Layers of Creamy Ricotta Fill This Beauty!
When it came time to decide what cake to make for my son’s birthday, he didn’t hesitate – Cassata it would be. I made one last year and he’s been talking about it ever since. At its most basic, a Cassata is a Sicilian dessert made by layering syrup soaked sponge cake with sweetened ricotta.
While there are no swirls of icing involved, this cake is still very much celebration worthy. Seeing as peaches are at their peak, it was logical to use them as a topping. We took the rest of our flavor cues from the peaches. Crushed black peppercorns and lemon peel were steeped in the syrup before straining and adding peach liqueur.
I love fresh basil with peaches and decided to add some to the ricotta filling – enough to recognize, but not too much to overwhelm it. I kept tasting it as I stirred it into the sweetened ricotta and was satisfied with 2 1/2 tablespoons of finely minced basil. A little minced candied lemon peel finished off the filling perfectly.
But I still felt something was needed. I’ve posted and discussed the homemade toasted pistachio oil recipe and knew it would be perfect for this cake. It’s full of ground up pistachios and olive oil and it’s salty. A little saltiness would balance out the other flavors. So, I first brushed the syrup on each layer, spread on the ricotta, and drizzled a tablespoon of the pistachio oil on top. My son suggested finishing off each layer with a little coarsely ground black pepper and I went for it. The subtle bite of the pepper was perfect with the floral basil and nutty pistachios.
As for the sponge cake, I began with one recipe that failed. Yep, it sank. I’ve had this happen in the past and was irritated I didn’t listen to my better instincts when choosing the recipe. Because the cake needs to sit for several hours or overnight after it’s filled, I baked it the day before and had the time to make another one. I chose a recipe from King Arthur by Mark Bittman. But I took no chances on this one sinking and added a teaspoon of baking powder as an insurance policy, along with a little almond extract. This time it turned out perfectly.
After sitting overnight, I finished off the cake with sliced fresh peaches, to which I added a little sugar and lemon juice. Now, what did we think of the finished cake? Well, we think it’s one of the best we’ve ever tasted. No reason to be modest about this because it really is that good. I don’t mind sweet buttercream, but we much prefer the creamy ricotta used in this. I don’t think it would be half as good if you don’t make your own ricotta. In fact, I wouldn’t even bother making this unless you make your own or have access to some really good ricotta. Supermarket ricotta just won’t cut it here at all.
As to the pistachio oil, I found myself drizzling a little extra over each slice I ate because I love it so much. While this cake has different elements, they can all me made ahead of time. I made the ricotta 2 days ahead, as well as the pistachio oil and the syrup. I then made the sponge cake and filled it 1 day before serving. After chilling overnight, it’s best to let the cake sit at room temperature for an hour before topping it with the peaches and serving. What a fantastic cake this turned out to be. Perfect for my son’s birthday. Or any day.