This is my interpretation of an old Sicilian convent cake (many Sicilian desserts originated or were perfected in the pastry kitchens of convents) that substitutes chocolate for the traditional custard cream filling. Try to find the greenest pistachios possible for the cake—its appearance will be better and more appetizing if you do. You may want to bake the cake the day before so that it is completely cooled and ready to go.


2/3 cup all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1/2 cup cornstarch
5 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch salt


1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons maraschino liqueur or white rum


1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 or 10 pieces
1 pound semisweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons maraschino liqueur or white rum
2 cups (about 8 ounces) unsalted, shelled pistachios
Confectioners' sugar for finishing

One 10-inch round pan, 2 inches deep, buttered and the bottom lined with a disk of buttered parchment or wax paper

  1. To make the cake, set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
  2. Stir the flour and cornstarch together in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Place egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer with 1/2 cup sugar and the vanilla and whisk by hand. Place bowl on the mixer with the whisk attachment and whip on medium speed until very light and whitened in color, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. In a clean, dry mixer bowl combine the egg whites with the salt. Whip by machine with the whisk attachment on medium speed until the egg whites are white, opaque, and beginning to hold their shape. Increase speed to medium-high and add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a slow stream, continuing to whip the egg whites until they hold a firm peak.
  5. Use a large rubber spatula to fold the yolks into the whites, then sift about one third of the flour and cornstarch mixture over the egg foam and fold it in. Repeat with the second and last thirds of the flour mixture, folding each time.
  6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake the cake until it is well risen, well colored, firm, and a toothpick inserted in the center emerges dry, about 30 to 40 minutes.
  7. Immediately unmold the cake layer to a rack, leaving the paper on the bottom of the cake. Place another rack against the paper and invert. Remove the top rack so that the cake cools right side up. Cool the cake completely.
  8. To prepare the syrup, bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat, cool, and stir in the liqueur.
  9. To prepare the filling, place the cream in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Off heat, stir in the butter and chocolate and set aside until the butter and chocolate melt completely, about 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk smooth, whisk in the liqueur, and refrigerate the filling until it is cooled and thickened to spreading consistency.
  10. While the chocolate filling is chilling, prepare the pistachios. Place them in a large saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then drain in a strainer. Rub the hot pistachios in a towel to loosen the skins, then go over them one at a time to skin them completely. Dry out the pistachios on a jelly roll pan in a 325 degree oven for about 10 minutes, then cool and chop them coarsely.
  11. To assemble the cake, cut the cake layer into 5 thin horizontal slices. Reserve 2 of the 10-inch slices for the bottom and top of the cake. Trim and patch the other cake slices to make 9-, 8-, 7-, and 6-inch disks of cake (it doesn't matter if the disks are slightly ragged).
  12. Place one of the 10-inch layers on a cardboard or platter and use a brush to moisten with the syrup. Stir half the chopped pistachios into the chocolate filling and spread a thin layer of the filling on the cake layer. Place the 9-inch layer on top of the filling and repeat with syrup and filling. Continue with decreasing size layers until you place the 6-inch layer on. Moisten the 6-inch layer and spread the filling all over the outside of the cake.
  13. Cover the outside of the cake with the reserved 10-inch layer, pressing it into place and making the cake into a squat spherical shape. Moisten the outside of the layer with the remaining syrup and spread it with the remaining chocolate filling. Press the reserved pistachios all over the outside of the cake.
  14. Just before serving, dust the outside of the cake lightly with confectioners' sugar.

Serving: Serve thin wedges of this rich cake.

Storage: Keep loosely covered at a cool room temperature until serving time. Don't refrigerate unless prepared a day or more in advance, in which case, bring the cake to room temperature for a couple of hours before serving. Refrigerate leftovers loosely covered with plastic wrap or freeze them for longer storage.