Celebrate your loved ones this International Women’s Day with this beautifully zesty Torta Mimosa from Olivia Cavalli’s Stagioni.
Designed to look like the mimosa flowers that arrive in spring and are given to women throughout Italy on International Women’s Day, celebrated on 8th March. My version is a little different from other recipes, adding layers of cloud-like meringue alongside thin layers of fluffy pan di spagna and lemony custard. It’s lovely and light as it is, but, as strawberries begin to make their first appearance, I like to macerate them and serve a spoonful with each slice. To do this, quarter approx. 600g/1lb 5oz strawberries and put in a bowl, sprinkle over 2 heaped tablespoons of caster sugar and the juice of half a lemon and leave to sit for around 1 hour at room temperature.
For the custard
4 large egg yolks
450ml/15fl oz whole milk
150ml/5fl oz double cream
100g/3½oz caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
For the sponge cake
Butter, for the tin
4 large eggs
120g/4¼oz caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
60g/2¼oz 00 or plain flour
For the meringue
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
200g/7oz caster sugar
20g/¾oz cornflour, sifted
For the syrup
100ml/3½fl oz white rum
100ml/3½fl oz elderflower syrup
50ml/2fl oz lemon juice
130ml/4fl oz double cream
15g/½oz caster sugar
Icing sugar, for dusting
To start, make the custard. Put the yolks and cornflour in a bowl and whisk vigorously into a paste. Set aside. Heat the milk, cream, sugar and vanilla gently in a saucepan, adding the zest of the lemon and a pinch of salt. Take a ladleful of the warm mixture and add it to the yolks. Whisk until smooth, then pour this back into the pan. Cook over a medium-low heat for 6–8 minutes, whisking continuously, until thick and coating the back of the spoon like pastry cream. It will thicken quite quickly, so watch it carefully. Take off the heat and cover with cling film, making sure it touches the surface of the custard to prevent a skin forming. Once cool, refrigerate.
To make the cake, preheat the oven to 170°C fan. Butter and line 2 loose-bottomed 20cm (8in) cake tins.
Put the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Using an electric whisk, beat for 10–15 minutes until thick, glossy and leaving ribbons. It’s important to whisk for this long as there is no other raising agent in the cake, so we need lots of air in the eggs. Add a pinch of salt and the vanilla extract and whisk to combine.
Sift the flour and cornflour into the eggs, then fold together gently until just combined. Divide between the prepared tins, then put in the middle of the oven for 18 minutes, until golden on top. Leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before removing and cooling fully on a wire rack.
Now for the meringue. Keep the oven at 170°C fan for now. Line 3 baking trays with greaseproof paper, using the cake tins to draw on 3 circles.
Put the egg whites in a clean mixing bowl and beat with an electric whisk for 1–2 minutes until you have soft peaks. With the beaters still running, start adding the sugar 1 tbsp at a time – the whites should thicken and become lovely and glossy. Sprinkle the cornflour in, then whisk just enough to combine. Use a Microplane or fine grater to zest the ½ lemon into the whites, then squeeze 1 tsp lemon juice and fold in until just combined.
Dollop the meringue equally between the prepared circles, using a spatula to spread it out evenly. Put them in the oven, then immediately reduce the heat to 130°C fan and cook for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.
Make the syrup. Put all the ingredients in a small pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 3 minutes. Leave to cool.
The cake is best assembled a couple of hours before serving to let everything mingle. When you’re ready to assemble the cake, whip the double cream with the sugar until thick and airy, being careful not to over-whip. Take the custard from the refrigerator and whisk vigorously to loosen. Take 2 tbsp of the whipped cream and add it to the custard, folding it through to loosen. Continue like this until all the cream and custard are combined. Set aside.
Use a large serrated knife to trim the dark surfaces of both cakes to reveal the light, fluffy middle. Slice both cakes through the middle so you have 4 thin pieces of cake. Cut one piece into small cubes of about 5mm/¼in and put in a bowl for later.
Smear a tablespoon of custard into your serving plate to act as glue. Take a layer of cake and place it on top. Spoon and brush one-third of the syrup over the cake. Use a spatula to help you lift up one of the meringues and place on top. Don’t worry if it cracks a bit. Dollop around one-third of the custard cream on the top, spreading it out to the edge with a spatula. Repeat these layers once more: cake, syrup, meringue and cream. Then the third layer goes: cake, syrup and meringue. Dollop the remaining cream on top. Finish by piling the reserved cake cubes on top.
If you are not eating the cake immediately, keep it in the refrigerator until about 30 minutes before you intend to serve. Before serving, dust generously with icing sugar.
NOTE: You can make the custard, cake and meringue all ahead of time. Prepare the custard and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Once the cakes are cool, wrap well in cling film and store in a cool place for up to 3 days, or freeze. Defrost fully before proceeding. The meringue can be prepared 1 day ahead and stored in an airtight container.
Recipe extract from Stagioni by Olivia Cavalli.