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Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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cassata is a lavish cake from Sicily, a complex concoction of layered liqueur-soaked sponge cake interspersed with sweetened ricotta cheese, fruit preserves, and jellies surrounded by marzipan and decorated with baroque garnishes and flourishes of marzipan fruits, rosettes, flowers, and curlicues. Cassata probably originated as a simple egg, sugar, and ricotta cheese cake. See cheese, fresh and cheesecake. Cassata also refers to a contemporary ice cream inspired by the cake.

Although the etymological derivation of “cassata,” and therefore clues as to its origins, is not yet a settled matter, the notion that cassata comes from the Latin caseus, the word for cheese, because it can be made with cheese, was called “far-fetched” by the famous early-twentieth-century etymologists da Aleppo and Calvaruso. The Latin derivation is not as far-fetched as they make out, though, because even in the fourteenth century, Angelo Senisio, a Sicilian abbot who wrote a dictionary of Sicilian vernacular in 1348, defines cassata as a torta (cake) derived from the Sicilian casu, that is, cacio (cheese), a food of bread and cheese (vivanda di pane e cacio). The history in verse La vita di lo Beato Corrado composed by the nobleman Andriotta Rapi of Noto, probably in the fifteenth century, also records the word “cassata,” which C. Avolio in Introduzione allo studio del dialetto siciliano (1888) defines as “a cake with a base of cheese (caseata).”