In college, I was taking an acting class that focused on using the techniques of Sanford Meisner. One of the key premises to using Meisner’s method is that the actor is never standing around waiting for a turn to say a line. The actor should instead be fully engaged in an activity that takes effort to complete. Beautiful things come out of doing a scene where one of the players is completely immersed in a task while the other tries to go after their objective.
On one day in particular, I decided that my task would be to make a Cassata alla Siciliana. I baked the pound cake the night before and took it with me to my class the next day. I was on stage with a long blunt bread knife and a loaf pan as I attempted to loosen the cake. I was horrified as I saw that the cake had stuck to the pan in spite of generous preparation. I tried to loosen the edges with the knife, but the part that refused to come out began to rip apart from the rest of the cake. With an audience watching, I scraped the stuck portion from the pan and set all the chunks on a plate where I fit them together like puzzle pieces.
My acting partner entered and began trying to manipulate me to get what they wanted – I have no idea what the scene was really about. My classmates burst into laughter as I began to cut layers out of the cake I had just laboriously pieced together. I hear that sometimes the instructor, the amazing David Barker, still talks about that scene with his classes today.
Nowadays, making a multiple-layered cake is nowhere near as risky due to better non-stick cookware and parchment paper. This cake, the Cassata alla Siciliana, is worth any amount of trouble that may occur as you make it because the flavor is so uniquely complex. Dense cake, candied fruits, dark chocolate, ricotta cheese, orange liqueur and espresso blend to make a taste that is unforgettable once ripened. Yes, this cake must ripen in the refrigerator for 12 hours or so before being cut so that all the flavors can successfully blend. Even the frosting must be chilled to spreading consistency.
You can buy a pre-made pound cake. I never do. If you are eating gluten free, there are many recipes floating around the web that explain how to make a gf pound cake. When I make my cassata, I use the Betty Crocker pound cake mix. Even though I am gluten sensitive, the mix doesn’t bother me. I make one each year as my birthday cake, and the following week, I make another for Christmas. Then, I put away the recipe and wait for the holidays to approach again. Just because my birthday falls in December doesn’t mean you have to wait that long to make a cassata. I suggest you make one now.
1 9″x3″ fresh pound cake
15 ozs. part skim ricotta cheese
2 tbsp. coconut cream or heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar or evaporated can juice
3 tablespoons orange liqueur (this year I used Cointreau Noir, but I have used Strega, Curaçao and Triple Sec)
3 tablespoons candied cherries (red, green or both)
1 dark chocolate candy bar, finely chopped (sometimes I use Ghirardelli dark peppermint bark instead)
12 ozs. semi sweet chocolate, cut into pieces
3/4 cup espresso or strong black coffee
2 sticks good quality butter, cut into small pieces and chilled thoroughly
1. Preheat the oven to 350. Follow directions on package or recipe if you are baking the pound cake.
2. To make the frosting, melt the 12 ozs. of chocolate along with the cup of coffee in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until the chocolalte has completely melted. Remove the pan from heat and beat in the butter piece by piece. Continue to beat until smooth. Chill the frosting in the refrigerator until it reaches a spreadable consistency.
3. To make the filling, chop the candied fruit and dark chocolate into very small pieces. Mix together with ricotta, coconut cream or heavy cream, sugar and orange liqueur. I do this by hand, but if you prefer, you may use a hand mixer and then add the cherries and dark chocolate later by stirring them in.
4. When the pound cake is completely cool, slice off the rounded top to make it flush, and slice off the ends if they are considerably uneven so that your cake has a squared-off appearance.
5. Using a long blunt knife such as a bread knife or cake knife, carefully slice the loaf into 3/4 inch layers.
6. Spread a thick layer of filling over the layer of cake, completely covering the surface of the cake.
7. Place the next layer of cake on top of the filling and spread filling on top of it. Repeat the process until the cake is assembled. The top layer does not get filling spread on its top.
8. Stir the frosting that has been chilling, and cover the entire outside of the cake. To make it decorative, you can use a pastry tube to make floral designs, or use chocolate curls to decorate the top.
9. Let the cake ripen in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours before eating.
10. Enjoy this Italian dessert delight!
Note: If you don’t want to go to the trouble to make the frosting, Duncan Hines makes a dark chocolate frosting that works. However, you will be adding way more sugar than if you make your own. To mix the coffee with Duncan Hines frosting, place about a tablespoon of hot water and a tablespoon of espresso in a cup and dissolve. Mix the coffee thoroughly into the frosting.
When I make this cake, I use a back of a spoon rather than a knife to spread the filling and frosting. It’s just way easier!