During the month of March the world joins together to support, raise, inspire and motivate women across all fields of work. In Italy the day is celebrated as Festa della Donna and fragrant bouquets of bright yellow mimosa appear in shop windows to be sold as a symbol of support and appreciation for women and all they do.
Mimosa became the traditional flower for this early March celebration in 1946, to mark the first occasion of the holiday after the end of World War II in support of women's equality. It was chosen because of its bright color and fragrant scent and because its blooms are a promise of spring. The tiny yellow flowers with fern-like leaves are bunched together in bright fluffy pompons and are the inspiration for a delicious Italian dessert known as torta mimosa .
This cake is somewhat difficult to make and involves several steps making an Italian sponge (pan di spagna) with chantilly cream and a syrup. The results are impressive. Many recipes feature individual mimosa flowers created by dicing a part of the sponge in small pieces and placing them on top of the cake to simulate the look of a bouquet of mimosa.
The closest I’ll probably get to this cake this year is a foto on the web, eating a piece vicariously unless I can find a male friend who likes me enough to go through all the trouble of making it. On second thought I’d be just as happy to get a sprig of mimosa.
Should you decide to give it a try, here is a recipe that although it might test your culinary patience you will not be disappointed with the results. You will need a little cognac for brushing the baked cake and may need a small glass for the cook during the process.
Pan di Spagna
1 1/2 cups cake flour, plus more for the pan
8 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
8 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 teaspoons teaspoons vanilla paste or vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Vanilla Custard, Whipped Cream & Assembly
4 large egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Heat the oven to 325°F. Grease and flour 2 (8-inch) cake pans. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment, then grease and flour the parchment.
To make the sponge, in the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. With the motor running, gradually add the sugar, increase the speed to high, and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, vanilla paste, and salt to combine. Slowly fold the egg yolk mixture into the egg whites until just combined.Gradually sift one-third of the flour over the egg mixture and gently fold until just combined. Repeat two more times with the remaining flour, taking care not to deflate the egg whites. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and smooth the surface. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden but still springs back when touched and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool slightly, then invert onto wire racks and let cool completely.
To make the custard, in the large bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla paste, cornstarch, and salt on medium-high speed for about 1 minute, until light and fluffy. In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk until it begins to simmer, then remove from the heat. Add a few splashes of the milk to the egg mixture and stir to combine to temper. Continue to add the remaining milk while constantly whisking to prevent the eggs from cooking. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, for 5 to 6 minutes, until the mixture resembles a loose pudding. Once thickened, stop whisking and let it bubble for a few seconds. Remove from the heat and add the butter, 1 piece at a time, whisking after each addition. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Place the custard in the fridge for 1 to 2 hours, until chilled.
To prepare the cake, using a serrated knife, trim the thin brown layer from the outside of the cakes. Cut 1 cake in half horizontally to make 2 layers. Cut the second cake in half horizontally and then into ½-inch cubes (this will be the outside).
Make the whip cream using the large bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat the cream and powdered sugar on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Once the pastry cream is cooled, add a small amount of the whipped cream to the pastry cream and gently fold to lighten the mixture. Add the remaining cream and fold until combined.
To assemble the cake: Place the bottom cake layer on a platter. Brush some cognac over the cake and along the sides. Spread 1 cup of the cream on top of the cake, then arrange the second layer on top. Brush some more cognac on the top. Cover the top of the cake with the cream. Gently spread the cream down the sides, covering the entire cake. Press the small cake pieces all over the cream to cover the entire cake (you may not use all the pieces.
Refrigerate the cake for 2 hours or up to overnight.
Adapted from a recipe by Anna Francese Gass - Food52