Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tom's Cassata Valentino

My husband and I have been volunteering pretty regularly on a monthly basis for the past eight years at a fabulous little cooking school tucked away in Vermilion called Laurel Run Cooking School.

We work with a remarkably dedicated cadre of volunteers, all of whom are accomplished cooks themselves. One of them is Tom Cizmar.
Tom Cizmar

Tom is quite an avid cook, bread baker, and organic gardener.  
“I always remember being in the kitchen or garden. My Italian mother taught me how to cook greens and make sauce, and my Slovak father how to grow tomatoes and garlic.”
In his travels to over 55 countries, Tom has cooked in a B&B in London, toiled in a kosher kitchen in Jerusalem, and attended cooking classes in Florence, Italy. He earned a Grande Diplome from Western Reserve School of Cooking in Hudson, Ohio. And he recently returned from a professional bread workshop at The King Arthur Baking Education Center in Vermont. Tom also teaches classes at Laurel Run. 

At the last class Joe and I volunteered at, Tom brought in a cake he was "experimenting" with. Yeah, right. One bite and I knew this was no experiment! This was the stuff professional bakers showcased front and center as their signature dessert. Tom called it his "Cassata Valentino."

I hesitated to ask him for the recipe. But when I did, Tom shot back quickly with a smile, "Of course!" Knowing what a generous guy he is, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.

Actually, Tom's version is a take on the traditional cassata cake, typically made of sponge cake, strawberries, custard, and whipped cream. He wanted to amp it up a bit and used sweet cherries, ricotta, amaretto simple syrup, and espresso chocolate ganache instead. 

After one bite, I was smitten. This is truly something you would want to serve your finest guests. And it doesn't hurt that it's visually beautiful too, inside and out.

Just one warning: The recipe is actually a series of recipes and may look complicated at first glace, but don't be fooled. The recipes are very detailed...totally manageable...and oh so worth it.

So without further ado, here is the recipe for the cake of a lifetime!

Courtesy of Tom Cizmar

-          One 9 x 5 or 8 ½ by 4 ½ pound cake (recipe follows)
-          Approx. 1 cup of simple syrup flavored with amaretto (recipe follows)
-          3 cups of espresso chocolate ganache (recipe follows) (If planning to pour a smooth coat of ganache over the cake, then use 1/3 of recipe for interior layer. Reserve the remaining 2/3 of ingredients until the cake has been assembled.)
-          1 (15-ounce) can of pitted dark sweet cherries
-          15 to 16 ounces of whole milk ricotta cheese
-          2 tablespoons sugar
-          Approx. 4 to 5 ounces of sliced almonds – sliced for interior, chopped for exterior

-          A piece of cardboard to place under the cake. Cut a 10-inch cake round to size.
-          Sheet pan with rack to fit over the top
-          Long serrated knife
-          Pastry brush
-          Offset spatula

Process Steps:

  1.  Drain cherries and cut in half or lightly chop.
  2. Prepare ricotta filling. Mix 2 tablespoons of sugar with ricotta cheese. Mix thoroughly.
  3. Using a serrated knife, level off the top of the pound cake by cutting off the domed portion. Set this piece aside for another use.
  4. Beginning at the top of the cake, cut the remaining pound cake horizontally into five equally thick layers. Stack the layers in front of you in reverse order, top on the bottom and so on.
  5. Place a wire rack over a sheet pan. Place the cake cardboard on top of the wire rack to form the base for the cake. 
  6. Place the bottom slice of cake onto the cardboard and begin assembly. Brush the bottom layer with simple syrup. Use approx. 1/5 of the mixture per layer. Evenly spread about ½ of the ricotta cheese mixture over this layer.   
  7. Place the next layer on top of the ricotta cheese. Brush this layer with simple syrup. Cover this layer with even rows of drained, cut cherries. Place the cherries cut side up. Place a thin layer of sliced almonds over the cherries.
  8. Place the third layer on top of the cherry almond layer. Brush with syrup. Spread approx. 1/3 of the ganache evenly over this layer.
  9. Place the fourth layer over the ganache. Brush with syrup and evenly spread remaining ricotta cheese mixture over this layer. 
  10. Place the last layer over the ricotta. Brush with remaining syrup. 
  11. If using a smooth glazed chocolate top for the cake, make the ganache using the remaining 2/3 of the ingredients.
  12. If any ingredients have fallen into the sheet pan, remove them so that the pan is clean. Return the rack and cake to the top of the sheet pan.
  13. Pour the warm ganache over the top of the cake. Cover the top entirely and allow the ganache to run down the sides. The excess ganache will collect in the sheet pan and will be reused to finish the sides of the cake. 
  14. Allow the remaining ganache to set so that it can be spread. Using an offset spatula, frost the sides of the cake with ganache. 
  15. Finish the cake by pushing chopped almonds onto the ganache of the sides of the cake. Additional almonds can be added to decorate the top if desired. 
  16. Set the cake aside and allow to set for at least four hours or overnight before serving.  

Pound Cake
-         Recipe from Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan (2006)

-          2 cups all-purpose flour or 2¼ cups cake flour
-          1 teaspoon baking powder
-          ¼ teaspoon salt
-          2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
-          1 cup sugar
-          4 large eggs, at room temperature
-          1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees. 
  2.  Prepare a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan or an 8 ½ x 4 ½ inch loaf pan.
  3. To prepare pan, butter bottom and sides, line bottom with parchment or wax paper, butter the paper, dust all sides and bottom of pan with flour. 
  4.  Place the prepared loaf pan on an insulated baking sheet or on two stacked sheet pans.
  5. The pound cake requires an extended baking time, 70 to 75 minutes for a 9 x 5 and 85 to 90 minutes for an 8 ½ x 4 ½ pan. An 8 ½ x 4 ½ pan may also require insulation on the sides. Either wrap with foil or use Magic Cake strips to insulate the pan.
Process Steps:

  1. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. 
  2. Using a stand mixer, beat together butter and sugar on high speed until pale and fluffy. Beat for a full 5 minutes to incorporate air. 
  3. Scrape down the bowl, reduce speed to medium and begin adding eggs one at a time. Beat for 1 to 2 minutes after each egg is added.  Scrape down bowl in between adding each egg. 
  4.  Mix in vanilla. 
  5.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and begin folding in the flour mixture from step 1. Fold in the flour in 3 separate additions. Do not over mix. Stop when the last of the flour is incorporated.
  6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top and place the batter filled pan on the insulated baking sheets and place in a preheated 325 degree oven. 
  7.  After 40 to 45 minutes, cover the cake loosely with a foil tent to prevent the top from burning. 
  8. The cake is finished baking when a skewer inserted in the top comes out clean, 70 to 75 minutes for a 9 x 5 and 80 to 90 minutes for an 8 ½ x 4 ½. 
  9. Remove the cake from the oven when finished and transfer to a rack. Do not remove the cake immediately from its baking pan. Let the cake rest on the rack in its baking pan for 30 minutes. 
  10.  After resting, run a blunt knife around the sides of the pan, turn out the cake and place it right side up on the rack. Allow to completely cool to room temperature.
Cook’s Notes:
-          If using an 8 ½ by 4 ½ loaf pan for this recipe, the cake will rise far above the pan creating a high dome. If the dome is undesirable, either remove some batter or use a 9 x 5 pan.

-          If baking this pound cake to use as the cake for the cassata recipe, all-purpose flour is recommended. A pound cake baked with cake flour will fall slightly and have less height after baking. This will make it difficult to slice into five layers.   cake baked with cake flour is also more fragile.       

Espresso Ganache
Recipe from Food & Wine magazine online contributed by Rose Levy Beranbaum from Great Cakes (September 1998)

-          3 cups, enough for one cassata cake recipe

-          18 ounces bittersweet chocolate broken into ¾ inch pieces
-          1 ¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
-          1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder
-          1 ½ tablespoons KahlĂșa or other coffee flavored liquor

Process Steps:

  1. Put the chocolate in a heat proof bowl. 
  2. In a small sauce pan, heat the cream until bubbles appear around the edge. 
  3. Remove from heat. 
  4. Add espresso powder and stir to dissolve.
  5. Pour hot cream over the chocolate and let stand for approx. 1 minute.
  6. Stir chocolate until melted and smooth. 
  7. Stir in KahlĂșa. 
  8. Let ganache stand at room temperature until firm enough to spread.

Simple Syrup
Recipe from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum (1988)

-          Approx. 1 cup

-          6 tablespoons sugar
-          2/3 cup water
-          3 tablespoons liquor of your choice

Process Steps:

  1. In a sauce pan with a tight fitting lid, combine the sugar and water and bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. 
  2. Remove from heat, cover immediately, and cool completely. 
  3. Transfer to a measuring cup and stir in liquor.
  4. If the syrup has evaporated slightly, add enough water to equal one cup.
Cook’s Notes:
-          Syrup can be stored in refrigerator for up to one month.
-          The ratio of sugar to water in simple syrups varies. A standard level of sweetness for cake layers is 1/3 cup sugar dissolved in 1 cup of water.


Kathy M. said...

Looks amazing!

Maria Isabella said...

It really, truly is!