(Serves 12 to 16)
For the pan di spagna
8 large eggs
250g caster sugar
250g plain flour
1tsp baking powder (heaped)
For the filling
600g cows’ milk ricotta (or sheep’s milk, for an earthier taste)
150g caster sugar
500g sheep’s milk ricotta (or buffalos’ or cows’, if easier to find)
40g bitter chocolate, very finely chopped
For the cassata
700g best-quality marzipan (high nut content, or make your own)
2tsp pistachio paste, or a few drops of green food colouring
Sweet Marsala – a little, about 3tbs
400g icing sugar
Juice of one lemon
2 quarters of candied orange peel
1 good wedge of candied citron (cedro) or candied lemon
For the pan di spagna, whisk the eggs with the sugar to make a very thick, luscious, pale cream that forms ribbons when poured or dribbled from the whisk. Sift the flour and baking powder together, directly on to the eggs a bit at a time, folding them in with a light touch.
Line a wide baking sheet (30cm x 40cm) with greaseproof paper, pour the cake mixture on, and level it as best you can without playing with it too much. Bake at 180°C/Gas 4 until golden and set, about 15 minutes for such a thin cake. Leave to cool before using.
This makes a little more than you need, but leftovers can be frozen and later used for gelato cakes, or trifles and the like.
To make the filling, purée the 600g cows’ milk ricotta and sugar in a food processor to a smooth paste. Turn it into a bowl and add the 500g sheep’s milk ricotta and chocolate, and beat with a sturdy balloon whisk until well incorporated and smooth. A wooden spoon will work, too, but takes longer.
To start making the cassata, line a tin with clingfilm. For the classic shape, use a tatin tin – about 24cm wide, 4cm high, with gently tapering sides.
Take 80g of the marzipan and work together with the pistachio paste to make a nice green colour. Roll into a thin sausage, roll this flat to make a ribbon, and cut lengths of this to press against the sides of the tin, to make vertical stripes. Roll the remaining marzipan 3mm thick (easiest on a sheet of greaseproof paper, with a rolling pin dusted with icing sugar), and line the whole tin, covering the green bands. Press into the corners and against the sides, so the green sticks to it.
Cut the pan di spagna horizontally, to make two sheets about 1cm thick. Cut a disc to line the bottom and strips to line the sides of the tin, a layer within the one you’ve already made of marzipan. Sprinkle with a little Marsala to barely moisten, and fill the cake up to the top with the ricotta filling. Cover the top with another disc of sponge, and again moisten with Marsala.
You need to press the cassata – to help, find a plate just a few millimetres smaller than the tin (which will help later when you ice it). Upturn the plate on top of the cake, and refrigerate under a heavy weight to set – at least a couple of hours, up to a couple of days.
Turn the cassata out on to the plate used to press it and remove the clingfilm. Mix together the icing sugar, water and lemon juice and ice the cake thinly and evenly. Any excess icing will drip off, so stand the cake over something you don’t mind dirtying.
Cut the candied peel into fine strips and decorate the cake – an artful hand will make a thing of beauty, a clumsy one will give a charming result. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Jacob Kennedy, chef-patron, Bocca di Lupo, London
Jacob’s very traditional Sicilian torta reminded me of a recent trip to Italy’s southern Cilento region where winemaker Bruno de Conciliis’s effort in lifting the quality of the region’s wines has been enormous. He is better known for his refined Aglianico’s and complex Fiano’s, but his dessert wine called Ka! is a revelation – a blend of late-harvested Malvasia and Moscato, it is delicately sweet, enticing and hugely entertaining. Hints of orange confit, bitter-sweet marmalade and wild honey make it the perfect foil to the delicate ricotta and layered sponge – a flavoursome combination, ideal for a celebratory feast.
Richard Rotti, group wine buyer, Caprice Holdings