Sponge Cake with Ricotta and Apricot Jam

Cassata is the Italian name of a beautiful and famous rich cake which is served only for special occasions, such as Easter, weddings and christenings. However, Cassata is generally taken as an ice cream dessert, though the real Cassata is just a cake specially decorated for occasions. Various versions of Cassata exist all over the world. But if you want to try the original cassata cake, Cassata alla Siciliana is the place to do so. Here you will definitely enjoy the genuine taste of the dessert.

Cassata is quite artistic creation where ingredients may vary. Generally, it is made with layers of sponge, interspersed with a creamy mixture of sweetened ricotta, chopped candied fruits, slivers of chocolate, nuts and melted sugar. Depending on the confectioner’s individual recipe and preferences the cake can include additional layer of marzipan or can be covered with a final marzipan coating or chocolate icing. Cassata that I cook today will be finished with a layer of thick icing. It is decorated with whole or attractively sliced candied fruits, the bright colors of which show up wonderfully well against the white sugar or marzipan.

The original Cassata alla Siciliana recently celebrated its 1000th anniversary. This delectable cake was first baked in its present form in 998 in Palermo, the town, which the ruling Arab emirs of the time had proclaimed the island capital. At that time, Palermo, which was then regarded as an area free from the rules and restrictions of the Koran, was host to more than 300 thriving night spots,  serving alcoholic drinks, distillation being another Arab invention, and providing the spectacle of attractive belly-dancers. These competed successfully with the maidens, who according to Islamic faith supposedly awaited the faithful in paradise. At a time when the western christian world was approaching the new millennium with great trepidation and fear at the thought of ‘one thousand and no more’, the Muslims of Palermo indulged themselves in a sort of fighting men’s ‘timeout’, tolerated by Islam. However, this cushy life was to be short-lived as the Arabs began fighting each other again, and this, in turn, left the field open for the Normans to gain control over Sicily. The Normans even succeeded in establishing Europe’s first multicultural state in the late middle ages – and this applied similarly to culinary matters. Not only they brought their own recipes with them, but they also retained the traditional Sicilian dishes, as well the highly sophisticated skills of the Arab confectioners.

Armed with this history connotation I decided to make this dessert for this Easter. Generally, I always loved this dessert because it is so beautiful and delicious.

Although authentic Italian recipe is recommended to use only two wide sized layers of sponge base you can optionally take three or four – it’s your choice. In case of using more than 2 layers, it is recommended to add 4 tablespoons of thick cream to a cream ricotta mix. Depending on the special occasions, you can decorate this cake with different candied figures and fruits.

Sponge cake with ricotta and apricot jam

Ingredients

  • 100g (1/3 cup) apricot jam;
  • 1 round sponge base weighting about 350g;
  • 600g fresh ricotta;
  • 250g (1 cup) caster sugar;
  • 120g plain dark chocolate, broken up into small pieces;
  • 350g candied fruits, coarsely chopped;
  • 40g (1/3 cup) peeled pistachios or pine nuts;
  • pinch of cinnamon;
  • 1-2 glasses of Maraschino or Marsala;
  • 200-300 g icing sugar for glace icing;
  • candied figures and fruits for decoration.

Method

Cut the sponge base into two if the base is not high and wide. If the sponge base is high and not that wide you need to cut it into three of four layers. Sprinkle each cake layer with a bit of wine or liqueur.

Soak chopped candied fruits in 2 tablespoon of the Marsala or the Maraschino.

Mix the ricotta to a cream in a large bowl. Add the caster sugar, chocolate, candied fruits, pistachios or pine nuts, and mixed together well with the creamed ricotta. Flavor with a pinch of cinnamon and the Maraschino from soaking candied fruits.

Select the best layer for the top and the bottom. Line a cake pan with waxed paper and spread the apricot jam over the base. Lay one layer on top of the apricot jam. Coat the base with the amount of mixture that depends on the number of layers. In case of 4 layers please add one-third of the cream mixture. If there are 3 layers you need only half part of the mixture. Making cake with 2 base layers cover the base with the whole mixture you made.

Place the next layer on the top of the cream coating and press down lightly. Cover the layer with the same portion of the cream mix. The cream mixture must be placed only between sponges but the top of the last one.

Finally, placing the top layer press down more firmly till the filling start to spill out between layers. Surface the cream on the sides to give an overall smooth finish.

Refrigerate for at least two hours to allow the flavors to permeate. Then remove from the fridge and tip out onto a cake plate. Carefully peel off the greaseproof paper and smooth out the apricot jam.

For icing, mix icing sugar (200 or 300 g depending on glace icing thickness) with the rest of the Maraschino. Then drizzle over the Cassata covering the sides to give an overall smooth finish. Allow the glace icing to set a little bit, decorate with figures and fruits. Then allow the glace icing to set finally and serve.