The derivation of the name of this cake is uncertain, but everyone agrees that it is a delicate and delicious dessert. The name may come from either the Arabic quas’at, a large, round pan, or the late Latin caseus, meaning “cheese.”
As with so many other Sicilian desserts, there are numerous versions of the cassata, as well as many different ways to finish it. The version that seems the most usual calls for lining a pan with sponge cake, or pan di spagna, filling it with ricotta cream, as for cannoli, and then covering the filling with more pan di spagna. The cassata can be finished with a covering of green pasta reale, Sicily’s version of marzipan (used for many other confections besides the cassata), white sugar icing, or a combination. Candied fruit cut into ribbons and formed into stylized flowers is used for decoration, alone or together with elaborate rococo swirls of chocolate or sugar icing piped through a paper cone.
The first version that follows is typical of the kind found in the great pastry shops of Palermo and Catania. The second is a home-style cassata, less elaborate in the finishing but just as good.
© 1990 Nick Malgieri. All rights reserved.