Dolce or dessert, is an important part of the Easter feast, with each region of Italy having its own favorites for the holiday. In Sicily, cassata, cannoli filled treats and marzipan sweets are the Easter desserts of choice. Pastiera Napoletana, a cake made with ricotta cheese, candied fruit and orange-blossom water, is an authentic Easter dessert of Naples. Nidi di Pasqua Torta or Easter Nest Cake, is a chocolate cake that resembles a bird’s nest. The top is often filled with small candies and treats for children.
Nearly every town in Italy prepares some variation of Torta di Agnello or Easter Lamb Cake. This simple, yet delicious cake is shaped like a lamb, an important symbol of the holiday and decorated with vanilla and coconut. No matter what region your family is from or what kind of sweets you prefer, Italy has something for everyone when it comes to the Dolce di Pasqua.
Torta di Agnello (Easter Lamb Cake)
2-1/4 cups cake flour
2-½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1-1/4 cups white sugar
½ cup butter
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 egg whites
1 lamb mold
First, prepare your mold. Coat with vegetable oil, let sit for a few minutes then wipe clean with a paper towel. Then grease and flour your mold, making sure to get all the little areas.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Sift the cake flour, then sift again with the baking powder and salt; set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk. Stir the batter until smooth after each addition. Add the vanilla.
In a large glass or metal mixing bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it, then quickly fold in the remaining whites.
Fill the face side of the mold with batter. Move a wooden spoon through the batter gently to remove any air pockets. Make sure not to disturb the greased and floured surface of the mold. Put the lid on the mold, making sure it locks or ties together securely so that the steam and rising batter do not force the two sections apart.
Put the mold on a cookie sheet in a preheated oven for about an hour. To see if it is done, insert a wooden toothpick through a steam vent. Put the cake, still in the mold, on a rack for about 15 minutes. Very carefully, remove the top of the mold. Before you separate the cake from the bottom let it cool for about 5 more minutes so that all the steam can escape and the cake can firm up some more. After removing the rest of the mold, let the cake cool on the rack completely. Do not sit the cake upright until completely cooled. Frost with white icing of your choice, sprinkle with coconut flakes and decorate to look like a lamb.
Easter Nest Cake
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup baking cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
8 oz semisweet chocolate, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1-1/4 cups milk
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
3 tbsp cold water
7 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1-1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
20 to 30 small candy Easter eggs
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well.
Spread into a greased 9-in. spring form pan. Bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen. Remove sides and bottom of pan. Cool completely on a wire rack.
From a large sheet of waxed paper, cut a 29-in. x 5-in. strip. Fold strip lengthwise in half. Place strip on a large sheet of waxed paper on a work surface. Spread melted chocolate evenly along one long edge of waxed paper strip; spread upward, making a wavy line to within ½ inch of other long edge. Let stand for 10-30 minutes until chocolate begins to set but is still pliable.
Carefully lift waxed paper strip and wrap chocolate strip around cake with straight edge on the bottom. Do not remove waxed paper. Refrigerate until chilled. Meanwhile, cover three baking sheets with waxed paper. Drizzle remaining melted chocolate from a spatula over waxed paper in both directions. Chill for 10 minutes. Peel off waxed paper; break chocolate into 2 to 3 inch “twigs;” set aside.
For filling: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Stir in milk until smooth. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until slightly thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat. Stir a small amount of hot filling into egg yolks; return all to the pan, stirring constantly. Bring to a gentle boil; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat.
In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over water; let stand for 1 minute. Stir into custard until gelatin is dissolved. Add chopped chocolate; stir until smooth. Cover surface with plastic wrap; cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, beat cream until soft peaks form; fold into chocolate mixture. Carefully spoon over top of cake. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours or until set. Remove waxed paper strip from side of cake. Position chocolate “twigs” around top of cake to create a nest. Arrange candy eggs in center.
2 (1/4 -ounce) packages active dry yeast
½ cup warm water (about 110°F)
½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
8 oz can almond paste
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp grated lemon peel
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 large egg (separated)
½ cup warm milk (about 110°F)
5 cups unbleached flour
1 cup thinly sliced almonds
granulated sugar (optional)
In a small cup or bowl, stir the yeast into water to soften.
In a large bowl, cream the butter, almond paste and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the softened yeast, lemon peel, vanilla, salt, eggs, egg yolk, milk and 3 cups of flour to the creamed mixture. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes. Gradually add flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead, adding flour a little at a time, until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Place the dough into an oiled bowl. Turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise about 90 minutes. Due to the almond paste, the dough will not double in size.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface and divide in half. Shape each half into a smooth ball. Cover and let rest 5 minutes. Shape one ball of dough into a half oval 12 inches wide and four inches high at the center. Place in the center of a parchment-lined baking sheet. Flatten the center slightly so that when the next piece of dough is laid across it, it will not be as thick. Shape the other ball of dough into an 8 by 16 by 16-inch triangle. Keep the points of the triangle rounded rather than pointed.
Lay the triangle, centered, on the flattened part of the half oval. Fold the narrow end over to make the head. Pinch with your fingers to form a beak into the top side of the dough. Fold the other end in the opposite direction to form the tail. Cut 2-inch slits along the bottom edge of the tail and wing tips. Fan them out as for feathers. Cover with a towel and let rise 45 minutes. Again, due to the almond paste, the dough won’t rise as high as other types of yeast dough; however, it does rise high during baking.
About 10 min before baking, preheat the oven to 375°F. Just before baking, beat the egg white until frothy. Lightly brush the dove with the beaten egg white and place thinly sliced almonds, overlapping slightly, on the tail and wings to simulate feathers. Use a small bit of an almond to make the dove’s eye. Carefully brush the almond “feathers” with the remaining beaten egg white then sprinkle the dove with granulated sugar.
Bake for 20 minutes. Cover the bread loosely with foil with the shiny side up. Continue to bake for 10 more min, or until the internal temperature of the loaf reaches 190°F. Immediately remove dove from baking sheet and cool on a rack.