurt haha

    Itsasne: Thanks for commenting. I know that probably isn´t a traditional version of a Sicilian cassata, I just followed the recipe we chose (with some modifications), and it was delicious. I´ve never tried the real deal, so I cannot tell the difference at this point… but I´m willing to sacrifice and head to Sicily as soon as I can to give it a try (I got to Capri when I went to Italy, but not Sicily, but I´m planning to fix that as soon as possible 🙂

    Susan: Thanks for that sweet comment, I wasn´t aware anyone missed my posts! I know I have been less than regular with my posting lately, it´s just that work and life have been quite fast paced, so I get to the baking and the cooking, but rarely to the writing. I hope that goes back to normal soon.

  11. wow! your photos have gotten amazing in this post…. did you get a new lens? or am i just really hungry… 😀

    xo

  12. Julie

    My husband’s Italian grandmother made a special “rum cake” that he loved…of course, the recipe was only in her head and I could never find one to suit him. Now your cake has become his birthday cake and he says it’s even better than Nonna’s! It is soooo yummy.

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