Cassata Siciliana

Dolci - Desserts
SERVES 6-8

Pan di Spagna – Sponge Cake

  • 6 x medium whole eggs
  • 150 Caster Sugar
  • 150g Plain flour

Marzipan

  • 400g good quality ground Almonds
  • 150g Icing Sugar
  • Natural Green Food colouring mixed in with a few drops of water (it is a personal preference on how much green you add)

Ricotta Filling

  • 500g Fresh Ricotta (sheep if available otherwise cow)
  • 150g Icing Sugar
  • 1 x Lemon Zest

Assembling and Decoration

  • 8 Tbsp Limoncello
  • 150g Icing Sugar
  • 1 x Lemon Juice
  • Glazed Cherries
  • Candied Orange or Lemon Zest

One of Sicily’s most famous sweets, it’s origins date back to Arab occupation in the 10th century AD, whose influences remain in Sicily’s food and culture today.

The Cassata is a Sicilian sweet delicacy, a round cake with sloped edges and a layer of sponge protecting the sweetened fresh, new season ricotta cheese. All is encased with a layer of green marzipan, elaborately decorated with opulent designs of candied fruit and icing sugar.

It is believed that during the Arabic domination in Sicily the Cassata was created and that the name derives from the Arabic word “qas’at”. This is thought to be the name of a wide circular pan with sloping sides, which is the traditional type of dish used to make the Cassata.

Although now eaten all year round in individual portions or whole elaborate showstoppers, the Cassata shines during Easter time. Another of Sicily’s famous desserts known to be created by the nuns in the surrounding areas of Palermo, with its vibrant surroundings and prevailing land filled with Pistachios, Citrus and Sheep ricotta.

The green marzipan once made from pure Sicilian pistachio paste, sugar and water is now more commonly known to be made with Sicilian almonds and green colouring due to the high cost of the Pistachos which are harvested only every 2 years in Sicily.

In the recipe we share there are 3 steps, of which 2 of them can be made days in advance. It will require a bit of patience to create, yet well worth it. It is challenging to find the original shaped Cassata tin, so we have opted for a 8 inch round cake tin. It won’t give you the sloping sides but it is more readily available.

Method

Pan di Spagna:

Pre heat an oven to 160 degrees. In the meantime, take an electric handheld or standing whisk and beat your eggs with your sugar until they become light and fluffy, we call this the Sabayon stage. Take your flour and gently fold inside the egg and sugar mix by hand in order to not beat out any of the air you just created. Pour into a rectangle baking tray lined with baking parchment and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until cooked through. Check it is cooked by inserting a knife in the centre and it should come out clean.

Tip* this is great to make a few days in advance and freeze!

Marzipan:

In a bowl mix the almonds and sugar together, slowly adding in your green food colour and water mix. The natural oils from the almonds will be released, making the marzipan come together nicely. , bBe careful not to add too much water as you don’t want the mix too wet but enough to be able to mould and roll out. An electric mixer can make this process easier to work. Wrap tightly in baking parchment and keep in the fridge until required.

Tip* If more convenient, a good quality shop bought Marzipan will also do, in Sicily this is very easy to find!

Ricotta Mix: 

In a bowl mix your ricotta and icing sugar together along with the finely grated lemon Zest and keep to the side in the fridge ready for assembling. 

Assembling:

Take a 7 inch cake tin and line with a double layer of cling film, this will help you remove the Cassata after resting. To do this take some oil and brush over the cake tin; on a work surface take a piece of cling film and place a second layer on top and smooth over, then line the cake tin.

Take your marzipan and roll it intoroll into 1/2cm thick piece using icing sugar to stop it from sticking to the work surface. Cut into lengths and line just the sides of the cake tin going ¾ of the way up the sides.

Take your Pan di Spagna sponge out of the freezer and slice into 1 cm thick rectangles to line the base and the sides of the cake tin over the marzipan layer. Soak the sponge with ¾ of the Limoncello.

Pour your Ricotta filling inside the cake tin and top with the final parts of the Pan di Spagna and soak with the final part of Limoncello. Cover well and leave in the fridge to set for 6 hours.

Once set remove the Cassata out of the fridge and choose a presentation plate to turn the cake on too. Remove from the tin and any cling film attached.

Decoration:

To decorate, take the 250g icing sugar and loosen down with the lemon juice. Make sure it is not too runny as this will be used to decorate the top of the Cassata.

The top of the Cassata that was not covered in Marzipan cover this with the icing sugar and lemon mix and then decorate with glazed cherries and candied orange or lemon with gold dust and leaf if you really want to impress!

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