Cassata reale - Sicilian cassata

by Ray McVinne | Cuisine issue #155
Serves: 8-10A traditional Sicilian cassata is a cake-like trifle - not the ice-cream that many of us are familiar with.

I have always liked the picture of the cassata reale in Anna Tasca Lanza’s book, The Heart of Sicily. This is my version, with the addition of chocolate. Many people dislike marzipan because it is often made with almond essence, which can be acrid in smell and taste. This version is simply ground almonds and sugar.

Marzipan
1 cup ground blanched almonds
1 cup caster sugar
1 drop green food colouring
icing sugar for kneading

Process the almonds, caster sugar and food colouring in a food processor until well mixed and smooth. Continue to process, adding 1-2 tablespoons of water until a thick paste forms. It should be quite stiff.

Dust a clean surface with icing sugar then knead the marzipan briefly until smooth and malleable. Put in a bowl, cover and refrigerate.

Sponge
6 eggs
180g caster sugar
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
180g flour, sifted

Preheat the oven to 200°C and line the base of a 45cm x 32cm shallow cake tin with baking paper.

Beat the eggs, sugar and zest until very thick, pale and creamy. Gently fold in the flour. Pour into the tin then bake for 10 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the sponge comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tin. Invert on to a clean tea towel and peel off the paper. Reserve.

For the syrup, filling, icing & to assemble
1 cup sugar
finely grated zest of 1 orange
4 tablespoons grappa
2 cups ricotta, beaten until smooth
1⁄2 cup dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1⁄4 cup diced candied citron, plus extra to decorate (I get mine from Sabato)
1 cup icing sugar, sifted, plus extra for dusting
2-3 teaspoons lemon juice
cherries to decorate

Put the sugar, 1⁄2 cup water, zest and grappa in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil for 4 minutes then remove from the heat and cool completely. This is the syrup. Reserve.

Put the ricotta, chocolate and citron in a bowl and mix well. This is the filling. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Put the icing sugar in a bowl and add enough lemon juice to make a thick but spreadable icing. Reserve. Line a 22cm-diameter x 5cm-deep loose-bottomed cake tin with cling film.

Dust a clean surface with icing sugar then roll the marzipan out to about 5mm thick. Cut 2 strips wide enough to line the sides of the tin in 2 pieces then carefully place in the tin, pushing it on to the sides gently to adhere. (Roll the offcuts into a ball, cover and refrigerate. They will last for up to a month and can be formed into small balls then dipped in melted chocolate to make petits fours.)

Break the sponge into large pieces then use half the pieces to make a layer, with no gaps, in the base of the tin. Spoon half the syrup evenly over the sponge. Spread the ricotta mixture evenly over the sponge then top with another layer of sponge. Spoon the remaining syrup over the top. Cover and place in the fridge to set for at least 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, remove the sides of the tin then invert the cake on to a serving plate. Remove the base of the tin and peel off the cling film then spread the icing over the top.

Decorate the cassata with cherries and citron. Serve in wedges.

Wine - Asti Spumante.

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