The queen of traditional Sicilian pastries, cassata probably takes its name from the Arabic qas’at meaning “basin”, perhaps because of its round shape, or from the Latin caseum meaning “cheese”, because of its rich ricotta-based filling. We don’t really know. Its history is equally mysterious. It dates back to the 9th century with many changes and many different influences, like the history of foreign rule in Sicily.
Here’s the recipe for anyone wanting to make it at home:
Preparation of the almond paste: combine the almond flour with the water and sugar and add the green colouring to colour the paste. Mix until a uniform paste is obtained and knead until it becomes soft and compact. Now roll it out with a rolling pin, cut into a rectangular shape and use for the outside of the cassata.
Preparation of the ricotta cream: pass the ricotta through the sieve, adding the sugar, the diced dark chocolate, a sachet of vanilla and the zuccata.
Preparation of the icing: dissolve the icing sugar in water by slowly warming it over a low flame and add a little orange flower water. Leave it to rest. Cut the sponge cake into 3 layers and immerse them in a bowl containing a glass of water, sugar and a glass of Vermouth. Use one of these soaked layers to create the outside of the cassata. Insert cling film into the mould and arrange the almond paste rectangle around its edge, using equal, alternating amounts of almond paste and slices of sponge cake. Place one of the sponge cake layers on the bottom of the mould and spread the ricotta cream over it. Finally, cover with the third sponge cake layer and leave to rest for about half an hour. Then turn the mould over and extract the cake with the help of the cling film and coat it with the prepared icing. Decorate the coated cassata with candied fruit. To finish off, place the cassata in the fridge and wait 2 hours before serving.
For those who don’t like the richness and very sweet taste of the classic cassata siciliana decorated with icing and multicoloured candied fruit, there is an older, equally traditional, version. Cassata al forno [baked cassata], more widespread in the Palermo area, is a shortcrust pastry and sponge cake tart filled with ricotta cheese, sugar and chocolate drops which is indeed cooked in the oven. Rest assured, this version is every bit as good as the more well-known recipe. Try it and see…
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Duration of preparation
Glass of Vermouth Bianco: 1
Fresh ricotta cheese: 500 g
Sugar: 350 g
Sponge cake: 1
Sachet of vanilla: 1
Dark chocolate, diced: 70 g
Zuccata [candied pumpkin]: 50 g
Almond flour: 200 g
Sugar: 200 g
Green food colouring
Candied fruit: 300–400 g
Water: 100 ml
Orange flower water: 250 g