When people ask “What food should I try when I’m in Cleveland?” most people respond with “Get some pierogies! Paczki! Grab wings, corned beef and beer!”
But what most people forget is Cleveland’s most well known dessert.
Cassata cake is Cleveland’s best kept secret icon.
And the CLE-style cake is different from what most of the world would think cassata cake is. This recipe is based off of the Cassata cake that most people think of when they think of Cleveland is from Corbo’s Bakery.
Layers of rum soaked Italian sponge cake are stacked with fresh strawberries and custard sandwiched between. Then the entire thing is ‘frosted’ with a homemade whipped cream and topped with even more strawberries.
By far one of the most complicated dessert cakes I have ever made, the end results are absolutely worth all of the effort.
Making Creme Patissiere
Creme patissiere is similar to custard but thicker. It is used to create thick layers of custardy flavor that won’t soak into the cake.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- half & half
- egg yolks
The first step is to simmer together the vanilla and half and half until it is just beginning to foam up. You don’t want a rolling boil but a low simmer to the liquid for best results when tempering the eggs.
Tempering the creme patissiere
In a separate bowl the sugar, yolks and cornstarch are whisked into a thick paste. In order to combine the paste with the hot milk liquid the eggs first need to be tempered.
I use a measuring cup to measure out about a half cup of hot liquid and then slowly pouring the hot liquid into the egg paste while whisking rapidly. You have to whisk fast so that the hot liquid doesn’t scramble the eggs. The end result should be a slightly warmed, more liquidy version of the eggs. It should not be clumpy or overly thick.
Then slowly pour the egg liquid back into the simmering half and half while whisking. Continue to simmer until the liquid starts to thicken and become more like custard. Then add in the butter.
Finally we will add in the butter. Keep whisking as the butter melts until a smooth custard comes together and all of the butter is whisked in.
From there we will place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the creme patissiere and press it gently down on top of the custard so that the plastic is in direct contact. You do not want the creme pat exposed to the air. Let the custard cool to room temperature and then place in the fridge to chill overnight. It will continue to thicken up as it cools.
When ready, transfer the creme patissiere to a piping bag or a gallon baggie with the corner snipped for easy application to the cake!
Baking Italian Sponge Cakes
Italian sponge cakes rely on egg whites whipped until stiff, but not dry, to achieve a light and airy texture.
- 9×9 cake pans – this is the ideal size for the amount of batter we will be making
- parchment paper – pre-line the pans so that the cakes fall right out
- butter or cooking spray oil – butter is better but spray can be used in a pinch
Here’s What You Need
- egg whites – at room temperature
- cream of tartar – this will help stabilize the egg whites
- sugar – along with the egg whites will create a sweet base
- cake flour – essential for an airy cake, don’t sub with All-Purpose if you can avoid it!
- baking powder – to assist with rise
- yolks – the other half to our whites, will be added to the cake batter directly
- lemon – for brightness
- canola oil – to make a smooth batter
Bake That Cake!
When it comes to baking our cakes, it’s best to do it low and slow. Bake the cakes at 325°F for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center or each cake comes out clean. The cake should just be starting to pull away from the sides of the pan when it is ready. Take care not to over-bake the cake or else it may be dry.
After that the cooling process is just as important as the baking process! Let the cakes cool in their pans on a rack for about an hour then when the cakes are room temperature, flip them out of the pans and cool to room temperature. I then put the cakes back into their pans and tightly covered with plastic wrap.
You can make the cakes up to two days in advance. But no matter when you make them, they will need to be 100% chilled through on assembly day.
What the heck is “MACERATING” ???
In this recipe you will see me reference “macerating the strawberries.” We will be creating a liquid from the strawberries using a very simple method.
First the strawberries need to be roughly chopped and diced. You will notice as you cut the strawberries that they release a bit of juice already.
When the strawberries are chopped up, I put mine into a strainer suspended over a large bowl. Then I sprinkled sugar over the top of the strawberries and let the process do its thing!
As the strawberries draw in the sugar crystals, they will start to release a liquid. This liquid will drip through the strainer and into the bowl below – it should be the consistency of a sugary, strawberry flavored syrup!
We will use that syrup mixed with Grand Marnier to soak into our Italian sponge cakes – and the remaining strawberries will be spread onto each layer of cake below the creme patissiere.
Make the BEST Whipped Cream
The secret to making the perfect light and airy whipped cream is to use a metal bowl that has been chilled along with the whisk! They should be so cold that you have to use a towel to hold it as you whisk!
And FUN TIP
I chilled my metal bowl in 8 inches of freshly fallen CLE-snow. True story. I will have to remake this cake just to get a pic this year!
Assembling the Cake
Assembling the cake is actually the least daunting part of this bake! I recommend using a cake turn to help ice the cake at the end.
- Cake turn table – makes frosting a breeze
- flat dough scraper or cake scraper – to get the whipped frosting as even as possible
- piping bags – you can also use a gallon baggie with the corner snipped off in a pinch
- 10×10 cardboard cake board – use a round board to make it easy to move the cake around as needed
Putting it all together!
- IMPORTANT: Make sure everything is chilled 100% before assembly!
- Slice each cake in half hortizontally to make 4 even layers.
- Place a dab of whipped cream on the cake board in the middle to hold it in place, then put a dab on top of the board in the middle and place down the first layer of cake.
- Brush the cake with the strawberry Grand Marnier syrup.
- Spread a layer of strawberries
- Pipe a layer of creme patissiere.
- Place the second layer of cake.
- Repeat with brushing, spreading and piping for the other layers until you have a stacked cake.
- Use about a quarter of whipped cream to create a crumb coat on the cake then FREEZE for 20 minutes to set the crumb coat.
- Pipe the rest of the whipped cream on the outside of the cake and use the cake turn table to get an even layer of whipped cream on the top and sides of the cake. It should be an even half inch on the top and quarter inch on the sides best you can get it!
- Use any remaining strawberries to decorate the outside of the cake.
- Chill until ready to serve.
Cleveland Style Cassata Cake
FOR CREME PATISSIERE:
FOR ITALIAN SPONGE CAKE:
FOR STRAWBERRY SYRUP:
- 16 pz strawberries chopped, a few saved whole
- 1 ½ cup sugar
- 1 cup Grand Marnier
FOR WHIPPED CREAM TOPPING:
- 4 cups whipping cream
- 3 cups confectioners sugar
- Begin with the creme patissiere (aka custard filling). In a sauce pot over medium high heat, whisk together the vanilla and half and half until lightly simmering. Do NOT bring to a rolling boil.
- In a small bowl, whisk together sugar, egg yolks, cornstarch and salt until a thick paste forms. Temper the mixture by slowly pouring in about a quarter to half cup of the hot milk mixture. Whisk constantly while pouring in the milk mixture to make sure the eggs do not scramble. The egg mixture should be smooth and a creamy, golden color.
- Slowly pour the tempered egg mixture into the lightly simmering milk while whisking constantly. Simmer for 5-8 mintues. Continue to whisk until the mixture starts to thicken and form a custardy consistency. Whisk constantly and remove from the heat. Add in the sliced butter and continue to whisk until the butter is fully melted in and the custard is creamy and smooth.
- Pour the custard into a new bowl, using a spatula to make sure to get every bit from the pan. Cool until no longer steaming – about 15 minutes. Then cover with a sheet of plastic wrap and lightly press the plastic wrap down until it is touching the surface of the custard. Cool to room temperature, about an hour, and then transfer the bowl to the fridge. Chill 10+ hour or overnight. The custard can be prepared up to two days in advance.
- For the cakes, preheat the oven to 325°F and grease two 9×9 cake pans with butter or cooking spray. Cut the parchment paper into circles to fit the bottom of the pans. Then cut strips to line the edges of the pans. The strips around the edges should be about a quarter to half inch higher than the sides of the cake pans. Lightly grease the inside of the parchement. Set the pans aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly pour in the sugar while the mixer continues to whip rapidly. Continue to whip until stiff peaks form but the mixture doesn't look "dry" (if it looks "dry" and "crumbly," you have overmixed and will need to restart).
- In a separate bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.
- Then in a smaller bowl, combine the remaining egg yolks with the lemon, water and canola oil. Use a hand mixer to whisk together until a pale cream forms, about 2-3 minutes.
- Stir the egg yolk mixture into the flour mixture. Then very gently fold the egg whites into the same bowl. Continue to fold until a smooth batter comes together. Do not over mix.
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans so that they are 2/3 full. Bake at 325°F for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Let the cakes cool in their pans on the rack for an hour. Then flip the cakes out onto the cooling rack and continue to cool to room temperature. Do not remove the parchment yet.
- When the cakes are room temperature, carefully return them to their pans, cover with plastic wrap tightly and then chill overnight. The cakes can be prepared up to two days in advance.
- While the cakes and custard chill, chop the strawberries for macerating. Place the chopped strawberries in a sieve over a large bowl. Stir in the sugar and then let the liquids drip out of the strawberries for about an hour.
- Take the strawberry syrup and whisk it with Grand Marnier. Reserve the remaining strawberries. Chill the syrup and strawberries overnight. This can be made up to 24 hours in advance.
- On the day of assembly, make sure the above steps have been completed and all components have chilled 100% for at least 10+ hours in adance.
- Make the whipped cream frosting by whipping the heavy cream and confectioners sugar in a large bowl until a thick whipped frosting forms, or about 10 minutes. Tranfer the whipped topping to a piping bag.
- Transfer the custard to a piping bag. Remove each cake from its pan and carefully remove the parchment. Slice each cake in half so there are 4 layers of cake.
- Pipe a dab of whipped topping onto the bottom of the cardboard cake board and place it on the cake turn table. Pipe another dab of whipped topping on top of the cake board.
- Place the first layer of cake down. Brush the entire cake including the sides with the Grand Marnier syrup. Then spread on a layer of macerated strawberries. Then pipe on the custard in an even layer. Finally, place the next layer of cake on top and repeat with the remaining ingredients.
- Pipe about a quarter of the whipped frosting on the top and side of the cake. Use a flat scraper to create a crumb coat of frosting on the cake. FREEZE the cake on the cake stand for 20 minutes to set the crumb coat.
- Once the crumb coat has set, pipe the remaining whipped frosting on the top and sides of the cake, using the cake scraper and turn table to get an even quarter to half inch of frosting on the entire cake.
- Decorate the cake with dabs of frosting and whole and sliced strawberries. Chill until ready to serve or for up to 24 hours in advance. Enjoy while living in The Land!