The cannoli. One of the many pastry concoctions my family holds near and dear to their Italian hearts. Since I was born, Cannoli's would appear on our dessert table from esteemed New York City Italian pastry shops to be quickly devoured by each member except myself. Anything that was not chocolate did not pass these lips for a very long time - too long, but I think I've redeemed myself. Each aspect of a cannoli is perfection in it's own right, beginning with the shell. A cylindrical, fried to perfection, crisp and sturdy bassinet to cradle the delicately dense ricotta cream filling. The ricotta cream is perfectly blended with sugar to create a subtle sweetness to it's rich flavor and texture and a hint of cinnamon to complete the delight.
It's only fitting that the Cassata Cake was a starring guest, although infrequently, at our birthday tables. My mother would be the only one to tackle this complicated cake besides an Italian bakery. She made it for my Grandpa on his birthday and now I would make it for her on her birthday.
I really wanted to make this perfect so I sought out to find exactly what the components of a Cassata Cake were and go from there. The cake layers were Italian sponge cake which is purely leavened from all the eggs in the recipe and filled with cannoli cream although they added other things to cream that I didn't usually find in standard cannoli cream. Their were different ways for topping the cake such as chocolate glaze but my mother is a vanilla-o-holic, so vanilla glaze won.
I chose a recipe from Nick Malgieri for Pan Di Spanga cake layers and my cannoli cream recipe from epicurious.com to compile my Cassata Cake.
Pan Di Spanga
adapted slightly, curteousy of dianasdesserts.com
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
5 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, divided
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 or 10 inch spring form pan (the original suggested lining with buttered parchment but I did not have any).
In a small bowl stir together flour and cornstarch.
In bowl with an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, whip egg yolks and half the sugar and the vanilla on medium speed for 2 minutes, until they are light and fluffy.
In another bowl, with whisk attachment for electric mixer, whip the egg whites and salt on medium speed until white and opaque. Add remaining sugar 1 tbsp. at a time, and continue whipping until whites hold firm peak when whisk is lifted.
Using a large rubber spatula, fold yolk mixture into whites. Sift 1/3 of flour mixture over eggs and fold in; repeat 2-3 times until all the flour has been incorporated. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until well risen and well colored. About 30-40 minutes (30 was too little for me and when I took it out and thought it was done the top-middle portion was too wet; I'd give it closer to 40).
Remove cake from oven and run knife around edges to loosen; remove sides. Slide cake onto wire racks to cool. Cool completely before slicing to be used for other cakes; Refrigerate or freeze for 1 day for more even cut layers. It can be refrigerated for several days before use.
adapted from Epicurious.com - Silician Cannoli Recipe
1 lb ricotta (2 cups) + 2 oz
1/2 cup confectioners sugar, scant
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
Beat together ricotta, confectioners sugar, and cinnamon with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Fold in chocolate and chill.
From this experience, I would highly suggest making this 1 or 2 days ahead so as the filling sits you can drain the water a few times during the day for a denser, less wet filling. Or I suppose you could strain the ricotta prior to mixing.
Assemblage was cutting the cake into two layers and spreading the cannoli filling between the layers and pouring a vanilla glaze over the cake and decorating with more mini chocolate chips.
For the record, the cake was outstanding; there was a tiny piece left which was devoured quickly the next night for dessert. I really enjoyed making this cake especially for such a special birthday for a truly special person- my mom.
The sponge cake was light and sweet and perfectly complimented the mild ricotta filling; the vanilla glaze gave a super sweet contrasting bite which was very enjoyable. I would definitely make this cake again, perhaps experimenting with some different toppings/glazes.