I wonder how many of us know the significance of March 8th for women in Italy and around the world. It commemorates the annual Festa delle Donne (International Women’s Day) and I must confess that before I made my first trip to Italy many years ago, I had never heard about it.
To put the day in context: in ancient Rome, the calendar year ended with February, the word meaning month of ending or cleaning in order to make way for the coming year which began on March 1st, considered the first day of spring.
Historically March 8th was commemorated as a day sacred to Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos of Crete, who was abandoned while she was sleeping on the island of Naxos by Theseus, who had promised to make her his wife if she helped him kill her father’s minotaur. His false promise led her to become the symbol for womanhood.
There are differing opinions as to when the Festa delle Donne actually took hold in some parts of Italy, with some saying that it began as a grass roots political and social movement in 1922 when women began to express their political, economic and social demands.
But it may well have had its roots outside of Italy in New York City, where on March 8th, 1857, garment workers went on strike leading to the formation of the first women’s union. In 1945 the Union of Italian Women proclaimed that March 8th should be set aside to celebrate all women and a year later it became a nationally recognized day for women and today is celebrated much like we celebrate Mothers Day.
The mimosa tree which blooms in March with its bright yellow flowers and refreshing scent, became the symbol of La Festa delle Donne and its perfumed branches are given by family and friends to the women in their lives as a gesture of appreciation and love. This practice is said to have originated in Rome after World War Two, but no one knows for sure who started it.
One thing is for sure, La Festa delle Donne is a day for women worldwide to demonstrate solidarity with each other and to showcase the important roles that women play for equality and justice. To celebrate, a spectacular looking Mimosa cake is made.
Serves 8 to 10
- FOR THE CAKE:
- 4 extra large eggs
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/3 cups cake flour
- 1/4 cup potato flour or corn starch
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- FOR THE FILLING:
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1-inch piece vanilla bean, split down the middle and seeds scraped out with a small knife or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs plusyolks
- 1/3 cup flour
- Zest of one large lemon
- 2 cups heavy cream
- SUGAR SYRUP
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup liqueur such as Cointreau or limoncello
- Confectioners’ sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- FOR THE CAKE
- Butter three 8 x 1-1/2-inch round layer cake pans. Line the pans with parchment paper and butter the paper. Set aside.
- In a stand mixer, beat the eggs and egg yolks with the sugar on high speed until the mixture turns light yellow, is smooth and quadruples in volume. Stir in the vanilla. The mixture should be very thick.
- Sift the flour, potato flour, baking powder and salt together. On medium speed, blend in the flour mixture. Divide and pour the batter into the cake pans.
- Bake for about 25 minutes or until the cakes are firm to the touch and light golden brown. Cool the cakes to room temperature. Remove them from the pans and peel away the parchment paper. Let cool completely.
- FOR THE FILLING
- Pour the milk into a 1-quart saucepan and stir in the vanilla bean seeds or extract; cook over medium heat until milk just begins to bubble at the edges. Remove from the heat.
- In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar with an electric hand mixer until light yellow. Beat in the flour, a little at a time, until smooth. Beat in 1/3 cup of the milk and blend well. Add the mixture to the remaining milk in the pan and cook until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest. Pour the pastry cream into a bowl and cover with a buttered sheet of wax paper. Refrigerate several hours or make ahead and chill.
- Whip the cream with the 2 tablespoons sugar and fold it into the cold pastry cream. Refrigerate until ready to fill the cake.
- FOR THE SUGAR SYRUP
- Pour the water into a small saucepan, stir in the sugar and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and when the mixture looks clear, remove it from the heat and stir in the liqueur. Cool and set aside. You may substitute Lemoncello in a spritzer instead of this syrup.
- TO ASSEMBLE:
- Cut each cake in half horizontally to get 2 layers. Set aside three layers. Trim the outside dark crumb of the remaining three layers if necessary and cut the layers into 1/2-inch cubes. Place them on a baking sheet in a single layer and cover and reserve them until ready to assemble the cake.
- Line an 8-1/2 x 4-1/4 –inch deep glass bowl with plastic wrap, allowing it to overhang the pan by 4–inches.
- Place one cake layer in the base of the bowl and gently press it down so that it is touching the base of the bowl. Brush the cake with 1/3 of the liqueur syrup and spread with 1/3 of the pastry cream. Repeat with one more layer of cake and pastry cream. Place the third cake layer on top. Fold the overlapping plastic wrap over the cake and gently press on it to settle and even the cake. Refrigerate it for at least an hour.
- When ready to serve, unwrap the top of the cake and place a cake plate over the top of the bowl. Turn the bowl over to release the cake and gently pull back the plastic wrap and discard it.
- Spread the cake with the remaining pastry cream, covering it completely. Press the reserved cake cubes onto the top and sides of the cake. The cake can be made and refrigerated at this point, loosely covered with foil. When ready to serve, sprinkle the cake with Confectioners’ sugar and cut into wedges with a serrated knife.
This recipe was featured on Season 28 - Episode 2814.