You wouldn't think that I'd visit Italy and not come home wanting to cook Italian, would you? Italy has changed my perception of Italian cuisine. Real Italian cooking, I've found, is simpler and the taste 'lighter' than what is served outside of Italy and it's hard to replicate many of the Italian dishes because freshness and quality of the ingredients are most important. The fresher and better the ingredients, the lesser the fuss, seasonings and condiments. I can make a good curry with not-so-outstanding potatoes and meat but I can't make a great insalata caprese with bland tomatoes, inferior mozzarella and olive oil.
When I flip through my Italian cookbooks, I realize that I'd forgotten to eat so many things in Italy. Sicilian cassata is something I wanted to make for a very long time. I ate Sicilian cassata gelati in Italy but forgot to eat the cake. Next time, I must make a list of the things to eat.
I wasn't very happy with this cake because despite reducing the amount of sugar, it still turned out very sweet. However, the the cointreau and the mixed peel gave the cake a gorgeous flavor, reminding me of Christmas and the sponge, made with very little butter, was perfect for the liqueur and syrup. I think a softer and richer sponge would not hold up well with the syrup. Another mistake I made was not draining the water from the ricotta cheese, resulting in a cheese frosting that was gloppy and wet instead of light and fluffy. I would prefer mascarpone to ricotta cheese for this cake because mascarpone is smoother but then that wouldn't be true to the recipe.
The sugar and peel in the recipe below has been reduced and should be fine but you can sweeten it further if like. You can stretch the frosting by adding whipped cream to the ricotta mixture.
Sicilian Ricotta Cake/Cassata siciliana (makes 2 loaves)
1 large 'greaseless' sponge cake or Swiss roll sponge
750g ricotta cheese, drained well (press the water out)
zest and juice from 1 orange
6 T caster sugar (or to taste)
1 t pure vanilla extract
3 oz candied peel*, chopped finely
5 T orange-flavored liqueur (eg cointreau)
toasted almond slivers & extra candied peel* for decoration
*or use a mixture of Maraschino cherries, angelica and citrus peel
1. Beat with a hand whisk the ricotta, vanilla, orange zest, 2 T of the liqueur and the sugar until well-blended. Cover and chill. Mix the remaining liqueur and orange juice.
2. Slice the sponge cake into 1 cm thick and then into pieces to fit 2 loaf pans of about 9"/23 cm long, lined with baking paper. Lay the sponge on paper-lined pans, then drizzle the sponge with about 1/3 of the liqueur syrup. Remove about 1/3 of the ricotta mixture, cover and leave in fridge. Spread 1/2 of the remaining ricotta mixture over the sponge, pressing down firmly and evenly. Repeat the sponge, drizzling of syrup and ricotta layering, ending with a sponge layer. There should be 3 layers of sponge and two layers of ricotta. Level the top by pressing lightly, cover with a piece of baking paper and chill for at least 6 hours, preferably longer. Chill the reserved ricotta mixture.
3. Remove the baking paper, run a palette knife around the loaf pan and invert onto a flat serving plate. Peel off the baking paper. Cover the cake, sides and top, with the remaining ricotta mixture and decorate with the extra candied peel. Chill before serving.