Cake for Carnevale: Schiacciata Alla Fiorentina
When most people think of Mardi Gras their minds fill with images of sparkling strands of colorful beads, grand parades in the streets of New Orleans, and some down-home Southern cooking. I considered making a King Cake for Mardi Gras this year, but I felt like a bit of a poser. I’ve never made one, I’ve never even tasted one, and I feel a little uncomfortable putting a plastic baby in a cake…
Besides, this celebration is all Italian to me. I had the most amazing time celebrating Carnevale in Italy a few years ago, so when I think of Mardi Gras I imagine people donning exquisite masks, elaborate period costumes and confetti speckling the streets. And, of course, incredible Italian food.
Schiacciata alla Fiorentina is a traditional Italian cake for celebrating this time of year, as the winter merges into spring and the sun starts to break through the clouds. Indeed the golden hue of the cake and the bright, citrusy aromas are as uplifting as sunlight. The tender crumb sparkles with orange zest and the smooth vanilla cream coats your tongue so the flavors of the cake linger after each bite. What’s more, this cake is a cinch to make– simply stir, bake, fill and devour. You’ll be smiling the rest of the day.
So treat yourself. It’s called Fat Tuesday after all.
Schiacciata Alla Fiorentina
adapted from the recipe by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 Tbsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup warm milk
- 2 eggs
- Zest and juice of 1 orange
- Powdered sugar, for decorating
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. add the oil, milk, eggs, zest and juice and whisk until just combined.
- Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans. Bake 15 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Let cool completely before removing from pan.
Crema Pasticcera (Pastry Cream)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 large egg
- 2 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla (or half a vanilla bean)
- In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a boil.
- Meanwhile, whisk together the egg, cornstarch, sugar and salt in a bowl until very smooth.
- When the milk comes to a boil, slowly pour it into the egg mixture while whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the pot and cook, whisking constantly, until thick like pudding, about 1 minute.
- Remove from the heat and scrape the cream into a shallow dish. Stir in the vanilla. Smooth the surface of the cream, then cover with plastic wrap so that it is pressed down onto the surface of the cream (this will prevent it from forming a skin). Chill in the refrigerator at least 1 hour.
- When the cake and pastry cream are cooled, place one of the cake rounds on a plate or serving dish. Use a serrated knife to cut the top off the bottom layer so it is flat. Spread the cream evenly over the surface of the cake. Top with the second layer of cake and press down gently.
- If desired, cut out a fleur de lis stencil and use powdered sugar to make a design on the top of the cake. Otherwise, dust the entire cake with powdered sugar, serve, and enjoy!
Since the pastry cream has to be kept refrigerated, I recommend assembly the cake right before you serve it. After being assembled, any remaining cake will have to be kept in the fridge. It will last a few days, but the fridge will dry it out over time, so it’s best eaten within a day or two.
ETA: I lied. This cake has been in my fridge for several days and has only gotten better. The cream has seeped into the crumb a bit and made the cake extra moist. The only drawback is the powdered sugar design melted from the moisture. So, I would say you could make this cake a day or two ahead of time, but hold off on sugaring it until right before you eat it