Happy Easter everyone!!! Today I want to share with you my family’s recipe for the most iconic Sicilian cake: Cassata! It is a delicious dessert made with sponge cake, filled with sweet ricotta and chocolate and decorated with candied fruits and royal icing. Even though nowadays you can buy a cassata throughout the year, it is traditionally eaten at Easter. It is a very ancient cake and it has been influenced by the different people who ruled the island over many centuries. You can clearly see the Arab influence in ingredients such as almonds and citrus and the Spanish influence in the use of chocolate (that was brought form Latin America) and sponge cake (which in Italian is called “Pan di Spagna” – Spanish Bread, to underline the fact that it was introduced in Italy by the Spaniards). When it was invented, it was just a “baked ricotta cake” made with pastry dough. The use of marzipan was introduced after 1100 when the nuns of the Palermitan convent of Martorana started making marzipan (known is Sicily as “martorana”). Not only… the curvy and “heavy” decoration is clearly influenced by the baroque style of the 1600’s which is well represented in Sicily! As for the name, some people say it is derived by the Arabic word حوض (qas’at) which means basin/bowl (probably for the “bowl” it is made in), while others think it comes from the Latin caseum which means cheese, being that it is filled with sweet ricotta cheese. On a more personal level, this cake represents family to me. Cassata has been the cake of choice for many special family celebrations and we always used to have it for Christmas or Easter, whenever we were able to spend such special occasions in Sicily with our relatives. It is also my nonno’s favourite sweet and he would sometimes ask my parents to make it for him. I have made this cassata for Christmas when my parents were here… I wanted to post about it then, but my dad told me to wait till now as it is traditionally eaten for Easter and not Christmas. It was hard… but the wait is finally over, so let me leave you to it… the queen of Sicilian sweets: Cassata!
The recipe for the most iconic Sicilian cake: Cassata Siciliana!
- 40 gms – 1.4 oz. water
- 35 gms – 1.25 oz. sugar
- 40 gms – 1.4 oz. Rum if your Rum is about 40% alcohol
- 50 gms – 1.75 oz. almond meal
- 50 gms – 1.75 oz. icing sugar
- A few drops of almond extract
- Green liquid food colour
- Water little
Sweet Ricotta Filling
- 800 gms – 1.75 lbs. ricotta traditionally sheep’s milk ricotta, but I cannot fnd it here!
- 480 gms – 1 lb. sugar
- 70 gms – 2.5 oz. dark chocolate chips
Assembling the Cassata
- Glassa fondente made with 300 gms – 10.5 oz. icing sugar and a little water
- Royal Icing
- Candied fruits cherries, red and green pears, half a mandarin, zuccata – Sicilian candied pumpkin
- Silver Cachous
Start by baking your sponge cake. You should do this a couple of days before you need to assemble the cassata as it needs to be a bit stale or the cassata won’t hold its shape.
You can find the recipe for the sponge cake I made, here.
The day before you assemble the cassata, make the filling. This is essentially the same filling we use for cannoli. You can find the recipe I made, here.
The day you want to assemble the cassata, you can make the Rum syrup and marzipan.
To make the Rum Syrup, mix the water and sugar in a small pot and put it on the fire. When it boils, put the fire off, add the rum and let the syrup come back to room temperature.
To make the marzipan, mix all the ingredients together and add a little bit of cold water (do this 1 tbsp at a time as you will not need much!). Mix well and knead until you get a smooth dough. Keep it wrapped in cling wrap until you are ready to use it.
Now, you should be all set to assemble it!
Take the cassata mould and layer it with some cling wrap (this will make it easy to unmould). Take one of the sponge cake discs and cut it so it fits at the bottom of the mould. Now roll the marzipan and cut out trapezoid shapes. Make sure they are all the same size (I made 7). Use the marzipan trapezoid shapes to cut out the same shaped pieces of sponge cake (I made another 7 pieces).
Now place the 7 pieces of marzipan and the 7 pieces of sponge cake in the mould (make sure to alternate them), like in the picture.
Brush a little rum syrup all over the sponge cake disc and sides (do not put too much or the cassata will tear, you just need a thin layer to soften it).
Fill with the sweet ricotta and chocolate cream. Make sure you fill the mould completely (be generous!). Cover with the remaining disc of sponge cake and press it down well. Level the sides, if needed, and cover completely with cling wrap. Put a big enough flat plate on the top, so it acts as a weight on the cake. Remember, the cassata has to be “pressed”, so keep it in the fridge overnight with some weight on the top.
The next day, you can unmould it and decorate it.
After unmoulding it, make the glassa fondente. Mix the icing sugar and a little bit of water in a small pot. I made this for the first time, so I did not manage to measure the exact amount of water needed, but the glaze needs to be smooth, fluid and “creamy” and still be white. If you put too much water, it will not be thick enough to cover the sponge cake! And if you put too little water, it will not be smooth! So, I suggest you look at the glaze in the picture and add water little by little (it is easier to add than to remove!). After you mix it well, put the pot on the fire and bring to a simmer (keep stirring!). As soon as it starts simmering, put the fire off and pour it over the top of the cassata.
WARNING: this glaze solidifies very fast, so you need to have everything ready and work quickly! Let the excess glaze overflow from the top to the sides of the cassata and quickly smooth it out with a spatula (from the sides only)! NOTE: If you can (which means, if you have worked very fast and the glaze is still fluid), instead of making it overflow onto the sides, you can apply it with the spatula ONLY on the sponge cake pieces, leaving the marzipan uncovered, for a brighter green.
Let it dry in the fridge for about 1 hour, then cut out the candied fruits and decorate the top of the cassata with it.
Now, for the final touch! Make some Royal icing (you can find my recipe here) and decorate the sides and top of the cassata using a piping cone made with baking paper.
Let it set completely before serving it!