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Spring Recipes: Easter Lamb Cake, or Torta di Agnello

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In keeping with our Italian theme for Easter, we might just attempt this torta di agnello, a traditional cake made in the shape of a lamb. Animal-shaped pans can be purchased at specialty stores; we've also seen versions made in a loaf pan and decorated with a lamb mask. Either way, it's going to seem a little gory when you cut into it -- but in the meantime it's a great centerpiece! Also, of course, it tastes great, with almonds and hazelnuts going into the batter, and as much candy as you want decorating it.


Easter Lamb Cake:
Serves 8 to 10
2 cups cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
4 large eggs
1/2 cup finely ground hazelnuts

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
8 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon almond extract
Coconut shavings (optional)
Currants for the lamb's eyes, or any other sweet decoration for the cake, such as Jordan almonds, M&Ms, chocolate chips...

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 10 by 4-inch two-piece lamb cake mold well with butter and dust it with flour. Sift the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt together into a bowl.

In another bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until pale yellow. Beat in the zests, vanilla, and almond extracts. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Then gradually beat in the flour mixture. Fold in the nuts.

Spoon the batter into the bottom half of the mold. Place the top piece of the mold over the bottom, making sure the fit is even. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Carefully lift off the top of the mold and test the cake for doneness; if it is still soft in the middle, bake about 10 to 15 minutes longer, until firm, without replacing the mold top. A cake tester inserted in the middle should come out clean. Remove the mold to a rack to cool completely.

In a bowl, beat the shortening and butter until smooth. Gradually beat in the sugar. Beat in the almond extract. The frosting should be firm enough to pipe through a pastry bag. Chill if necessary.

Run a knife around the edges of the mold and carefully remove the cake. Stand the cake upright on a cake stand or decorative platter. You may need to glue the base of the cake to the serving dish by spreading some frosting on it.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip with frosting and squiggle the frosting over the cake to simulate wool. Use the currants for eyes and sprinkle almond confetti along the lamb's back and at the base of the cake to give it a festive look. Tie a ribbon carefully around the neck. To serve, cut the cake into thin slices.

See showtimes for "Ciao Italia" here!

[Top image by Flickr user roboppy]

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