Sicilian sweets are some of the most popular in all of Italy. There is the cannoli, quite possibly the most famous. Cassata, marzipan treats, and granita are also quite popular. However, not many people outside of Sicily are as familiar with the Torta Setteveli. The cake of the seven veils, named after the dance of the same name. The dance of Salome to make Herod confused with want and lust. Well, this cake definitely elicits want and lust.......for more cake!
The Torta Setteveli is the typical birthday cake in Palermo. It's a combination of alternating chocolate and hazelnut layers, with a crunchy layer that combines both those flavors. It's also the cake my cousins introduced me to when I made the mistake of saying I thought French pastries were better than Italian pastries. They certainly showed me.
There are many stories about who actually created the cake. Some give credit to Capello of Pasticceria Capello in Palermo, other to Luca Mannori of Prato, whose Torta Setteveli helped him win the 1997 Pastry World Cup in Lyon, France. You can find the cake throughout Sicily, but it is in every pasticceria in Palermo. The Palermitani see it as the ultimate dessert to enjoy on special occasions, especially for birthdays.
While I was visiting relatives in Palermo, it was my little cousin Francesca's ninth birthday. I snuck out of the house to surprise her and get the cake. Two hours later and one long half-mile, crowded bus trip back to their apartment, I returned. I got odd looks both on the bus and walking back to the apartment as I carried the cake in my hands as carefully as I would a baby. Francesca had her birthday cake, and I had my first taste of the Setteveli. It definitely lived up to its billing. Each layer is creamy and rich but also as light at as a veil from which its name derives.
These are the seven layers of the Torta Setteveli:
7th layer (top layer): Chocolate Glaze
6th layer: Chocolate Mousse
5th layer: Hazelnut Bavarian Cream
4th layer: Chocolate Sponge Cake
3rd layer: Hazelnut Bavarian Cream
2nd layer: Praline Crunch
1st layer (bottom layer): Chocolate Sponge Cake
This cake was the second of two desserts in the Sicilian-Inspired Holiday dinner I made last weekend. I had been wanting to recreate this cake since I tasted it last year. It takes a little time to make, so I would save it for a special occasion like a birthday, Christmas, or it would be a perfect chocolate treat for Valentine's Day. It could and should be made a day in advance.
Torta Setteveli - Seven Veils Cake
(makes one 10 1/2 inch torta)
Chocolate Genoise Cake
This sponge cake is adapted from Lidia's Italian Table by Lidia Bastianich
(makes one 10-inch cake to be sliced in half)
2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Preheat an oven to 375 F. Butter and flour a 10-inch springform pan
Sift together two times the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda; set aside.
Over a double boiler, whisk together the eggs and sugar until they are warm (about 80 F) and almost doubled in size. Place the mixture into a stand mixer with a whisk attachment and whisk until the mixture has tripled in size, about 7 minutes. It's the proper consistency when you lift the batter with the whisk, and as the batter falls back into itself, the part that fell will stay on top of the batter for 30 seconds before sinking (called the ribbon effect because the form it makes looks like a ribbon).
Sift half of the flour onto the egg mixture, then fold it into the batter, being careful not to deflate the air whipped into the batter. Sift the other half of the flour on the egg mixture and fold it until all the flour is combined. Pour the batter into the springform pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes. A skewer/toothpick poked into the center of the cake should come out clean when the cake is done. Remove from the oven and cool for 15 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool completely on a rack. You should make the sponge cake at least one hour before assembling the torta.
Simple Syrup for Imbibing
75 grams granulated sugar
75 grams water
In a saucepan bring the sugar and water to a boil. Remove from the heat and cool. Refrigerate. The imbibing syrup should be cold when assembling the torta.
65 grams dark chocolate 64%
25 grams butter
80 grams hazelnut paste**
40 grams cornflakes, crushed a bit by hand
Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Mix together the melted chocolate & butter, the hazelnut paste and the cornflakes. Set aside until you're ready to assemble the tart.
Hazelnut Bavarian Cream
(makes about 1 quart)
8 ounces whole milk
8 ounces cream
4 ounces hazelnut paste**
5 egg yolks
90 g granulated sugar
12 g gelatin (3 leaves that are 4 grams each), placed in water
16 ounces heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
Prepare an ice bath in one large bowl
In a large saucepan, heat the milk, cream, hazelnut paste to scalding. The mixture will start bubbling around the outer edges. While the milk mixture is heating, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until they become pale. When the milk mixture is scalding, pour a little bit of it at a time onto the yolk mixture, whisking it as you pour. (You want to pour a little at a time so you bring the eggs up to temperature slowly and don't curdle the eggs.) Continue whisking until all the milk mixture has been incorporated into the egg mixture. Pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan, and stir slowly with a spoon over medium heat until the mixture reaches 82 C/160 F. Strain into a bowl that has been placed on top of the bowl you prepared with the ice bath. (NOTE: At this point you've made hazelnut creme anglaise.) Squeeze all the water out of the gelatin, and add the gelatin to your creme anglaise, stirring until it has melted and has been incorporated. Stir over the ice bath until the mixture is chilled. Fold 1/3 of the whipped cream into the hazelnut mixture to lighten it. Fold the remaining whipped cream into the hazelnut mixture in two more stages. Prepare this bavarian cream right before you will be using it.
150 grams cream
150 grams dark chocolate 64%
250 grams cream, whipped to soft peaks and set aside (out of the refrigerator)
Chop the chocolate into shavings and place into a bowl. In a saucepan, heat the cream to scalding. Bubbles will form on the outer edges. Pour the scalding milk over the chocolate and let it sit for 1 minute. Slowly whisk together the mixture until they are combined into a creamy ganache. Let cool to 100 F. Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate ganache in three stages, as you did for the bavarian cream. Prepare right before assembling the torta. (NOTE: It's important that the temperature of the ganache is 100 F and that the whipped cream is not cold. If the temperatures of the two mixtures are too far apart, the chocolate will seize up and you will not have a smooth mousse.)
85 grams water
80 grams cream
40 g cocoa powder
120 g granulated sugar
12 grams gelatin leaves (3 leaves that weigh 4 grams each), soaked in water
In a saucepan bring to a boil the water, cream, cocoa powder and sugar whisking constantly. Once the mixture boils, keep on the heat for another 4 minutes whisking constantly. Cool to 100 F. When the mixture reaches 100 F, wring out all the water from the gelatin and add it to the chocolate mixture. Cool to 90 F. Make right before using. At 90 F, use to ice the torta.
**Hazelnut paste is not easy to find in the United States. You can order Hazelnut paste online, and sometimes you can find it at high end supermarkets, but you can also make it yourself. You must have a food processor to make hazelnut paste yourself. Below is the recipe.
250 grams granulated sugar
75 grams water
3 cups hazelnuts with the skins removed
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons hazelnut oil or walnut oil preferred, can substitute vegetable oil
In a saucepan caramelise the sugar, by heating the sugar and water until it is a light amber color to about 340 F. You do not want to wait until the mixture is darker because it continues cooking after you've taken it off the heat. Once it is a light amber color, off the heat add the hazelnuts and stir so that each nut is coated with caramel. Pour onto a silpat or parchment paper and cool completely. Once it has cooled, break the candied hazelnuts into pieces that will fit into your food processor.
In your food processor, working in batches of 2 or 3, grind the candied hazelnuts until they are a thick paste. Add all the paste back to the food processor and drizzle in the oil just until its a creamy paste, a texture similar to peanut butter.
Assembling the Torta:
Organization is key to easily preparing the torta. You will want to have the hazelnut cream ready, the sponge cake cooled and the imbibing syrup cold before you start on the other components of the cake.
Once the above components are ready, slice the sponge cake. First remove any dome from the cake so you have a flat top surface, then cut the cake in half. Place one slice at the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan. It's easier to unmold the cake if you place a mylar plastic strip around the rim of the springform pan. With a pastry brush, dab the simple syrup onto the cake, imbibing it well. Refrigerate.
Meanwhile, make the praline crunch. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and spread it onto the top of the imbibed cake layer. Refrigerate.
Meanwhile, make the hazelnut bavarian cream. Remove the cake from the refrigerator, and ladle about 2 cups of the bavarian cream onto the chilled praline layer of the cake. With the bottom of the ladle, spread the bavarian cream to the outer edges of the cake so that you have an even layer of bavarian cream. Ideally, the layer of bavarian cream, should be the same height as the layer of cake. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes, so the bavarian cream will set more quickly.
Remove the cake from the freezer, and place the second slice of cake on top of the bavarian cream layer. With a pastry brush, dab the simble syrup onto the cake, imbibing the cake well with the syrup. Place in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Remove the cake from the freezer, and ladle 2 cups of bavarian cream onto the cake layer. With the bottom of the ladle, spread the bavarian cream out to the outer edges of the cake, so you have an even layer of bavarian cream. Again, ideally you want all the layers of cake and bavarian cream to be of equal height. Place in the freezer for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the chocolate mousse. Once the bavarian cream has completely set, remove from the freezer. Remove the springform rim from the cake, and the mylar plastic rim if you used it. Spread the mousse onto the top of the cake and the sides. The mousse should be as smooth and level as possible on the top and on the sides - and again, ideally the mousse layers should be the same height as the cake slices and the bavarian cream. Place in the freezer for 45 minutes.
About 15 minutes before you are ready to take the cake out of the freezer, make the chocolate glaze. In the 15 minutes, or so, it takes to make the glaze and to let it cool to 90 F, the cake will be ready to take out of the freezer. If your cardboard disk is bigger than the diameter of the cake, you should carefully replace it with one that is no bigger than the diameter of the cake. (This will allow the glaze to run off the cake instead of forming a puddle at the bottom.) Place a baking rack into a sheet pan, and place the cake on the baking rack. (It might be wise to have a second sheet pan ready, in case you have to glaze the cake a second time. Slowly pour the chocolate glaze over the cake, starting at one end and moving to the other end. At the same time make sure that the glaze covers all sides. If the glaze has not covered all sides after the first glazing, move the rack (with the cake on it) to the second sheet pan. Pour the glaze at the bottom of the sheet pan back into the saucepan and reglaze in the same manner you did for the first glazing. Ideally, you will want to glaze only once, but if you have to glaze a second time, you want to work quickly before the gelatin starts to set. You should not glaze more than 2 times, or you risk having an uneven and lumpy glaze. Place back into the refrigerator until the glaze has set and chilled, at least one hour, before serving. Slice and serve. Buon Appetito!