30×30: Cassata Cake

February 16, 2011 · 21 comments

in 30 by 30,desserts/sweets,italian

I have two favorite cakes.  One is simple and traditional: yellow cake with chocolate frosting. You really can’t go wrong with that classic combination.  My other favorite cake is less common and more involved: cassata cake.

I love cassata cake. And I mean LOVE.  Cassata is an Italian sponge cake that has the same type of filling you’d expect to find in a cannoli, which is one of my favorite desserts of all time.  (Sidebar: Chicagoans, where do you buy your favorite cannoli?)  I often requested cassata cakes for my birthday growing up (what can I say? I was a fancy kid.) and had one at my bridal shower, too.  But, as much as I love it, I’ve never attempted to make one on my own.  I have a bit of a fear when it comes to layer cakes in general, so I’ve only made them a couple times.

I saw this recipe on the lovely Helene’s site, Tartelette, and bookmarked it long ago.  The original recipe calls for orange zest, which Helene omitted but I included (although less than the original recipe calls for) and a glaze with a little almond extract.  I decided to use Helene’s stabilized whipped cream frosting (adding a splash of almond extract) because I think it suits cassata better and unlike the glaze—which had a raw egg white in it—could sit in my fridge a little longer.

Of course, with how delicious this cake is, I’m surprised it made it more than a day, anyway.   Everything about this cake was pretty amazing (well, except for the person decorating it.  Man does she suck.). The sponge cakes were great, the rum syrup was perfect for imparting a bit of rum flavor without being overwhelming and also in keeping the cakes moist, and the filling was delicious and not overly sweet.

This cake was pretty involved and time-consuming, but not difficult.  Keep in mind that the assembled cake needs to cool in the fridge for 4 hours before you can frost it, and then needs to set up in the fridge again once it’s frosted, so this isn’t a cake you’ll want to make a few hours before having guests over for dinner.  The only other time I’ve made a sponge cake was for a Boston Creme Pie.  The approach for this cake was a bit different and after I added the dry ingredients to the beaten egg yolk mixture, I was a bit worried because it was pretty thick and firm.  It made folding in the whipped egg whites a little more difficult, but ultimately it all came together.  I did find the recipe for the rum syrup to make a bit  too much.  I think  halving it would be too little, however, so you may want to scale it to about 2/3 of the recipe. Also, I used the convection setting on my oven and my cakes baked up in about 27 minutes, so definitely keep an eye on them earlier than the 35-40 minute mark called for in the recipe, even if you aren’t using convection.

Cassata Cake

Cake and filling adapted from Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen by Gina DePalma
Frosting adapted from Tartelette

Sponge Cake Layers:
2 cups cake flour, sifted
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt, plus a pinch for whipping egg whites
8 large eggs, separated
1.5 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

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

Cake Filling:
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup shelled whole unsalted pistachios
3 cups fresh, whole-milk ricotta
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
zest from 1 medium orange

Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting:
2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
splash of almond extract
1.25 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 tsp. 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 (it took 27 in my convection oven), 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 completely 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 cool.

Filling: using a microplane or box grater, grate the chocolate into fine, feathery shreds.  Finely chop the pistachios. Place the ricotta, confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon, and orange zest 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 1/3 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, and add in a splash of almond extract. In the meantime, dissolve the gelatin in the microwave (I did it for 20 seconds, but at 30% powder). 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.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanne February 16, 2011 at 5:29 am

You cannot even imagine how impressed I am. We used to have these cakes at every birthday celebration when I was growing up. They were gotten from the local Italian bakeries and were mindblowing. Even though I probably didn’t really appreciate them at the time. Yours looks gorgeous!

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Cate February 16, 2011 at 8:41 am

I’ve never had anything like this but I am adding it to the list of things to make! Also, I absolutely love the new blog look!

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Kelsey February 16, 2011 at 9:35 am

This looks and sounds just beautiful!

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Miss Nirvana February 16, 2011 at 9:41 am

I have never heard of this type of cake, but it looks amazing! I will have to try it.

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sally February 16, 2011 at 9:55 am

Yum! This looks fantastic! What could be better than rum soaked cake and whipped cream frosting!?!

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Peter February 16, 2011 at 11:26 am

That’s fabulousness served, Elly and that pistachio/ricotta filling sounds like something I could eat on its own.

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Joan Nova February 16, 2011 at 6:47 pm

I, too, like cassata cake but would never even think of making it. Great job! You’re really moving through that 30×30 list quickly.

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Elizabeth February 16, 2011 at 7:07 pm

I’ve never tried cassata cake, but this makes me want to seek it out asap! Looks delicious.

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Banana Wonder February 16, 2011 at 11:56 pm

I’ve never heard of this cake in my life?! Is it more of a midwest / east coast confection? Where have I been all this time, this looks like my potentially most favorite cake as well. I love th combination of rum, cream, pistachios and ricotta. Amazing, elly. I am bookmarking your recipe.

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elly February 17, 2011 at 8:06 am

I have no idea Anna, but it makes me sad you’ve never had it!

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Claudie February 17, 2011 at 1:10 am

I love the moist look of the interior of this cake. I can only imagine how tasty it is! Very nicely done!

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bellini February 17, 2011 at 1:28 pm

The new digs are very impressive Elly as is your cassata cake!!!!

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Jessica February 18, 2011 at 12:07 am

This looks amazing Elly! I have never actually tried a cassata cake! But now I feel I must try it soon!

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Ariana February 18, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Hi Elly, thanks for the cake recipe. I need to make one for husband’s birthday tomorrow, maybe this is it! As for cannoli in Chicago, the most authentic Italian ones are made at Pasticceria Natalina in Andersonville. Hers are from a sheep’s milk ricotta she imports from Italy, which is the typical cannoli cream base you’ll find there. The cannoli cost a bundle, so they are a very rare treat. New blog looks great btw!

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Alice February 21, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Made it last week — see my post. Wow, what an amazing cake!

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Rosemary February 23, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I know it sounds ironic, I’ve made cannoli, but never cassata! My hat’s off to you! Wonderful job! My Aunt Mary would adore it. I have made a cheater’s cassata — spreading sweetened ricotta and shaved chocolate between layers of (purchased) pound cake, and it’s good, but ain’t nothing like the real thing! I’m encouraged to do it! Thanks, Elly. (Great design, just great; seems to suit you!)

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Wendy July 15, 2011 at 1:04 pm

This is one of my favorite cake..It’s delicious..Thank you for the recipe

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Lori Lehe December 17, 2011 at 4:01 pm

As I am in the final stage of setting my Christmas Eve Dinner Party Menu, I remembered making this cake for another dinner party this Summer. I think I am going to make it again and serve it with homemade egg nog ice-cream.

If you haven’t made this cake, please do. It is superb and your guests will be very impressed with the looks as well as the taste. Elly, thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays Everyone, LL

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elly December 17, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Happy to hear you liked the cake, and are making it again for Christmas Eve! Merry Christmas! :)

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CQ December 16, 2012 at 8:34 pm

I made this for a friend’s holiday open house and it turned it great. Everyone raved about it. I plan on making it for my own Christmas Eve open house. Two thumbs up!

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elly December 16, 2012 at 8:49 pm

Glad you liked it!

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