Celebrate, Day 8

While I sit and ponder what to celebrate for the remainder of the year, let me remind you that one way I love to celebrate my friends is to bake them (cup)cakes for their birthdays.  I found a recent winner in chocolate cassata.  It’s a chocolate cake with a cannoli-esque filling, topped with an indulgent layer of ganache.

chocolate cassata.

If you were to appear in my life and bake me a cupcake, I would hold it in my hands, savor the cuteness of it, unwrap is slowly, and enjoy each bite, ooh-ing and aah-ing over the time you took to make something for me.  My praise would flow freely and be genuine.  But I am incredibly picky about my own baking and indeed, my own harshest critic.  The cake is too dense, the frosting missing that perfect butter : sugar ratio, the cookies don’t achieve the right balance of crunch and smush. 

chocolate cassata cross section.

The ganache on this cake is the best I’ve ever made.  The best I’ve ever eaten.  But don’t take my word for it.  My French co-worker agreed.  If that isn’t the highest honor one’s ganache can receive, I don’t know what is.

To make chocolate cassata*, you will need:

For the cake:

For the filling:

For the ganache:

  • 1 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder, optional
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter, preferably at room temperature for easiest mixing
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, baking powder, espresso powder, and cocoa to make a sandy, somewhat clumpy mixture. Don’t worry; the eggs will smooth things out.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl midway through this process. Add half the flour to the bowl, beating at low speed to combine. Add all of the milk, beating at low speed to combine. Add the remaining flour, beating gently just until the batter is smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake for about 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The top may look a tiny bit damp; that’s OK. If you have an instant-read thermometer, the center will register 210°F to 215°F, while just under the top will register about 198°F to 200°F.

Remove the cake from the oven, loosen the edges, wait 10 minutes, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool.S tore completely cooled cake well wrapped, at room temperature, until ready to fill and frost.

To make the filling:

Stir together the ricotta, sugar, vanilla, and chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make the frosting:

Sift the cocoa, confectioners’ sugar, and espresso powder into a bowl.

Bring the cream to a simmer on the stove or in the microwave, and whisk into the cocoa mixture. At first the mixture will look grainy; continue whisking for a minute. You’ll see the lumps disappear as the sugar dissolves and the cocoa hydrates. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Place the butter, salt, and sifted confectioners’ sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla.  With the mixer running on low speed, add the cocoa mixture a spoonful at a time until it’s all incorporated. Scrape the bowl, then beat at medium speed for 1 minute.

To assemble the cake: Split the cake in thirds lengthwise, to make 3 layers. Brush the cut side of each layer with simple syrup or vanilla syrup; this will help keep the cake moist.

Place the bottom layer on a serving plate. Spread with half the ricotta filling. Top with the second layer, and spread with the remaining filling. Place the third layer on top.

Ice the cake — top and sides — with the frosting.

Serve immediately; or refrigerate, well-wrapped, until ready to serve, preferably not longer than 24 hours. Cut in crosswise slices to serve

*some notes:

  • I didn’t have a loaf pan, so I used an 8×8 pan.  I only cut my cake in two layers because it was not nearly as tall as if I had used the proper pan.
  • I prepared the cake and filling one day, then prepared the ganache and put everything together another.
  • When assembling, spread the filling until just before you reach the edge of the cake layers.  When you place the next layer on top, the filling will spread all the way to the edges.

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