Dolce or dessert, is an important part of the Easter feast, with each region having its own favorite Dolce di Pasqua. Pizza Pasqualina, a dessert made with cinnamon and chocolate, is a specialty of northern Lazio. On Easter Sunday in Sardinia, Casadina, small ricotta filled pastries with raisins and candied oranges is usually served.
In Sicily, cassata, cannoli filled treats and marzipan sweets are the Easter desserts of choice. Sicilians also make a special Black Easter Rice – Riso Nero di Pasqua. Unlike most black risotto, this owes it color to chocolate rather than squid ink and is therefore a dessert. It was traditionally prepared by those living in the province of Messina as a votive offering for the Madonna Nera di Tindari.
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 icing and coconut to resemble the lamb’s wool.
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
2-1/4 cups cake flour
2-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 egg whites
You will need a lamb mold for the cake; prepare it by coating with vegetable oil. Let it 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 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. Gently move a wooden spoon through the batter 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 1 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 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.
Riso Nero di Pasqua
1-1/8 lb short-grained rice
1 qt milk
3-1/2 cups sugar
1 lb bitter cocoa
1/4 lb bitter chocolate, crumbled
1 lb slivered almonds
1/4 lb mixed candied fruit, finely diced
2 oz diavolini (tiny colored candies)
grated zest of one orange
1 tsp vanilla
Cook the rice in the milk, adding the sugar, a pinch of salt and the vanilla. When the rice is close to being done, stir in the cocoa a little at a time and the grated orange zest. Stir constantly. Make sure that the rice does not overcook, become soft or stick to the bottom of the pot.
Remove the mixture from the flame. Stir in the almonds. Once the mixture has cooled enough so that the chocolate will not melt (5-7 minutes) mix in the crumbled chocolate. Place the rice into a serving dish. Sprinkle with the candied fruit and the diavolini. Dust with a bit of powdered cinnamon.
Easter Bird’s Nest Cake
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 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” 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” x 5” 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” 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” “twigs” and 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 and 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.