Indian Cassata I love thee.
Thank you for the memories and for being the sole reason I inhaled my dinners and ran to the corner of the street toward a mustachioed man who awaited customers, on a pushcart with an ice box, holding you safe and cool for me. And then you emerged in style, cold smoke and all oozing around you, teasing me with a peek of your toasty pistachios on a crescent-shaped slice of joy.
I was born to love the Indian Cassata Ice Cream slice, with layers of sponge cake enveloped by layers of strawberry, vanilla and pistachio ice cream, and a sheet of toasted pistachios that sat atop, on the half rim. I had my first taste when I was very little—and this isn't documented per se—but below is an expression of me that describes the feeling best.
Years later, when I was visiting home, I was thoroughly disappointed to see the Cassata had lost a lot of weight, and that it now comes in a fancy (trashable) semi-circled/half-moon plastic box, shaped like the ice cream slice itself. It even had fewer nuts on top! FEWER NUTS?! Those nuts were the perfect ending to the Cassata bite! The toasted nutty crunch was a finish that kept you coming back for more. And those layers of soft spongy cake, they used to be thick! And as the ice cream melted, dripping down your hands, there was peace of mind that the sponge cake will soak it up for you, becoming even moister and spongier and oh so delicious, and preserving each and every drop and bite of the slice intact.
I imagined a bleak future for humanity. Life was perfect once, Cassata was perfect once, and then my vision blurred for a moment, and I saw the signs. It was as if I found my calling, as the skies thundered, a mighty storm started to brew, and I felt a jolt of power run through me. The day to reincarnate the original Cassata had come, and I was the chosen one.
Meanwhile back in my tiny kitchen, I get ready to change the future of mankind. Turned out to be a simple task! All I needed was some Cake, some ice creams and some nuts, and not-too-much time to analyze the true effects of my ice cream slice revolution.
But first, Cake! The recipe for the cake used in the original Italian dessert can best compared to the angel food cake, and it's called the Pan Di Spagna, or literally translated into the bread of Spain. Here's the recipe I used.
It uses 4 ingredients, is really easy to make, and acts as the perfect base and soaking apparatus for all layers of ice creams once they melt a bit, which traditionally by means of Italy and England (I assume) in this recipe were somehow agreed upon to be Vanilla, Strawberry and Pistachio. Magic!
TIP: Even though the recipe calls for just beating the eggs along with the yolks, I think I would have gotten an even fluffier cake had I beaten the egg whites separately, and then the yolks and sugar, and them folded them in. But the result was not bad at all!
Once you have the cake, you've got to let it cool down thoroughly and allow it to come to room temperature. I actually let it sit in the fridge overnight and sliced it the next day. At that point you just pull out the ice creams from the freezer and let it sit for around 30 mins at room temp to make it easier to spread and layer. This is how it goes: layer of cake at the bottom, ice cream, another layer of cake, some more ice cream, more cake and then some more ice cream, finally some toasted Pistachios.
Traditional Indian Cassata also used candied fruit, but I skipped that since I could not find the right kind and the ones I tried were totally passably delicious ;) So...moving on!
TIP: Before layering in the ice cream, just spoon in a couple of tablespoons of milk over each layer of cake to keep it moist, but not too much since milk will turn to icicles in the freezer.
Another HUGE tip: Nuts go from brown to black the moment you take your eyes off of them, like... in 10 seconds. So, yeah don't do that.
And once you have your layers of cake and ice cream, rejoice! And then get bummed out, since you can't touch that loaf pan, since it needs to go into the freezer overnight. Trust me you want to do that! And when you wait, you have something amazing,
Then you go for it! Share it with someone and let them see what you meant, and experience your journey when you were a child running to the end of that street for a slice of heaven and love, made with cake (umm...obvz!) and equal parts ice cream.
The Original Indian Cassata Ice Cream Cake Slice
Makes one 9 inch loaf pan (approx 12 slices)
120 grams (1/2 cup+1½ tablespoon) granulated sugar
4 extra large eggs (at room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla extract
120 grams (1 cup+ 1 tablespoon) cake flour (sifted)
1 cup pistachios (shelled)
1/2 to 2 cups each: Vanilla, Strawberry and Pistachio Ice Creams
1 tbsp butter to grease baking pan
8-10 tbsp whole milk
To bake the cake beat all eggs and the sugar until very fluffy and pale yellow (about 15 minutes on medium/high speed). If you get stiff-ish peaks then you're ready. As an optional process, you could beat the egg whites separately till you get stiff peaks and then combine the sugar and yolks till creamy and then incorporate. That would make for a fluffier cake.
Sift the flour into the egg mixture, a little at a time, and fold it gently in a upward down motion, adding more air to the batter as you fold.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Transfer the batter into a 9 inch greased loaf pan (or use parchment). Do not bang the pan to even out the batter, that would ensure the air escapes the air pockets from the batter resulting in a less fluffier cake.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or till a toothpick comes out clean from the center.
Cool cake to come to room temperature (3 hrs) or ideally overnight in the fridge in the same baking pan.
Bring out ice creams 30 mins prior to layering/assembling the Cassata. When the cake is cool, slice lengthwise with a bread knife 1/4" to 3/8" thick layers of cake. Line up the pan with a layer of cake. Spoon in 2 tbsp of milk evenly over the layer of cake to ensure moistness.
Start spreading the first layer of ice cream (any flavor you like) make the layer as thick as the layer of cake under it. Then another layer of cake, some milk, some ice cream (next flavor) and then repeat with last layer.
Use a spreading spatula to spread ice cream evenly.
Top with layer of toasted and chopped pistachios (toasted at 300 degrees for 5 minutes)
Cover with cling film and transfer to the freezer immediately, and let it chill overnight.
Cut 1/2" thick slices and serve immediately.