This time of year is always special for Eric and I. Our wedding anniversary is at the beginning of April and we spent our honeymoon in Rome over that Easter weekend. It was the first Easter Mass for Pope Benedict XVI. With this Easter being the first for the newly elected Pope, it brings back some memories for us. Eric and I have also been watching The Bible on The History Channel, and it’s been an excellent conversation topic for us in these weeks leading up to Passover and Easter.
I haven’t been very inspired to do any holiday decorating around the house since Christmas, and the two boys with their kitten antics make me think twice about what I put out. But, after looking through some old photos, I found the one above of our Easter table and decided I would really like to have a special table setting for our Easter dinner.
And one of the traditions that we have is preparing a special Italian cake for Easter. Eric’s grandmother used to bring a cassata cake from the Italian bakery for Easter every year when he was growing up. When Eric and I got married, I decided that I wanted to recreate this cake from Eric’s past for him. Not as easy as it sounds. Cassata cake, I’ve found, can be interpreted in several different ways. So, over a series of Easters and birthdays, I tried out a number of recipes.
One of the first I tried was for a Sicilian cake that seemed to be similar to a cassata cake.
It was a two layer sponge cake with ladyfingers around the edges, and topped with walnuts, chocolate chips and candied cherries. Pretty good, but not anywhere close to Eric’s memories. Plus, with the ladyfingers and the topping, it was a rather labor intensive cake to make.
So, we refined our definition of what he remembered and I ended up cobbling several recipes together to try for my next attempt. Eric had told me that the cake of his dreams was a loaf cake, like a pound cake. So, I took a Martha Stewart pound cake recipe and started with that.
Notice the yummy vanilla that Eric’s mom brought us from Mexico? Love that stuff! Anyway, the Martha recipe was a total bust. There was so much butter in this batter that when it was cooking, you could see the cake swimming in a sea of butter. I’m all for butter, but this was ridiculous. And the cake itself was not soft and moist, but surprisingly crunchy.
Eric also remembered that the filling between the layers was a lot like cannoli filling. So, I borrowed a recipe for cannoli filling (ricotta, chocolate chips, etc.). That, at least, was pretty straightforward. I used the mini chocolate chips and mixed them in with the ricotta filling.
And then we got to the frosting for the cake. Eric said it was pretty close to the frosting his mom uses on his usual birthday cake, which is a whipped cream frosting (icing?). I hit her up again for her recipe and this also was pretty straightforward. I think it’s just heavy cream, sugar, cream of tartar. And it makes a ton!
And the final product Eric deemed pretty darn close to his memory. So, I made several notes, including a note to self to try a different pound cake recipe because the Martha recipe was a big yuck.
And when I made that very first Sicilian cake, it called for brushing the layers of spongecake with rum. So I added that in this attempt as well. It adds a little extra depth of flavor in the cake.
I’ve made the cake a couple more times since this initial try and refined it over the last few years. I’ve changed to a pound cake recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, which is very good. And I’ve started making the cake itself the day before, and it makes it a little easier to assemble the next day. I’ve also cut the filling and frosting recipes in half, because I seriously ended up with enough for a second cake. I’ll be making cassata cake for Easter Sunday this weekend, and I’m looking forward to it since I haven’t made it in a while. I’ll be sure to share how it turns out!
We’re also planning on having our Moroccan Lamb Burgers on Easter as well, because Eric knows that’s about the only way I will eat lamb. So, I’m looking forward to those – something else we haven’t had in awhile. Sounds like I’ll have a busy next few days getting everything ready for Easter, but I’m looking forward to it. And as always, it’s such a special time for us as a precursor to our anniversary, so it deserves to be done right!