Upon my return from the beautiful Italian island of Sicily, I promised I would experiment with baking some Sicilian treats that I could share with you all.
Cassata is a traditional Sicilian cake and can be found everywhere on the island, from cafés to pasticcerias to restaurant dessert cabinets. It is traditionally a sponge cake, moistened with fruit juice or liqueur and filled with this cake’s namesake – ‘cassata’, which is a mixture of sweetened ricotta cheese, mixed peel and chocolate (it can be flavoured with vanilla also); and decorated with a layer of marzipan and icing, usually in pastel colours.
As you can see from the picture above, mine is far from traditional in the icing stakes! But it’s creamy ricotta filling and fruity flavour echoes its more authentic Sicilian cousin.
My inspiration came from Dan Lepard’s glorious tome, ‘Short and Sweet’. Indeed I followed his sponge recipe entirely, only deviating when it came to the filling, to which I added marmalade rather than mixed peel; and moistening the cake. He describes this as the ‘Sophia Loren’ of cakes, which I can only imagine denotes its elegance and refined and delicate flavour as well as its Italian roots. I hope you enjoy making this wonderful cake…
For the Cake:
- 125g Softened Unsalted Butter
- 125g Caster Sugar
- 3 Eggs, lightly beaten
- Grated Zest of 3 Oranges
- 200g Plain Flour
- 2 1/2 Tsp Baking Powder
- 25g Cornflour
- 75g Icing Sugar
- 75ml Cold Milk
- 50ml Orange Juice (or Grand Marnier) for moistening
For the Cassata Filling:
- 500g Ricotta
- 150g Icing Sugar
- 50g Dark Chocolate
- 2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
- 3 Tbsn Marmalade (Fine Shred)
For the Icing:
- 3-4 tablespoons Orange juice
- 125g Icing Sugar
To make the cake:
- Line two 18cm cake tins with greaseproof paper and preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (160 degrees for a fan oven).
- Cream together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add the beaten eggs little by little to the butter and sugar mixture, beating thoroughly after each addition.
- Fold in the orange zest.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, cornflour and icing sugar together into a separate bowl.
- Alternately fold a spoonful of the dry ingredients and then a tablespoon of the milk into the sugar and butter mixture until all ingredients are evenly combined.
- Divide the batter equally between the two prepared tins and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the centre of each cake feels springy to the touch.
- Leave to cool in their tins for 5 minutes before turning out onto wire racks.
- When the cakes are almost cold, poke some small holes into the surface of each with a cocktail stick. Drizzle the orange juice, or orange liqueur if you prefer, into each sponge to moisten.
To make the filling:
- Beat the ricotta with the icing sugar until smooth and fully combined.
- Finely chop the dark chocolate and stir in until the flecks are evenly distributed.
- Add the vanilla extract and marmalade and stir well.
- Place in the fridge to chill until needed.
To make the icing:
- Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.
- Gradually add the orange juice and stir until smooth and at ‘ribbon’ consistency. This means that when a spoonful of the mixture is lifted and trailed over the icing in the bowl, it will leave ‘ribbons’ on its surface and won’t simply blend in – if it disappears as it hits the icing in the bowl, add some more icing sugar until it thickens to the correct consistency.
Assembling the Cassata Cake:
- Place the bottom layer of sponge onto a plate. Spread with a generous layer of the Cassata filling.
- Carefully place the second layer on top.
- Using a metal spoon, drizzle the orange icing onto the cake.
I hope this cake will give you all a taste of Sicily and maybe even inspire you to visit the island one day! It is truly a charming and captivating place. Don’t forget to let me know how you got on 🙂