Sicilian Cassata


This is one of the most classic Sicilian cakes, and though some people link it to the island's Arab period because of the candied fruit that goes into the ricotta cream. The word Cassata could derives from the Latin Caseus, which means cheese. In other words, Cassata is one of the world's first cheesecakes. Another origin of this word could be from Arab "Quas'at" that means "a small round bowl ".

Cassata is made with pan di spagna (or poundcake), ricotta cream (like cannoli ones), candied fruit.


    * 1 1/3 cups (280 g) sugar
    * 1 1/2 cups (150 g) flour
    * 1 teaspoon baking powder
    * Half a lemon
    * 6 eggs
    * 2 egg whites
    * Marsala
    * 1 1/8 pounds (500 g) fresh sheep's milk ricotta (you can use cow's milk ricotta if you must)
    * A pinch of vanillin, or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
    * 2 ounces (50 g) finely diced zuccata, which is candied melon peel
    * 2 ounces (50 g) bitter chocolate, in shavings
    * 9 ounces (250 g) blanched peeled almonds
    * 3 drops of bitter almond extract
    * 5 cups (500 g) powdered sugar
    * A pinch of salt
    * Potato starch (you may find this in the Jewish section of your market)
    * Green food coloring
    * Butter and flour for the cake pan
    * Strips of zuccata and assorted candied fruit


Preheat your oven to 360 F (180 C).

Whip 6 egg white to firm peaks with a pinch of salt. In another bowl, beat 6 yolks with 3/4 cup of the granular sugar, until the mixture is frothy and pale yellow.

Sift the flour with the baking powder and slowly add it to the beaten yolks, together with a couple of tablespoons of egg white and the grated zest of the lemon; finally, gently fold the beaten egg whites into the mixture. Turn the batter into a buttered and floured pan (9 inch square) and bake it for a half hour; remove the cake from the oven and let it cool before removing it from the pan.

In the meantime, grind the almonds in a food processor, using short bursts to keep them from liquefying. Add 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, the bitter almond essence diluted in 1/4 cup water, and blend until the mixture is homogenous. Dust your work surface with the potato starch before turning the paste out onto it (you can also turn it out onto a sheet of wax paper), and incorporate a few drops of green, diluted in a few drops of water. Work the paste until the color is uniform and then wrap the paste in plastic wrap and chill it in the refrigerator.

Put the ricotta through a fairly fine wire mesh strainer and combine it with 1/2 cup granulated sugar, the vanillin, the chocolate, and the diced zuccata. Next, roll the almond paste out 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick and as wide as the cake pan. Line a 10-inch (25 cm) diameter pudding mold with slanting walls with plastic wrap, and lay the almond paste over it. Next, line the bottom and sides of the mold with half-inch thick sheets of the cake you baked; make a syrup by diluting some Marsala with a little water and a little sugar, and sprinkle it over the cake. Fill the box thus obtained with the creamy ricotta mixture and cover it with more of the cake, sprinkling again with the Marsala syrup.

Lay a dish over the cassata, press down gently, and chill the cassata for several hours in the refrigerator. At this point turn the cassata over onto the serving dish and remove the mold and the plastic wrap. Beat the remaining two whites and sift the remaining powdered sugar into them, beating all the while to obtain a thick, homogenous cream. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to the glaze and spread it over the cassata. Let the glaze set for a few minutes, decorate the cassata with the remaining candied fruit, and chill it for several more hours before serving it.