Cassata Siciliana

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Preparation info

  • For

    6-8

    • Difficulty

      Medium

Appears in

Food of the Sun: A Fresh Look at Mediterranean Cooking

Food of the Sun

By Alastair Little and Richard Whittington

Published 1995

  • About

Cassata in its original form is a cake, not an ice-cream, and is based on pan di Spagna, a sponge characterized by a high proportion of eggs to flour and a cooking technique which seems odd when compared to, say, making a Victoria sponge. But then, to most of the world making a Victoria sponge is even odder, so quid pro quo. Non-stick spring-form cake tins work best for the job but, if you don’t have one, grease your sticking tin lightly with butter.

Sicily has a tradition of cake decoration which is very much in the sugar-skulls and bleeding-hearts department, usually linked to religious festivals. Cassata is surrounded with a band of pasta reale (pistachio-green marzipan) and topped with crystallized fruit; as Arab a presentation as you could ever meet and - depending on your class antecedents and cultural affiliations - glorious or gross.

While the recipe for the pasta reale is given below, we know there are people who loathe the stuff. The crystallized fruits traditionally used to finish the cake are also an unnecessary addition. Instead fill and top the cake with candied ricotta cream, finishing with curls of bitter chocolate.

Ingredients

For the Pasta Reale Marzipan (Optional)

  • 285 g/10 oz blanched whole almonds
  • 450 g/1 lb caster sugar
  • 3-4 drops of green food colouring

For the Sponge

  • 55 g/2 oz butter
  • ½ lemon
  • 8 eggs
  • 170 g/6 oz caster sugar
  • 170 g/6 oz plain flour

For the Filling

  • 900 g/2 lb ricotta cheese
  • 85 g/3 oz caster sugar
  • 55 g/2 oz chopped candied lemon peel

For Assembly and Decoration

  • 5 tbsp dark rum or brandy
  • 100 g/ oz bitter chocolate

Method

Preparation

Day 1... Make the marzipan, if using: whizz the nuts in a food processor until crumbed and, while continuing to run at full speed, pour in the sugar through the feeder tube until evenly mixed.

Add 3 tablespoons of water and the food colouring. Work briefly until it forms a ball (if it doesn’t, dribble in a very little more water until it does), then transfer to a cold work surface and knead to a smooth, elastic consistency. Form into a brick, clingwrap and refrigerate. This is a lot more marzipan than you need for the cake, but it is one of those things which seems easier to make in larger quantities and it keeps for ages in the refrigerator or indefinitely in the freezer. After a year, if you have not felt compelled to eat it, you can take it out and feed it to the birds.

Start preparing the ricotta cream: put the ricotta in a sieve over a bowl and put in the refrigerator to drain overnight.

Day 2... Make the sponge cake: preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas4. Melt the butter in a pan, grate in the zest from the lemon and reserve. In a bowl set over hot water, whisk the eggs and caster sugar for about 4 minutes until just warm. Remove from the heat and beat vigorously until trebled in volume and ribbons form, An electric whisk makes this job easier, but it will still take about 15 minutes.

Sift in the flour, then fold in the butter. Pour and scrape this batter into a deep 23 cm/9 in diameter round spring-form cake tin.

Cooking

Bake for 20-25 minutes, depending on how efficient your oven is. Check it is done by pushing a knife or skewer into the centre; it should come out clean and warm to the tongue. Transfer to a cake rack, leave for 5 minutes and then turn it out on the rack to cool.

Make the filling: put the drained ricotta and sugar into a bowl and whisk until smooth. Fold in the candied peel.

Assembly

Clean, dry and oil the spring-form tin in which you baked the sponge and line it with cling film, allowing it to hang over the sides.

If using the marzipan, cut slices 1.5 cm/½ in thick lengthwise off the brick and roll them out in strips about 5 mm/¼ in thick. Line the sides of the pan with them, pressing to form a continuous lining.

Cut the cake in half laterally, then into narrow triangular slices and arrange these to fill the bottom half of the tin. You may need to trim them to get them to fit.

Dribble over half the liquor, then spoon over three-quarters of the candied ricotta cream and arrange the other half of the sponge wedges on top. Dribble the rest of the liquor over, then smooth on the remaining cream with a palette knife.

Make chocolate curls by scraping a block of chocolate with a potato peeler and scatter over the top. Refrigerate overnight.

Serving

Day 3... Unmould, lose the clingwrap and eat accompanied, perhaps, by a glass of Vin Santo or a Marsala.

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