Beat the ricotta with ⅓ cup of the sugar and the vanilla.
Gently heat 90 ml of water in a saucepan with the remaining sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, add the almond essence, then pour into a shallow dish and leave to cool.
Line a rectangular loaf tin, measuring 9 x 20 cm and 6 cm deep, with plastic wrap, leaving enough excess hanging over the sides to cover the dessert before chilling it.
Dip six of the sponge fingers in the syrup. Arrange them, side by side, in the tin, sugar-side down, cutting to fit if necessary. Spread with half the jam, then half the ricotta mixture. Put another layer of six syrup-dipped biscuits on top, the rest of the jam, then the remaining ricotta mixture. Finish with the remaining six biscuits, dipped in the syrup. Wrap the plastic wrap over the top, put a rectangular piece of cardboard on top and lightly weigh it down. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
When ready to serve, peel back the plastic wrap and carefully lift out the cake on a serving plate. Remove the plastic wrap. Dust with cocoa and decorate with cherries. Serve cut into six slices.