Cassata Alla Siciliana

Cassata, an Italian sponge cake, is one of the more lavish desserts in the Italian repertoire, and its provenance is traced to Palermo, Sicily. In its original form, there is a lot of time involved in making the actual cake, not to mention the various layers (and in some versions layer upon layer of ice creams) and adornments that go on top, to the point where the cake ends up looking like it just came from a beauty shop. Unlike the round, traditional round shape as was originally made, some cassatas are made in the form of a rectangle, square or box. It’s interesting to note that the word “box” in Italian is “cassata,” and it is likely that the word “cassata” originated from this term.

I usually make a cassata sometime during the Christmas season, so my idea here is that you might offer this as a special dessert in December. And, if you can handle it, offer the whole cake to go for your customers who are having a holiday party or wish to bring along something special as a hostess gift.

The recipe below is easy to put together and properly deserves the “cassata alla Siciliana” designation. However, feel free to be creative. For example, instead of regular pound cake you could use a lemon pound cake. Using a liqueur is optional. In some of my versions of this delicious cake, I replace the candied fruit with drained crushed pineapple (about 1/4 cup in the recipe below).

CASSATA ALLA SICILIANA
Yield: about 8 generous servings

1 fresh pound cake, about 9-inches long x 3-inches wide
1 Pound ricotta, drained of any excess water
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons Amaretto (optional)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped candied fruit

Square up the pound cake by slicing off the ends (and level the top if it is rounded). Cut the cake horizontally into 1/2-inch slabs.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the ricotta, cream, confectioners’ sugar, and the optional Amaretto. Fold in the candied fruit.

On a large platter lay the bottom slab of the cake and spread a portion of the ricotta mixture over it completely. Place another slab of cake on top, keeping the sides and ends even. Spread on more of the ricotta mixture. Repeat until you have put together all of the cake slabs and the filling has been used up, ending with a plain slice on top. Press down gently on the loaf to compact it a bit (once it is chilled it will firm up).

Refrigerate the cassata for at least 2 hours or overnight (a 2-3 day shelf life is about right) before adding the chocolate frosting.

CHOCOLATE FROSTING

12 ounces semisweet chocolate cut into small pieces
3/4 cup espresso or strong black coffee
½ pound chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inches pieces

In a heavy sauce pan set over low heat, combine the chocolate and the coffee. Beat constantly until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter piece by piece. Keep beating until the mixture is smooth. Chill the frosting to a spreadable consistency. Using a small spatula, spread the frosting over the top, ends, and sides of the cassata. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 12 hours before slicing and serving. 

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