400 gm firm ricotta75 gm (1/3 cup) caster sugar20 ml almond liqueur, plus extra for brushingScraped seeds of 1 vanilla bean120 gm glacé fruit, such as cedro, glacé orange, glacé lemon and glacé clementine, plus extra cedro, shaved on a mandolin, and glacé clementines, cut into wedges, to decorate80 gm dark chocolate, coarsely chopped60 gm pistachios, coarsely chopped450 gmicing sugar50 ml lemon juice2-3 drops of green food colouringSponge cake 40 gm butter, melted and cooled, plus extra for brushing240 gm plain flour, triple-sieved, plus extra for dusting8 eggs, at room temperature220 gm (1 cup) caster sugarScraped seeds of 1 vanilla bean
Place ricotta in a muslin-lined sieve over a bowl and refrigerate overnight to drain.
For sponge cake, preheat oven to 180C. Brush two 20cm-diameter cake tins with melted butter, line bases with baking paper and dust sides with flour. Whisk eggs, sugar and vanilla seeds in an electric mixer until thick, pale and tripled in volume (7-8 minutes), then transfer to a large bowl. Sift over flour in three batches, folding in each batch with a large metal spoon. Fold in butter, divide mixture evenly among tins and bake until cakes are light golden and spring back when lightly pressed (20-25 minutes). Carefully loosen sides with a knife, turn cakes out onto a wire rack, remove baking paper, turn cakes top-side up, then cool completely.
Stir drained ricotta, sugar, almond liqueur and vanilla seeds in a bowl to combine, then add fruit, chocolate and pistachios and stir to combine. Place one sponge cake on a serving plate or cake stand, brush with a little liqueur and spread evenly with ricotta mixture. Brush base of remaining sponge cake with a little liqueur, place on top of ricotta layer and refrigerate until firm (1-2 hours).
Stir icing sugar, lemon juice and food colouring in a bowl until combined. Icing should be thick but pourable; adjust consistency with water, a drop at a time, if necessary. Pour icing over cake, stand until set (1 hour), decorate with shaved cedro and clementine wedges and serve. Cassata is best eaten the day it’s made.
Note You'll need to begin this recipe a day
Cassata is one of Sicily's most flamboyant cakes, and its most
recognisable. It consists of a sponge, known as pan di Spagna, a
sweetened ricotta centre, a coating of marzipan or icing - or more
often both - and finally an elaborate, baroque-inspired decoration
of glacé fruits and citrus rinds.
This cassata, dating back a thousand years, is different from the
popular ice-cream version which is based on similar ingredients and
known in Sicily as cassata gelata. The cake was traditionally made
in the spring, usually for Easter, when the ricotta, made with
spring milk, was at its freshest and sweetest.
The cake's components reflect some of the layers of cultural
influences in Sicily's history. The pan di Spagna, as its name
suggests, was likely brought to the island by the Spanish. The
candying of the citrus rind, according to Antonio Carluccio in his
book Italia, was a technique taught to the Sicilians by the Arabs.
(Indeed, it was the Arabs who introduced sugar cane to Sicily,
which even today is known as the sweets capital of Italy.)
Sicily-based food writer Mary Taylor Simeti says in her book
Sicilian Food that the name cassata derives from the Arabic
"qas'ah", which is the steep-sided bowl traditionally used to mould
the cake. She goes on to write that "the cake, striped with
marzipan coloured pale green in memory of the days when one could
afford to use pistachio purée, is glazed with white icing, and then
crystallised wedges of oranges and pears are placed on top."
Knowing that not everybody's sweet tooth is as sweet as the
Sicilians', we've opted to forgo the marzipan layer and have simply
tinted the icing pale green. We've assembled the cake without a
mould, yet maintained its highly decorative - and flavoursome -