I’m not a baker but once in a while I try. Following up on last week’s post about cooking with my husband’s aunt from Italy, this recipe immediately came to mind. This cake is another of my favorite recipes taught to me by aunt V. Several years ago she baked this cake for a family occasion. As she served up huge slabs, she encouraged us to eat it stating that there’s no need to worry about waist lines because this is a light cake. “Torta leggiera” she said! Ever since, my husband’s family and I have been referring to this cake as the “torta leggiera”. How a cake that is filled with pastry cream and iced with a combination of pastry cream and whipped cream can be light is beyond me. Oh yes, its because of the pineapple! Joking aside, she is a fabulous cook and we’ll eat anything she makes.
Anyhow, light or not, it is a delicious creation and each time she returns to visit we ask her to bake one for us and I got her to share her recipe as well. It is really quite an easy recipe. While the sponge cakes are baking, you can prepare the pastry cream. Both need to cool completely before assembling so it is preferable to prepare these the day before. Once assembled it is best to let the cake set for several hours before serving. The flavors will come together, resulting in a moist cake that will be easier to cut at serving time.
The key to the cakes is the “lievito pane degli angeli”. This is basically an Italian vanilla flavored leavening agent that will makes your cakes extra light and fluffy. I purchased it in a local Italian grocery store but interestingly enough it is also available on Amazon. Another important tip: do not insert a toothpick in the centre of the cake to see if it comes out clean as the cake will deflate! Trust me, I learned the hard way. You’ll have to rely on sight alone. You’re looking for a cake that has puffed up nicely, is golden in color and you’ll also notice that the sides have browned lightly.
I love this recipe because the sponge cakes can be a building block for endless dessert variations. You can swap out the pineapple for fruit of your choice such as strawberries or other berries in season. The toasted coconut was my addition and I think it makes a beautiful presentation. As for the pastry cream, you can stir in some good quality melted chocolate instead of lemon juice and have a chocolatey filling. This basic pastry cream recipe can also be used in other desserts such as cream puffs, including zeppole, eclairs or tarts.
This is a wonderful cake to serve when entertaining (as it is best if prepared ahead of time), for birthdays, or special occasions. As a matter of fact, Valenine’s Day is around the corner so why not give it a try!
Creamy Pineapple Layer Cake
Makes 1 -2 layer -9 inch cake
For the cakes:
- 8 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 2 envelopes lieveto pane degli angeli
For the pastry cream:
- 2 cups whole milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 6 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 1 can crushed pineapple or pineapple rings, juice reserved
- liquor of your choice (brandy, rum, amaretto) for brushing on the cakes (optional)
- 2 tablespoons toasted shredded coconut
To prepare the cakes, preheat the oven to 350°F and grease and flour 2 -9 inch cake pans. Whisk together the eggs and sugar in a large bowl. Sift the flour and lieveto together and add to the bowl. Stir until well combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake in the centre of the oven for 20-22 minutes until the cakes are a light golden color. Do not pierce with a toothpick or the cakes will deflate.
Remove from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool.
Meanwhile, prepare the pastry cream by warming the milk in a small sauce pan. Do not bring to a boil. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar. Add the flour. Pour in about half the warmed milk and stir well. Pour the entire mixture back into the sauce pan with the remaining milk and slowly bring to a boil, whisking continuously so that the mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pan. When the mixture has thickened, remove from the heat and transfer to a strainer that is placed over a bowl. Force the cream through the strainer. This will ensure a smooth cream, free of lumps. Place a piece of plastic wrap touching the surface of the cream so that it does not form a skin. Cool completely. Once cooled stir in the lemon juice.
To assemble the cake: Remove 1/3 of the pastry cream from the bowl and set aside. Whip the cream and stir into the bowl with the larger portion of pastry cream until thoroughly combined. Place 1 cake on your serving platter, brush with reserved pineapple juice or liquor and spread the entire surface with pastry cream. Top with pineapple.
Place the second cake on top and once again brush with pineapple juice or liquor. Ice the top and sides of the cake with the pastry/whipping cream mixture. Top with pineapple and sprinkle toasted coconut. Refrigerate for several hours before serving.