April is a busy birthday month for us. In our immediate group of friends, there are at least six of us with April birthdays (and that’s not counting the out-of-town friends, siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews). Hallmark loves me this month.
Lucky for me, our friends agreed to let me
experiment with a new recipe make the cake for our April birthday extravaganza. I spent weeks combing through cookbooks, reading recipes and blogs, trying to find the perfect cake. And then it hit me! Cassata! Strawberries! Custard! Smooth, creamy frosting! To Google I went, only to find recipes that included ricotta cheese (what?!), candied fruit (which reminds me of fruitcake, not birthday cake…) and rum. This was not the cake I remembered. It wasn’t until I found a Wikipedia article about cassata that I found what I was looking for – a Cleveland cassata cake. Apparently, Cleveland does its cassata differently than most other places. A new Google search ensued. (Honestly, what did people do before Google? I’m still wondering.) And I found this recipe. Perfect!
This was pretty involved, and did result in me getting up at 5:15 a.m. to assemble and frost the cake before work, but it was worth it. It wasn’t hard, just time-consuming.
My only changes were to add a tablespoon of vanilla to the custard, and to use frosting from this tuxedo cake on Annie’s Eats instead, as it had powdered sugar instead of regular. (I only made half a batch of this frosting, since I wouldn’t need it to hold the layers together.) I was hoping it would help the frosting hold up in the fridge, as I had to assemble and frost it before work Friday morning. (Even so, I may have spent most of Friday hoping that the cake wasn’t falling apart in the fridge at home. Thankfully, it all held together.)
(Please forgive the not-so-great picture… apparently my photography skills were still in bed at 6am.)
Cleveland Cassata Cake
for the cake:
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
8 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
for the custard:
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups half & half
3 tablespoons cornstarch
for the strawberries:
3 pounds strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
for the frosting:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
10 tablespoons sifted powdered sugar
First, make the custard, whisking all but the vanilla together in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce the heat and continue to whisk until thick. (I whisked and cooked until it was the consistency of a thick pudding.) Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap (to prevent the custard from developing a skin) and chill until cold. (I chilled mine overnight, about 10 hours or so, but I’m sure it was cold long before that!)
Next, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two 9″ round cake pans with parchment paper and lightly spray the parchment with cooking spray. Sift together the flour, 1 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. And then sift again. (This was the point where my kitchen was enveloped in a dusty, floury cloud…) In a separate bowl, beat the five egg yolks, oil, water, lemon zest and vanilla until smooth. Mix into the flour mixture. In a clean, dry metal bowl (preferably the bowl for a stand mixer), beat the eight egg whites and the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 1/4 sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.
Fold about 1/4 of the egg whites into the flour/egg mixture. Then, gently fold in the remaining egg whites. (Don’t over mix them – you don’t want the egg whites to deflate!) When you can no longer see the egg whites, you’re done folding. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans and bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick tests clean. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for about an hour. Separate the cakes from the sides of the pans with a knife, and then invert on to plates lined with wax paper. Remove the parchment paper, cover the cakes with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least three hours.
Then, slice your strawberries and toss them with the sugar. Let them hang out in the fridge until you’re ready for assembly (at least an hour). I’d actually recommend not doing this the night before, if time permits… my berries were a little soggier than I’d have liked. They weren’t terrible though, so if you need to prep them the night before go ahead.
Right before you’re ready to put the cake together, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Add in the powdered sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. (Don’t over beat it though!)
Now for the fun part – putting it all together! (I’d recommend assembling it on whatever plate you’re serving it on, if at all possible – I didn’t trust my ability transfer the cake from one plate to another.)
Using a long, serrated knife, split the cakes in half (giving you four 9″ layer cakes). Separate the strawberries from their juices. (Save the juice!) Pick out the sturdiest-looking cake for the base, and brush the top of it with some of the strawberry juice. Put a generous layer of strawberries on the cake and then a layer of custard. Then repeat the process twice. Top the cake with the final cake layer, and frost with the whipped cream.
Refrigerate at least eight hours so all the flavors come together.
Slice, serve and enjoy!