La Cassata Siciliana

Sicilian Cassata


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

The Italian Regional Cookbook

The Italian Regional Cookbook

By Valentina Harris

Published 2017

  • About

This rich and sumptuous Sicilian classic is traditionally made in springtime. Its origins lie deep in Sicily’s culinary history, and it takes its name from an Arab word meaning big round bowl. The dessert - not the ice-cream version - used to be made and sold by the nuns of Palermo’s convents. The story goes that the business became so successful, and the Holy Sisters so absorbed in making cassata, that they began to neglect their prayers and holy duties. Eventually they received an official reprimand from the Archbishop.


  • 500 g/ lb/ cups very fresh ricotta cheese
  • 300 g/11 oz/scant 3 cups icing/confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 5 ml/1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 45 ml/3 tbsp rum or liqueur
  • 50 g/2 oz dark/bittersweet chocolate, grated or shaved
  • 50 g/2 oz/ cup chopped mixed candied peel
  • 300 g/11 oz sponge or pound cake, cut in thin slices
  • 90 ml/6 tbsp custard
  • chocolate flakes, candied and glacé fruit, silver balls, sugared almonds, pistachio halves, coloured dragées/candies and rice paper flowers, to decorate

For the Fondant Icing

  • 450 g/1 lb/2 cups caster/superfine sugar
  • 150 ml/¼ pint/ cup water
  • 2.5 ml/½ tsp cream of tartar


  1. Press the ricotta cheese through a sieve or strainer into a bowl. Gradually mix in the sugar until the mixture has the consistency of lightly whipped cream.

  2. Flavour the ricotta mixture with the vanilla extract and rum or liqueur, then stir in the grated or shaved chocolate and the candied peel.

  3. Line a 15cm/6in bowl with clear film or plastic wrap, making sure there is plenty of overhang. Line the base and sides with slices of sponge or pound cake, using the custard to cement the slices together securely.

  4. Fill with the ricotta mixture and level the top carefully. Bring the surplus film over the cassata to cover the surface. Put a plate on the top, fitting it inside the bowl, press it down, then chill the dessert in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours.

  5. Meanwhile, make the fondant icing. Dissolve the sugar in the water in a large, heavy pan over low heat. Wipe down the sides of the pan with a clean brush dipped in cold water to prevent crystals from forming.
  6. Dissolve the cream of tartar in a little water, then stir into the syrup in the pan. Bring to the boil and boil steadily until the syrup registers 115°C/242°F on a sugar thermometer, or when a drop of icing forms a soft ball when dropped into a small bowl of cold water.
  7. Slowly pour the syrup into a heatproof bowl and set aside until a skin forms on the surface. Beat it until opaque and firm. When cool enough to handle, knead it until smooth. Cover and set aside.
  8. Remove the plate, unfold the film and invert a plate on top. Turn the plate and dessert over and lift off the bowl. Remove the film.
  9. Ice the dessert with the fondant icing. Decorate it with chocolate flakes, candied and glacé fruit, silver balls, sugared almonds, pistachio halves, dragées and rice paper flowers. Chill until served.