Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cassata Alia Siciliana

I first saw this recipe, or a description and wonderful photos of the final product over at one of my favourite blogs, Cream Puffs In Venice. Ivonne and other bakers had made this Cassata Alia Siciliana over a Skype conference. I'm not sure how that all works, whether one person leads and says to add things and everyone does it and they continue, but it sounds interesting. What was even more interesting was the mention of a rum syrup. I was sold instantly. I love rum in anything sweet, with rum and raisin ice cream being my favourite all time flavour. Ivonne had linked to a detailed description of the recipe by Lis at La Mia Cucina. When I read the recipe, I wasn't so sure that I should make it. It seemed very complicated, for my inexperienced baking skills anyway. There were quite a few components and it would take some time to make the whole cake. But having just read about Duncan's forays into the Daring Bakers challenge, I was inspired to give this cake a go. It's not quite as hard as a Filbert Gateau, but it's my own Mount Kosciuszko.

As I was about to start making this cake, I also found another recipe write up of this cake by Helene of Tartlette. The only difference was that Helene used a cream frosting rather than an icing frosting. I also decided to go with the cream as I thought it would cut back the sweetness of the rest of the cake. In the end, the cream frosting was a great choice as the cake was quite sweet already.

So, how hard was it to make this cake? Well, it took me about 3.5 hours on day one to pretty much finish the cake and assembly it. Then on day two, it took another hour to try and frost it nicely. The components of the cake itself are not too hard to do. The only slight worry I had was that I thought my sponge cake batter looked a bit too dry and lumpy, but after it baked, it was perfect. The rum syrup was very easy to do, and the most annoying part of the buttercream was grating the chocolate and chopping the pistachio nuts.

The frosting part with the stabilised whipped cream looked really good. The extra gelatin gave it the firmer look and feel, like a professional cake that I'm so used to buying. Now I know how to achieve that look. However, trying to frost it nicely was still so hard. I have no idea how people get those cakes looking so smooth and flat. Maybe I need one of those cake turntable things and a big big frosting knife. Anyway, I tried my best to get it smooth.

The taste of this cake? Utterly divine. The combination of flavours works a treat. The rum is definitely there and is bold and assaults both your sense of smell and taste. Whilst there is a whole half cup of rum, the alcohol is mostly gone from the boiling I think so it's just this smooth flavour without the kick of the burning from the alcohol. The buttercream is a beautiful mixture tasting of the classic combination of chocolate and orange. The pistachios shine through occasionally as you bite into a piece. The sponge cake is very moist with all that syrup through it and holds everything together physically and flavour wise. Finally, the cream, as I said earlier, was a good decision as it helped to cut all that sweetness. And the decorative almonds did provide a nice crunch and flavour.

Lastly (yes this is a long post, but I'm really proud of this cake), the appearance is quite good I think. It's definitely nothing amazing, but it's the first time I've made a multi layered (more than two layers anyway) cake that has been properly decorated. I'm rather happy with the final result in terms of the look.

Cassata Alia Siciliana

makes one 9-inch cake, 10 servings

Sponge Cake Layers:
2 cups bleached cake flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon 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

Rum Soaking Syrup:
2 cups granulated sugary
3/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup rum

Cake 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

Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting:
2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/4 tsp powdered gelatin dissolved in 3 Tb. cold water

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.
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 fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium speed until very light and pale yellow in color and doubled in volume. Beat in the vanilla extract, followed by the melted butter. Transfer the egg mixture to a large, clean mixing bowl. Fold in the dry ingredient-quickly and lightly, 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 firm peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter quickly and lightly, incorporate any streaks of dry ingredients that remain.

Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans, rap the pans against the counter top to eliminate air bubbles. Bake 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 unmold and set them out to cool on a a wire rack.

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. Lower the heat and allow the syrup to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it cool.

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 (it will remain slightly gritty due to its original consistency). Add the grated chocolate, chopped pistachios, and beat just until combined.

Assembling the cake: 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.

Whipped Cream Frosting:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream with the sugar until soft peaks. In the meantime, dissolve the gelatin in the microwave for 10 seconds. Mine broke so I set the cup where the gelatin was in a large saucepan filled with a couple of inches of water, brought the water to a simmer and waited for the gelatin to melt. Slowly pour the gelatin in one steady stream over the whipped cream and continue to whip until firm. If you add your gelatin a little cooled and before the whipped cream is still at soft peaks stage, it should not clump on you.
Decorate your cake with the whipped cream and return the cake to the refrigerator to chill until you are ready to serve it, at least 3 hours.


  1. Looks great Thanh!

    Nice work.

    xox Sarah

  2. You should feel proud of this one, Thanh - you've totally outdone yourself!

  3. Yeah Fat Do,

    You did make a nice looking cake for once.

    Too bad no one else had a chance to try it.

  4. WOW! And I remember you telling me your skills weren't up to the Daring Bakers thing! Look at this... fantastic. Really glad you dived in and it came out so beautifully:)

  5. Thanks everyone. I'll keep trying more complicated things as this one was really successful.

    Oblivion, I'll make you a cake when you get your new high paying job where you will shout me a meal at Longrain.

    Duncan, the Daring Bakers thing is still too much pressure. I'll just keep going at my own pace.

  6. Wow, that looks great! You're far braver than me - I'm not sure I'd attempt something that layered.

    Make another one for the next bloggers banquet :)

  7. We would like to feature this recipe on our blog. Please email if interested. Thanks :)

  8. Sophie,

    Are you sure?

    There are plenty of other sites with the same recipe. At least they won't have snort and booger in their cakes.

    Kind Regards

  9. You didn't make that!!!

    Tell the truth Thanh, where did you buy it from!!!

  10. Sophie, I'm happy for you to add a link to my blog on your own blog. But I don't think I will be submitting my articles to appear on your blog.

    Oblivion, I have to admit something, the almond cake I gave you last time really didn't have almonds, it had my snot in it.

    Anonymous, if I had bought it, I would expect the icing to be a lot better than the crappy job I did.

  11. Fat Do,

    That's fine. I haven't had a bite of it.

  12. You did a fabulous job! Way too hard on yourself!! I don't have a turntable at the house so I put a plate on a coin and it spins around and round!!

  13. wow thanh, i'm impressed!

    my ability ends at baked cheesecakes and anything else that takes under 1 hour.

    i'm not sure if it's a skill issue, my disinterest in desserts (i'm more a savoury guy), or my attention span that derails my plans ;)

    keep up the good work.

  14. Hi Helen, thank you. My efforts are nowhere near yours. I never thought of using a coin or something to make a plate turn. I'm going to try that out, thanks for the tip.

    I love your blog by the way. The photos are stunning and the recipes all sound so good. I made the Choux Puffs with Grand Marnier Pastry Cream from your blog and it's the best tasting choux pastry I've ever eaten.

    James, thank you too. I was pretty impressed with my own efforts on this one too.

    I think its probably that you just don't like desserts as much as I do, hence don't bother learning how to make them.

    If you're interested, this cheesecake recipe that I tried is one of the best I've had.

    It's not an ultra quick one since you need to bake the base first and then bake the whole cheesecake, but it's really delicious.

  15. Wow this looks so beautiful!!!! You can make the V8 for me Thanh!