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 cassata, 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 cassata 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. Bret’s interpretation honored the traditional style of the cake and I went for a more 1973-macramé-hanging-on-the-lanai look. We were in a zone and made, not only the cake and all of its parts, but we also candied all the fruit. I discovered that one of my all time favorite taste sensations is a whole candied kumquat. They become translucent jewels in the process of cooking and the flavor is both tart and sweet. I ate them like popcorn. The candied citrus is a perfect compliment to the creamy smooth layers of ricotta and the orange liqueur soaked sponge cake. The frame around the cake is made from pistachio marzipan, which is a revelation of its own. I adore marzipan made with almonds, but this is exponentially better and adds a bit of flash to the outside of the cake; as if the basket weave and candied fruit flower weren’t enough.Read More