This past weekend, the husband’s parents came to visit. My mother-in-law’s birthday was this week, so a cake was requested . . . and, since I can’t just do anything the simple way, I refused the husband’s suggestion to just run up to the grocery store and pick one out. Noooo, no. Nothing simple in this house.
After getting little information on what direction to go in besides “strawberries”, I decided to look for a recipe for a cassata cake. For every single party or celebration that I can ever remember this family having, there has been a strawberry cassata cake present – picked up from a Cleveland bakery.
Little did I know, this particular kind of cake is specific only to the Cleveland area. Search after search led me to traditional cassata cakes – all made with ricotta cheese as the filling, instead of the sweet custard I was looking for.
Eventually, I pieced a few recipes together, a little cake here, a little custard there, and we ended up with a deliciously sweet stand-in for those store bought cakes. Not 100% the same, but close enough to keep going back to the fridge to sneak more!
Strawberry Cassata Cake – Cleveland Style
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 large egg yolks at room temperature
8 large egg whites at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
Bake the cakes:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottoms of two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. (Set the pan on top of the parchment paper, and run a knife around the bottom to cut out your circle – always fits!)
Sift together the flour, 1 1/4 cups of sugar, and baking powder into a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat together the yolks, water, oil, lemon, and vanilla until smooth. Stir into the flour mixture.
In another bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and beat on high until the peaks are stiff but not dry. (Make 100% sure that the bowl is clean – any water or oil or, in my case, left over batter from the yolk mixture will cause the whites to not peak.)
Gently fold about a quarter of the fluffy egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Then fold in the remaining whites. Gently! The harder you mix, the less fluffy the cake. When the egg white mix is no longer visible, stop mixing.
Pour the batter into the two cake pans and bake for about 30 minutes. Check the centers with a toothpick to make sure they’re done.
Let the cakes cool and then flip them out of the pans. Use a knife to loosen them from the edges before flipping.
Use a sharp, thin knife to level the tops and to slice each cake in half. Clean craft wire or unflavored floss works really well, if you don’t have a steady hand for the knife. (It is easier to cut the cakes when they have been refrigerated for a while – but not impossible if you don’t have time for that.)
Wrap up the cakes and refrigerate until you’re ready to assemble the rest.
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups half and half
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla
Make the custard:
Whisk together all of the custard ingredients in a saucepan, bringing to a boil over medium-low heat, whisking constantly. After it boils, turn down the heat to simmer and continue to whisk constantly until thick. This should take 1-2 minutes, as it turns from a liquid to a pudding-like consistency. Spoon into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap – not tupperware with a lid or anything, the plastic wrap is important! Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or as long as a couple days.
3 lb. strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
Slice the strawberries thinly and place in a bowl. Sprinkle with the 2T. sugar, and slightly mash with a strawberry/potato masher. Just enough to squish them up, but not so much that they become more liquid than slices. Cover the bowl and let it sit for at least an hour (overnight is fine). You’ll end up with a juicy mixture.
3 cups chilled heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoon sugar
Whip them together until stiff. (If using a stand mixer, use the actual mixer attachment, not the whisk one – the consistency is just plain better that way.)
Putting it all together:
Start with one layer of the cake. Spoon some of the strawberry liquid evenly around, then the chunkier strawberries, then a generous heaping of the custard. Smooth it out, put down the next layer of cake – squish it down just a tiny bit – and repeat. Cover the entire cake with the whipped cream icing and place some freshly cut strawberries on top. If you’re feeling ambitious, as I was, melt a bit of white chocolate and drizzle it all over the top of the cake.
Refrigerate for at least a couple hours before serving.
Some prefer to let the cake warm back up to room temperature before serving – I prefer it still cold. (Like straight out of the fridge with a fork kind of cold!)
Cake recipe is slightly (just a tiny bit) modified from Smitten Kitchen’s Strawberry Chiffon Shortcake recipe.
Eventually I found Sweet Amandine’s recipe for this exact cake (after I had made the cake – what are the odds!). Custard, strawberries and icing are slightly modified from hers.