I’m sitting here eating cake. It’s 10:45 am, I slept decadently until a quarter past nine, and no one is here but me and my cake. And it’s not just any cake.
I know. I never heard of it before last week, either, but when you are in the company of the baking-obsessed and whimsical group of lovely food bloggers that I often find myself…well. You make cassata. And yes, it’s lovely for breakfast with a side of caffeine while your dog stares at your empty plate just waiting for an invite, and your cat squalls at you just because she can.
Here’s how this happens. Amongst the myriad emails that fly back and forth between the people in this group, someone mentions a recipe. Links are forwarded, photos emerge, then others start throwing their suggestions in the hat. Each one seems better than the last, of course, and when a selection is made, then we know we’ll all have our Skype ready to go on a particular day and time. Yep. The Bakenistas stuck again this past weekend. And at my house, that means my Mac was hefted down to sit in the maelstrom that is my kitchen when I bake.
The only problem with this particular session is that the night before, I made a last minute S’mores cake to take to a family get together and didn’t clean the kitchen. It was one of those, "We went to Italy and all we brought back was 750 photos that we’ll now share with you" type of evenings. And since the Bakenista session was scheduled for 7am my time the next day, it meant that I’d have to start baking with a: 1) full dishwasher that needed emptying; 2) two sinks full of dishes; 3) a counter still sporting ingredients I’d need for the cassata; and…wait. I’ll show you. And at this point, I’d already begun to clean somewhat. What a pig.
But I digress…I slept until past 8am, so by the time I lugged my Mac to its appointed spot, the bake chat was in full swing, and there’s absolutely no way you can start from the beginning to see what you missed while you were getting your beauty rest.
It was fun, just like it always is, but it was involved, and as soon as my cassata was in the fridge cooling, I had to start dinner — yes, these bake fests take most of the day. But in a very clean kitchen, I was able to put dinner on the table…erm our laps. Television on a soft sofa was a definite requirement after this day.
Cassata alia Siciliana
For the Sponge Cakes
2 c. bleached cake flour, sifted
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt, plus a pinch
8 lg. eggs, separated
1-1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
For the Syrup
2 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. cold water
1/2 c. Marsala FINE
For the Filling
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely grated
3/4 c. chopped almonds
3 c. fresh, whole milk ricotta
1 c. confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Freshly grated zest of 2 medium oranges
For the Icing
1-1/2 c. heavy cream
1 tsp. gelatin dissolved in 2 tbsp water
1 c. confectioner’s sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
8 oz. cream cheese at room temp
For the Candied Orange Peels
Skin from two large oranges
Left over Marsala Syrup
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and position a rack in the center. Lightly grease two 8" round cake pans with cooking spray, then line the bottom with parchment and spray again.
For the sponge cakes, sift together flour, baking powder and salt, then set aside. In the bowl of your mixer, whisk together egg yolks and sugar on medium speed until very light and pale yellow in color. In about 3 minutes, it will double in volume. Beat in the vanilla extract, then slowly pour in the melted, cooled butter. Pour the mixture into a large mixing bowl and fold in the reserved dry ingredients using a rubber spatula until just mixed. It will be very thick and somewhat sticky. Do not over mix.
Clean the bowl of your mixer and the whisk to remove all egg yolks, then add the egg whites and pinch of salt, beating on medium high speed until soft peaks are formed. Add about 1/4 of the egg whites to the reserved batter and stir to lighten, then add the rest, folding to incorporate, and lighten the thickness of the batter. Make sure no pockets of dry ingredients remain.
Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans, smoothing the tops with a spatula. Bake the cakes for 30 minutes or until they are golden brown, when a wooden skewer inserted in the center is clean when removed. Allow cakes to cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.
While the cakes are baking, make the syrup. In a narrow saucepan, stir together sugar, water, and marsala. 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 undisturbed. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool.
Then prepare the filling. Place the ricotta, confectioner’s 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 almonds, and orange zest and beat just until combined.
To assemble the cassata, have ready an 8-inch springform pan. Using a serrated knife, carefully spit each cake layer in half horizontally to make four layers. Place one of the layers in the bottom of the pan cut side up and using a pastry brush, moisen it generously and evenly with some of the marsala syrup. Spread the cake layer evenly with one third of the ricotta mixture. Repeat twice with another cake layer, more of the marsala syrup, and another thired of the rictta mixture. Place the final cake layer on top and generously brush with the rum syrup. Wrap the springform pan tightly in plastic wrap to help the layers fit snugly on top of one another. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.
About halfway through the chilling period, make the candied orange peels. Slice the ends off each orange, then in a downward motion, make parallel cuts through the skin around each orange. Remove strips from the oranges, and if desired, adjust the thickness of each by slicing in half.
In a pan of boiling water, drop the orange peel strips in, and let cook for a minute or so. Drain and repeat. Then with the marsala syrup left from the cake, stir in orange peel strips and heat, simmering on a very low setting for about an hour. Remove strips with a fork, and a few at a time, drop and roll in a plate full of granulated sugar. Remove to a wire rack lined with waxed paper until dry.
To make the frosting, in the bowl of a mixer, whip heavy cream until soft peaks form. Add the softened gelatin, then whip until stiff. In another bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar, salt and vanilla until smooth. Fold the whipped cream into the cheese mixture and make sure all is incorporated.
To frost the cake, spread icing on the sides smoothly, then mound the rest on the top. Place candied orange peels around the top and refrigerate to set the frosting about 1 hour.
Watch husband, mother, and finnicky teen eaters gobble it up when served after dinner.
- This cake has the all important "not too sweet" factor going on. The ricotta and bittersweet chocolate are a pleasant combo — especially since the chocolate isn’t melted as it usually is. Very nice! The crunch of the well-chopped almonds added to the uniqueness of this filling. The grated orange peel is only a hint in each bite.
- The sponge comes together rather oddly. It’s very, very thick before the addition of the egg whites, and I did wonder whether there would be any air left in the whites as I incorporated them. My worries were unfounded, because the cakes rose very well, and after slicing each in half, allowed for four 1-inch layers. Nice!
- The original recipe called for unsalted pistachios and after having my husband call from the grocery store several times not being able to find them, I settled for almonds. No complaints about my husband doing the shopping, of course. That’s a treat.
- The original recipe also called for rum, and I’m sort of Bleh on rum unless it’s a Pina Colada, so marsala wasn’t a difficult choice. The syrup was not boozy tasting and the marsala was a perfect compliment to the orange. Pleasantly surprised! Cointreau or Gran Mariner would have been too strong in my opinion, which is only worth about two cents on most days.
- I had to have cream cheese and whipped cream with this cake. I needed a fluffy, not too strong, light and pleasant accompaniment to the sponge and dense filling. So thanks, Breadchick, for the suggestion. It was perfect!
- The recipe calls for chocolated grated in "fine, feathery shreds." Um. This takes FOREVER. But when you’re done, you’ll have quite the pile of chocolate feathers. And chocolate everywhere in your kitchen. Not bad if you have light colored floors and counters, but take a gander at mine again. It sort of blends in, doesn’t it. What. A. Mess.
- If you don’t have an 8" springform pan, line a larger one with plastic wrap so that the long edges are draped up and over the edges. Place the first layer of the cassata into the pan, then begin the process of layering. When you’re finished, draw the plastic up over the cake and wrap tightly before refrigerating. Use the plastic to lift the cake from the pan for frosting. Yes, I did this.
- I’ve made candied orange peels a variety of ways, and I do have to say that adding them to that left over marsala syrup was genius (pats self on back). The bitterness never quite goes away even though the initial blanching is supposed to get rid of it, but the marsala really helped tone it down. A bite of candied orange peel on a perfectly loaded fork really tastes yummy.
And a final note — Not much gets me up early on Sunday without my eyebrows! But these folks will, and even though not all of us are able to bake or chat when we get together, it’s a great experience.
This time, Lis, Ben, John, Steph, Helen, Chris, Ivonne, and Marce added to the madness. Mary was laid up with a back injury but ubiquitously there, and unfortunately, Sara, Tanna, and Laura had other things to do on a lovely Sunday. Imagine that!
Until next time. And who knows when that will be. It’s always a surprise.
Cassata, anyone? I am pleasantly surprised, because I didn’t think I’d enjoy this as much as I have.