Cassata is one of the most glorious cakes – a pastel pink and green marzipan exterior envelopes layers of liquer- soaked sponge, ricotta studded with finely chopped chocolate. Topped with dried and candied fruits, this beautiful dessert hails from Sicily, and more specifically Palermo, where it originally was eaten during the Easter period, but now is available all year round. Here I've made an ice cream inspired by the flavours of Cassata and served it with a buttery almond cake, damp and fragrant. A few fresh figs don't hurt either.
Cassata ice cream
Makes around 1 litre
4 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
1tsp ground cinnamon
400ml pure cream
1 cinnamon quill, broken in half
150g fresh ricotta
Large tablespoon each of candied cedro, candied orange and dried raisins
1/4 cup dark chocolate, finely chopped or grated
1/4 cup pistachios, roughly chopped
Place the egg yolks, sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl and whisk for a few minutes, until pale and thick. Set aside.
Place the cream and milk in a large saucepan, along with the cinnamon quills. Heat over a medium heat, stirring to avoid the mixture catching on the bottom, until just before the mixture breaks into a simmer. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 5 minutes. Strain and discard the cinnamon quill.
Slowly pour the milk mixture over the egg mixture, whisking to combine. It is really important that you don’t add the hot milk all at once, otherwise you’ll end up with scrambled eggs. Return the mixture to a clean saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring continuously, for about 4–6 minutes until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Cool the mixture completely, either by pouring in into a bowl set over some ice, or placing it in the fridge. Transfer to an ice cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Half way through the churning time, add in the ricotta, candied and dried fruits, chocolate and pistachios. Continue to churn then freeze for 2–3 hours before serving.
4 egg whites
170g unsalted butter, softened
140g caster sugar
200g ground almonds
1tsp almond extract, or to taste
Zest of a lemon or orange
Icing sugar, to dust
8 figs, to serve.
Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter and line a 20cm round tin.
For the cake, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt to firm peaks and set aside briefly. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Stir in the almond meal, essence and zest until smooth and combined. Now add in a large spoonful of the egg whites into the mixture and stir to loosen the batter. Add in another large spoonful, this time gently folding the egg whites into the batter, being careful not to beat the air out of it. Continue with the remaining egg whites.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and smooth out the surface. Bake in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until the cake feels set and is golden. It will puff up during the cooking but then come down again towards the end, telling you that it is nearly or is ready. Allow to cool in the tin then remove. Dust with icing sugar and serve wedges of it alongside a scoop of the cassata ice cream and ripe fig.