Lemon Blueberry Cassata

Makes one 4-layer cake

Sharing the spotlight with cannoli, cassata is one of Sicily’s iconic sweets. The ornate dessert, which might grace the Easter table, is traditionally made with liqueur-soaked sponge cake, sweetened ricotta, crystallized citrus peel, and chopped chocolate, covered in pistachio marzipan, white icing, and crowned with an elaborate arrangement of whole candied fruits and Baroque-style garnishes. The celebratory cake hasn’t evolved much from its earliest known appearance in 1409. For a less formal and lighter version of the classic, this recipe forgoes candied fruits and marzipan for fresh blueberries and sliced almonds. There are no flourishes or curlicues, but it will still look like a masterpiece.

SPONGE CAKE

Butter (for the pans)

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

6 eggs, separated, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper cut to fit them and butter the paper.

2. In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. In an electric mixer, beat the egg whites at medium speed until foamy. Increase the speed to medium-high and gradually add ½ cup of the granulated sugar. Beat until the mixture holds soft peaks; transfer to a large bowl.

4. Add the egg yolks to the bowl of the mixer with the remaining ½ cup granulated sugar and vanilla. Beat at medium-high speed for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Add the yolk mixture to the whites and fold gently to combine them.

5. Sprinkle half the flour mixture over the eggs and fold gently. Add the remaining flour and fold gently until no streaks appear in the batter. Divide the batter between the pans and smooth the tops.

6. Transfer to the oven and bake the cakes for 25 minutes, or until the tops spring back when pressed lightly with a fingertip.

7. Let the cakes cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of each cake pan to loosen them. Invert each onto a plate, remove and discard parchment, and turn the cakes right side up on a wire rack to cool completely.

 

SYRUP

⅓ cup granulated sugar

⅓ cup water

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

4 tablespoons limoncello liqueur

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. In a saucepan, combine the granulated sugar, water, and lemon rind. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes, or until the sugar dissolves.

2. Remove from the heat. Stir in the limoncello and lemon juice; cool.

 

FILLING

16 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese, strained for 2-3 hours

8 ounces mascarpone cheese

¾ cup confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1 pint fresh blueberries

¼ cup sliced almonds

Fine strips of lemon rind (for garnish)

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the ricotta, mascarpone, and confectioners’ sugar. Beat on medium-low speed for 1 minute, or until fluffy. Add the lemon rind and mix until blended.

2. Using a long serrated knife, separate each of the cooled cakes horizontally into 2 layers. Place 1 layer right side up on a cake stand. With a pastry brush, brush ¼ of the syrup over the cake. Add ¼ of the ricotta filling and spread evenly over the cake. Top with ¼ of the blueberries, pressing them into the filling.

3. Continue making two more layers in the same way. Before you set the fourth layer on top, brush the cut side with the remaining syrup. Invert the round onto the cake. Top with the remaining ricotta and spread it almost to edge. Add blueberries in a small mound in the center of the cake. Sprinkle the sliced almonds around the blueberries, covering most of the ricotta. Garnish with lemon rind. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours before serving.

By Claudia Catalano. Originally published in The Boston Globe.