Day 1... Make the marzipan, if using: whizz the nuts in a food processor until crumbed and, while continuing to run at full speed, pour in the sugar through the feeder tube until evenly mixed.
Add 3 tablespoons of water and the food colouring. Work briefly until it forms a ball (if it doesn’t, dribble in a very little more water until it does), then transfer to a cold work surface and knead to a smooth, elastic consistency. Form into a brick, clingwrap and refrigerate. This is a lot more marzipan than you need for the cake, but it is one of those things which seems easier to make in larger quantities and it keeps for ages in the refrigerator or indefinitely in the freezer. After a year, if you have not felt compelled to eat it, you can take it out and feed it to the birds.
Start preparing the ricotta cream: put the ricotta in a sieve over a bowl and put in the refrigerator to drain overnight.
Day 2... Make the sponge cake:
Sift in the flour, then fold in the butter. Pour and scrape this batter into a deep 23 cm/9 in diameter round spring-form cake tin.
Make the filling: put the drained ricotta and sugar into a bowl and whisk until smooth. Fold in the candied peel.
Clean, dry and oil the spring-form tin in which you baked the sponge and line it with cling film, allowing it to hang over the sides.
If using the marzipan, cut slices 1.5 cm/½ in thick lengthwise off the brick and roll them out in strips about 5 mm/¼ in thick. Line the sides of the pan with them, pressing to form a continuous lining.
Cut the cake in half laterally, then into narrow triangular slices and arrange these to fill the bottom half of the tin. You may need to trim them to get them to fit.
Dribble over half the liquor, then spoon over three-quarters of the candied ricotta cream and arrange the other half of the sponge wedges on top. Dribble the rest of the liquor over, then smooth on the remaining cream with a palette knife.
Make chocolate curls by scraping a block of chocolate with a potato peeler and scatter over the top. Refrigerate overnight.
Day 3... Unmould, lose the clingwrap and eat accompanied, perhaps, by a glass of Vin Santo or a Marsala.
© 1995 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.