Sunday, March 24, 2013

Carmela Soprano's Cassata / Iced Sponge Cake with Ricotta Filling l Palm Sunday Customs

And almost everybody has fresh palm leaves to prove it!

In Malta, on Ħadd il-Palm, both palm leaves and olive leaves are used.
Many parishes there have a shrine of 'Jesus prays in the Olive Garden' (Ġesù fl-Ort).
In memory of that, people take a small branch of olive to their homes.

In Italy palm leaves and small olive branches are also used.
These are placed above the door, where they stay until the next Palm Sunday.
Small olive branches are also used to decorate traditional Easter cakes.

In parts of the world where it's difficult to get palms, other traditions have arisen.
Palm Sunday is also called Yew or Willow Sunday, or just Branch Sunday.

Whatever branch or leaves you have, it's a day to celebrate.
It is time to make a nice dessert.
And who would know better dessert recipes than Bobby Bacala.
Bobby's chapter If I Couldn't Eat, I'd F**king Die in Artie Bucco's
The Sopranos Family Cookbook has terrific traditional recipes.
They're not something you can whip up in a few minutes.
His Cassata is fancy, yet light.
I mentioned Cassata in the post about Carmela Soprano's Ricotta Cheesecake.
Ricotta is a nice low-fat cheese.

The Cassata would be a perfect dessert for Easter.
Not everybody thinks fancy bread is a true dessert.
If you need a quick dessert today, Ma's Cannoli is similar but fast.
No, Ma's Cannoli is not as complicated as Carmela's Cannoli.
Really.  Take a look.

The sponge cake layers can be prepared up to 2 days in advance.
Wrap in foil or plastic wrap.

The filling can be prepared up to 24 hours in advance.
Cover and refrigerate.


For the Sponge Cake

Preheat oven to 375º
Grease 2 9-inch layer cake pans
Line the bottom of the pans.
Grease the paper.
Dust the pans with flour and tap out the excess.

In a large mixer bowl, beat at low speed
6 large eggs, at room temperature
Slowly add (gradually increasing the mixer speed to high)
2/3 Cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Beat until the egg mixture is thick, light and fluffy, about 7 minutes.

While the eggs are being beaten, place in a sieve
1 Cup flour
Shake about 1/3 of the flour into the egg mixture.
Using a spatula, very gently fold the flour into the eggs.
Repeat, in 2 additions, adding the flour.
Fold the flour in only until there are no streaks.
Turn the batter into prepared pans and spread evenly.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes.
The tops should be light brown.
The center of the cakes, when pressed, should spring back.
Place the pans on a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes.
Invert the cakes onto the racks and remove cakes from the pans.
Carefully peel off the paper.
Let cakes cool completely upside down.

For the Decoration

Knead briefly to soften
4 ounces almond paste
Place it in a food processor or small bowl of a mixer.
2 or 3 drops green food colouring
Process until the almond paste is evenly green.
Add more colouring if you want it darker.
Turn the almond paste out on a work surface.
Shape it into a log and wrap it in plastic or use it right away.

For the Filling

Line a large strainer with cheesecloth and place it over a bowl.
Scrape into the strainer
1 pound ricotta (either whole or part skim milk)
Cover with plastic wrap.
Place a plate on tope of the ricotta and a weight on top of that.
Let the ricotta drain overnight in the refrigerator.

In a large mixer bowl beat together
the drained ricotta
1/2 Cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat until smooth and creamy.
Fold in
2 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 Cup chopped candied fruit, citron or orange peel

To assemble the cake:
Place one layer cake on a serving platter.
Spread the filling on top.
Place the second layer on top.

Cut the almond paste lengthwise into 4 slices.
Place one slice between 2 pieces of wax paper.
With a rolling pin, flatten it into a long ribbon, 2 inches wide and 1/8 inch thick.
Trim off any rough edges.
Repeat with the remaining almond paste.
Wrap the ribbons around the side of the cake, overlapping the ends.

Gather the scraps of almond paste into a ball.
Roll it flat.
Cut it with a pasta cutter into stars or hearts and use them for decorations.

For the Icing

In a medium bowl, whisk
2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 Cups confectioners' sugar
Stir until smooth.
Spread the icing evenly over the top of the cake.
Decorate the cake with the almond paste shapes and
Candied or dried cherries, pineapple or oranges

Would I make Cassata again?
That depends...
Carmela Soprano's Cassata?  No.
Anna Sultana's Cannoli?  You have to ask?

One recipe down.  Thirty more to go.

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