Cassata – Sicilian Ricotta Cake with Pistachio Marzipan

This cake makes me think of sitting on the porch swing in my Italian grandmother’s lanai. It was about 1973 and I would have been 6 years old and eating something sweet and spring-like. She had hanging baskets of flowers dangling from the ceiling from elaborately woven macramé; in shades of orange, chartreuse and  gold. I’m sure I was eating Jell-o, but it should have been this cake, with its basket weave icing and magical candied fruit flower. Ok, truth be told, my grandmother isn’t Italian, she didn’t have a lanai, I just like the word, and there probably was macramé, but I don’t actually remember any. But, this cake makes me wish all these things were true. Not only is it visually stunning, but the cake is so delicious I licked the plate clean.

I really made the cake with my friend Bret, who I’ve known since I taught my very first baking class at Cooks of Crocus Hill about 13 years ago. He is a dynamite chef and baker, and I love playing in the kitchen with him. We decided to make this classic Italian ricotta cake after seeing it on the pages of Saveur magazine, just in time for Easter. (more…)

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Blackberry Ricotta Tarts, a wee bit of summer in the dead of winter!

This past weekend I NEEDED summer. The weather was vacillating between rain and sleet, my boys couldn’t even go ice skating because the rink was just a pool of slush. The Midwestern sky, that I can usually count on for an endless blue sunny backdrop to winter, was gray. It was all too much to take, especially after the Vikings gave up the big game. When I saw the flat of blackberries at the store, I had to have them. It was a gift from a land far, far away that is in their growing months. I am usually dedicated to eating seasonally and as local as possible, but once in a while we Minnesotans have to cheat. It worked, my family and I were much happier after eating these tarts. The fresh berries were lovely with the rich creamy ricotta custard that has the slightest hint of nutmeg. Be sure to use a whole milk ricotta to get the silky texture.

This morning we woke up to snow, which is at least beautiful, albeit a reminder that our summer is still far away. I suppose it just means we have a longer baking season than most! (more…)

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