When I was younger and there was a special occasion -- a wedding, a christening, a bocce banquet (yes, I went to one of those and sat next to "Lefty") -- there was always a multi-layered Italian rum cake. As a kid, it didn't appeal to me, but as an adult, I think it's got to be one of my favorite desserts. All the essential ingredients are there -- a tender cake to bite into, chocolate and vanilla pastry cream, sweet ricotta with chocolate bits, whipped cream. All that and booze too. If you're over the legal drinking age, what's not to love? Oh sure, you can make it without the alcohol for the younger set, but it won't be the same without the rum (not to mention the Sambuca that I add too.) Have it your way, but do try it. It's easier than you think.
You start out with a basic sponge cake. I made mine in a springform pan and sliced it in half. Insert some toothpicks all around, then cut with a serrated knife, using the toothpicks as a guide.
Once you've cut it in half, cut it in half again so that you have four layers.
In between one of the layers, smear some of the chocolate pastry cream. Whoops, before you do that, sprinkle a good amount of rum over the bare cake.
On the next layer, drizzle more rum (or Sambuca as I did), then smear on the vanilla pastry cream.
The final layer also gets doused with rum (don't be stingy), then topped with a layer of ricotta that's been mixed with sugar and chocolate bits. A special shout-out to Anna, owner of D'Angelo Italian Market in Princeton. She knew I was making this cake and came down from Brooklyn with a fresh batch of ricotta just for me. If you live anywhere near Princeton, check out the store. It's a great place to grab a bite to eat in the center of town, and you'll find lots of hard-to-find Italian groceries and specialty products, including a panettone with amarena cherries that I can't wait to try.
Here's how it looks when the layers are in place with the filling. Now how to frost this?
Easy. Just whip up some cream and spread it along the sides and top. Add some toasted almonds or walnuts to the side of the cake. Use a piping bag to make some decorations if you want. You can probably guess this cake was for my friend Pietro, who celebrated a birthday recently.
With the holidays approaching, this cake would be a perfect special dessert. You can even bake the cake ahead of time and store it in the freezer, wrapped in foil, until you're ready for the fillings. But don't count on putting any leftovers in the freezer once it's assembled. I guarantee there won't be any.
printable recipe here
for the basic sponge cake:
6 extra large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. grated orange or lemon zest
1 t. vanilla
1 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
Beat the eggs in a mixer until pale yellow, about five minutes or so. Add the sugar and zest a bit at a time and beat until the mixture is thickened enough to fall off the spoon in thick ribbons. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes. Mix in the vanilla, then fold in the flour carefully, making sure not to leave any clumps of flour in the dough. Pour into a 9 or 10-inch springform pan that's been buttered and floured. I like to put a piece of parchment paper that's been greased and floured at the bottom of the pan also. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely, then release from the pan and slice into four layers.
For the pastry cream:
4 T. sugar
4 large egg yolks
5 T. flour
2 2/3 cups milk
1 t. vanilla
2 ounces semi-sweet or unsweetened baking chocolate, grated
1 cup whipping cream (optional)
Place the sugar, egg yolks and flour in a pan and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and light yellow and all the sugar is dissolved. Heat the milk in another saucepan until it is scalding hot. Slowly pour the hot milk over the eggs, stirring constantly over heat. Keep stirring and cook until the mixture becomes really thick. Take half of the cream and put it into another pan and put the chocolate into this half. Mix until it's incorporated. With the pastry cream in the first pan, remove from the heat and add the vanilla. Put a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of both the vanilla and the chocolate pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming.
If I'm feeling particularly indulgent, I'll whip up some cream and fold that into the pastry cream. For the cake in the photo, I didn't do it this time (but I wish I had).
Don't tell anybody, but I have also been known to use a boxed pudding mix and add whipped cream to that.
2 cups fresh ricotta (try to find this at an Italian specialty store, but in a pinch use the commercial stuff you find at the supermarket.
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate cut in small bits
Drain the ricotta overnight. I do this by lining a colander with a large coffee filter. You can use cheesecloth, or even paper towels. I dump the ricotta into the coffee filter, cover it with a plate large enough to cover, but small enough so I can press down on the ricotta. Then put a heavy can on top of the plate. Put the whole thing in the refrigerator overnight, placing a bowl under the colander to catch the liquid.
The next day, with a wooden spoon, mix the ricotta with the sugar and the chocolate bits.
other ingredients needed:
a couple of tablespoons for each layer:
rum (I use the darker, golden rum)
Sambuca (or other liqueur you might prefer)
2 cups whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
Whip the cream with the sugar until firm, but don't over beat or you'll end up with butter.
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
You can place the fillings in any order you like - chocolate on top, bottom or middle, ricotta on top or whatever moves you.
Place one layer of cake on a cake stand. Sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of rum (or more). Spread the ricotta cream over the cake. Place another layer of cake over the ricotta, douse with Sambuca or rum or any other liqueur you prefer. Spread with the vanilla pastry cream. Place the third layer of cake over the vanilla pastry cream and sprinkle with more rum or other liqueur. Spread the chocolate pastry cream over that.
Cover with the final layer of cake and spread the whipped cream over the top and sides.
Using your fingers, press the almonds into the side. If desired, pipe some whipped cream rosettes over the top.