Italian American Cassata Cake
(adapted from a recipe by Bev Shaffer)
The cassata siciliana consists of round sponge cake moistened with fruit juices or liqueur and layered with ricotta cheese, candied peel, and a chocolate or vanilla filling similar to cannoli cream. It is covered with a shell of marzipan, pink and green pastel colored icing, and decorative designs. The cassata is finally topped with candied fruit depicting cherries and slices of citrus fruit characteristic of Sicily. The “Cleveland” cassata first appeared in the early 1920s at the local Italian bakery LaPuma Spumoni & Bakery. The children of the owners did not like traditional cassata cake, made with sweetened ricotta, chocolate chips, and candied fruit. Using what they had in the bakery, Tomasso LaPuma created what was to become the Cleveland cassata cake. The fifth generation of this bakery still continues to make the original version of this cake at their bakery of the same name on Cleveland’s Eastside. The picture below is the one I am most familliar with, although the recipe is the traditional cake.
2 cups cake flour, sifted
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons orange liqueur or fresh-squeezed orange juice
2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese (a must, low fat will be runny)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
2/3 cup mini chocolate chips or grated chocolate
1 pint heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
grated or shaved semi-sweet chocolate, for garnish
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour an 8×4 or 10×5 inch loaf pan. Add the ricotta for the filling to a wire strainer over a bowl to drain off some of the liquid. Store in refrigerator.
2. In a large mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and beat on low speed until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each. Stir in milk and vanilla, beat on medium until smooth. Batter will be thick.
3. Add batter to prepared pan and bake 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from center with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool in pan on wire rack 10-15 minutes then turn out onto wire rack and cool completely.
4. In a small saucepan whisk sugar and water together, cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Stir in orange liqueur or juice. Remove from heat and set aside.
5.To make the filling whisk ricotta, sugar, zest and chocolate together. Keep refrigerated until needed.
6. In a large mixing bowl add heavy cream, whisk on medium until it begins to thicken, add cream of tartar and confectioners’ sugar. Beat on medium speed until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate until needed.
7. To assemble cake slice into 3 equal layers. Set bottom layer on dish and brush or sprinkle the simple syrup over top. Add 1/2 of the ricotta filling and spread evenly. Set the next layer down and repeat. Brush bottom of top layer with syrup and set on top. Frost with whip cream and sprinkle chocolate garnish over top. Keep refrigerated, cut into slices for serving.