Pizza Dolce Teramana: Layer Cake Specialty of Abruzzo
A decadently rich, unbelievable moist, and addictively delicious layer cake. Three layers of sponge cake are each moistened with a different fabulous flavor—coffee and two types of liqueur—then each layer is spread with chocolate-almond and vanilla custard.
It’s called “pizza” because of its round shape. The instructions are long, but each step is easy and the resulting cake is well worth the effort. This festive dessert is a specialty of Teramo, a city in Abruzzo famed for its excellent food.
This dessert has touches of Alchermes, a wonderfully aromatic red liqueur with a spicy-sweet flavor that is used to make dozens of Italian sweets, including zuppa inglese. It is very common in Italy but sadly not available in the US. But there’s good news: it’s simple to make using standard pantry ingredients. If you want a recipe for Alchermes, check out this article in our archives.
Serves 8 to 10
For the pastry cream:
In a bowl, combine the yolks and sugar and beat, using an electric hand mixer or whisk, until creamy and light yellow. Then mix in the flour, one tablespoon at a time, until smooth.
Pour the milk, cream, and vanilla in a saucepan and heat over low flame until the edges begin to bubble. Do not bring to a boil.
Remove from the heat and slowly beat the yolk mixture into the hot milk, making sure to beat until there are no lumps. Return the saucepan to the stove and heat over low flame, stirring continually with a wooden spoon, until it thickens, about 3 minutes. Do not overcook. The mixture should be thick, but not stiff. It will solidify as it cools.
Immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour 3/4 of it (about 4 1/2 cups) into one bowl and ¼ (about 1 1/2 cups) into another bowl. Add the chocolate, cocoa powder, and almonds into the smaller bowl, stirring until the chocolate dissolves.
Cover both bowls with plastic wrap, with the wrap touching the surface of the pastry cream so it doesn’t form a crust, and refrigerate until cold.
For the cake layers:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a 9-inch springform cake pan.
Combine the eggs and sugar in a standing mixer and beat on high for 15 minutes, until the mixture quadruples in volume.
Add the yolks and beat on high for another 5 minutes. The mixture should be thick enough to write with.
Remove the bowl from the standing mixer. Put the flour and potato starch in a sifter or mesh strainer and slowly incorporate it into the egg-sugar mixture, mixing each inclusion of flour delicately with a spatula, scooping from the bottom up, so as to not deflate the eggs. Mix in the vanilla and lemon zest until just blended, then pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for about 35 minutes, until a light golden and a toothpick poked into the center of the cake comes out clean. Do not overbake. It will dry and set as it cools.
Turn out onto a wire mesh and allow to cool. Once cool, carefully slice off the top and bottom crusts (discard or use to make truffle or garnishes for spoon sweets). Cut the cake horizontally into 3 layers, with one layer slightly higher than the other two. That will become the bottom layer.
Layer 1 - Put the larger of the 3 layers of cake onto a serving plate.
In a small bowl, combine the hot espresso with 3 tablespoons of sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the rum. Allow the liquid to cool completely, then brush the mixture over the entire layer of cake, soaking it well. Use all the liquid.
Top with the reserved cold chocolate-almond custard spreading it evenly over the cake.
Layer 2 - Place another layer of cake over the chocolate custard.
In a small saucepan, bring 1/3 cup of water and 1/2 cup of sugar to a boil until the sugar dissolves and some of the liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the Alchermes. Reserve.
In a small bowl combine 1/2 cup hot water with 4 tablespoons of sugar, and stir until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the Maraschino liqueur and brush half of the mixture over the cake. Reserve the other half of the mixture for the final layer.
Wait a minute or two for the liquid to absorb, then drizzle half of the Alchermes mixture over the cake in a spiral pattern.
Spread evenly with half of the cold vanilla custard (reserving the remaining half for the final layer). Scatter 2 ounces of the chocolate, coarsely chopped, over the custard.
Layer 3 - Drizzle the remaining Alchermes syrup in a spiral pattern over the final layer of cake.
Place it, Alchermes side down, onto the custard. Brush the cake with the remaining Maraschino syrup. Use all the syrup. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12 hours, or overnight, so the cake can absorb all the ingredients and moisten.
Just before serving, spread the top and sides with the remaining reserved vanilla custard. Generously sprinkle the top and sides of the cake with chopped almonds and garnish the top with the remaining chocolate either shaved or finely chopped.