Cassata Cake Balls
Cassata is a classic Sicilian cake that has many versions, but often it combines a fairly simple sponge cake with fresh ricotta, candied orange peel, liqueur, and shavings of chocolate. This cake ball features all of these traditional flavors. Make sure to use fresh ricotta for its incomparable flavor, which you will probably have to locate at a cheese or specialty store. Regular supermarket ricotta, which has a different water content, will not work here. Maraschino liqueur has flavors of cherry and bitter almond and brings everything together in this sophisticated, adult cake ball. The ingredient list is long, but you can make the nut brittle for the topping ahead of time.
Makes about 62 golf ball–size balls
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 1/2 t easpoons w ater
- 1/3 cup blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup maraschino liqueur, such as Luxardo
- 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons dried tart cherries, minced
- 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons minced candied orange peel
1 (1 1/2-ounce) block semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, such as Scharffen Berger semisweet or Valrhona Manjari
1 batch White Cake, baked, cooled, and crumbled
1 1/2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
6 tablespoons sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 pounds semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, such as Scharffen Berger semisweet or Valrhona Manjari, finely chopped
62 miniature fluted paper cups (optional)
1. To make the nut brittle: Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchement paper or aluminum foil. Stir the sugar and water together in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, swirling the pan once or twice, but do not stir. Cook until the sugar is caramelized and has turned a medium golden brown. Stir in the almonds until coated, then immediately scrape out onto the prepared pan. Let cool; the brittle will harden. Break off pieces of nut brittle, place on a cutting board, and use a large chef’s knife to chop finely. This can be done up to 4 days ahead; store in an airtight container at room temperature.
2. To make the filling: Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, swirling the pan once or twice to encourage the sugar to dissolve. Boil for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool and then add the liqueur. Stir in 1/2 cup of the cherries and 1/2 cup of the orange peel and allow to marinate for at least 15 minutes.
3. Grate the 1 1/2-ounce block of chocolate on the largest holes of a box grater. Toss the grated chocolate with the crumbled cake until distributed evenly. Use a slotted spoon to remove the fruit from the liqueur and toss into the cake mixture. Drizzle the liqueur over the cake and toss to distribute evenly. Whisk together the ricotta and confectioners’ sugar in a small bowl until smooth. Add 1 1/4 cups of the ricotta mixture to the cake mixture. Test by compressing and tasting, and add more ricotta only if needed for flavor and moisture. Roll into golf ball–size cake balls. Refrigerate until firm. This can be done 1 day ahead; store in an airtight container once they are firm.
4 Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Toss together the chopped nut brittle and the remaining 3 tablespoons cherries and 3 tablespoons orange peel for the decorative topping. Melt the chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler. Dip the balls one at a time in the chocolate, encouraging any excess chocolate to drip back into the container. Place, evenly spaced, on the prepared pans. Sprinkle a bit of the topping on top of each cake ball while the chocolate is still wet. Refrigerate briefly until the chocolate is set. Trim the bottoms, if needed. Place each cake ball in a paper cup, if desired. Place in a single layer in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.