One of the best things I did during my visit to New York was attend a cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education taught by a sweet little Sicilian lady. The theme of the class was Pan di Spagna (yeah, that links to Italian Wikipedia), which is Italian sponge cake, and it's useful for any number of desserts: cupcakes, biscotti, tiramisu. In class, we broke into small groups and each group made a different recipe using the Pan di Spagna recipe as the base. I made Cassata Siciliana.
I didn't get a lot out of the class in the way of new cooking skills or techniques, but it was a lot of fun, and I did get this recipe.
Basic Pan Di Spagna Sponge Cake
6 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon Fiori de Sicilia (available at King Arthur) or vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
Separate the egg whites and the yolks. Beat the egg whites with 1/2 cup of the sugar until stiff. Using the same beaters, beat the egg yolks with the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar until thick. Add the Fiori de Sicilia or vanilla and fold in the flour with one-third of the whites to lighten the batter. Fold in the rest of the beaten egg whites, spoon into two 8- or 9-inch layer cake pans and bake in a 350°F oven for 20 to 30 minutes.
*You will need to increase the Basic Pan di Spagna recipe by half for the Cassata Siciliana. We used three tart pans, instead of two cake pans.
5 cups fresh ricotta
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup candied fruits, chopped
4 ounces chopped milk or semi-sweet chocolate or small chocolate morsels
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Beat the ricotta and the sugar with an electric beater until silken smooth. Place 1 cup of the ricotta in a bowl and set aside for the icing. Divide the rest of the ricotta between 2 other bowls and add the candied fruits to one and the chocolate and cinnamon to the other to make the two fillings.
1 cup reserved ricotta
2 cups confectioners' sugar
Beat the ricotta and the sugar until smooth and of spreading consistency. Set aside.
Assembly and Decorating
3 layers of Pan di Spagna
1 1/2 to 2 cups Marsala wine
1/4 cup each red and green candied cherries, sliced in half
1 cup sliced blanched almonds
Place one cake layer on a serving platter or cake plate. Place the Marsala in a small spray bottle, and spray one-third of the wine on the first layer. Spread the ricotta and fruit filling on top of the cake layer. Place the second layer on top of the ricotta filling, and spray with another third of the Marsala wine. Spread the ricotta and chocolate filling on the second layer, top with the third layer, spray it with the rest of the Marsala wine, and let it rest for 10 minutes.
Spread the icing on the top and on the sides of the cake. Press the sliced almonds lightly all over the side of the cake. Place the cherries cut side down in a pattern around the top of the cake alternating red and green. Chill until ready to serve. This is a rich cake, and a small portion is very satisfying. Serves 16 to 20 or more.
I definitely recommend doing something like this if you have an interest in cooking at all. Nice change of pace after doing lots of touristy stuff in New York, and it was fun to meet different people and cook with them - probably the only time I'll play nice in the kitchen. I made the cake again once I got home.