SICILIAN CASSATA: THE QUEEN OF SICILIAN PASTRY-MAKING

BY LASCIA UN COMMENTO

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The Sicilian Cassata is the philosopher’s stone of Sicilian cakes, and along with the cannoli, it is known throughout the world. The etymology and history of this wonderful cake are magnificently described by Gaetano Basile – Anna M. Dominici Musco – Giuseppe Barbera in their book “Mangiare di festa – Tradizioni e ricette della cucina Siciliana” : According to tradition, the happy bond ricotta cheese-sugar, which is the base of cassata, arised when it arrived the sweetness of brown sugar in Sicily. It is said that a “Saracen” was kneading those ingredients in a copper pot and answered “qas’at”, the Arabic name of the pot, to a Sicilian who had asked him, instead, the name of the cake ….

“The oldest text in which it appears the first time the word cassata is the” Declarus”by Angelo Sinesio (1305-1386). It was him, the first abbot of the great monastery of San Martino delle Scale, the author of the first dictionary Sicilian-Latin whose manuscript was published in 1955 by the meritorious ” Sicilian Philological and Linguistic research facility”. Well, in the entry “cassata” you read:  cibus ex pasta panis et caseus compositus”. In short, food made from bread and cheese dough: probably a flavourless cheese like ricotta, sweetened with honey and enclosed in a casing made of bread dough before being baked. And with that, of course, the concept of the arabic invention of the cake , goes to hell…….

In …. ” Sicilian etymological vocabulary ” by Michele Pasqualino, published in 1785, the cassata is defined as a “kind of cake made with ricotta cheese sweetened with sugar with a dough casing sweetened too and made in a round shape.” The same thing, more or less, wrote Vincenzo Mortillaro in his Dictionary of 1876. As you may have guessed, they clearly talk about what we now call oven-baked cassata. It was the only cassata known by our grandparents. That profusion of sponge cake, ricotta cream, vanilla and marzipan, sugar icing, cedar and cinnamon, candied fruits, candied pumpkin and what in Sicily we creatively call “angel hair” (candied pumpkin with a different manufacturing and sliced thinner), marble variegated with geometric marquetries, floral arabesques, triumphant vision of the world, was born only around 1878 when the famous palermitan pastry chef Salvatore Gulì industrially produced “candied pumpkin and candied fruits.” In the attempt to increase sales he created his own homemade “Sicilian cassata”, as he called it, full of all sorts of gourgeous ingredients! The success was immediate because the baroque profusion obeyed to the great desire to express a Sicilian exuberant sensuality.

Now let’s make a Cassata!

Sponge Cake: Follow the excellent Sponge Cake recipe of Magie in Cucina

INGREDIENTS FOR THE MARZIPAN

200 g almond flour
200 g granulated sugar
50 g of water
Green food colouring

DIRECTIONS FOR THE MARZIPAN

Melt the sugar in the water over low heat, stirring constantly. As soon as the sugar starts forming a string add the almond flour and the food colouring. Mix well and pour it on a moist marble floor. Allow to cool and knead it until you get a smooth and soft dough.
Flatten with a rolling pin to obtain a sheet of the about 7 – 8 mm thick, that we will cut into many rectangles as long as the edge of the mold.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE RICOTTA CREAM

500 g fresh sheep’s ricotta
300 g sugar
50 g candied pumpkin, cut into small cubes
50 g dark chocolate drops
Seeds of a vanilla bean

DIRECTIONS FOR THE RICOTTA CREAM

If the ricotta is very moist, as it should be, make it drip in order to remove most of the serum. Mix well together the ricotta with the sugar and the vanilla bean seads. Leave it stand for an hour and then sift it. Complete by adding candied pumpkin and chocolate.

INGREDIENTS TO COMPLETE THE SICILIAN CASSATA

½ glass of rum
Sugar to taste
Water to taste
Candied fruit to decorate: candied pumpkin, thinner sliced candied pumpkin, cherries, oranges, pears, tangerines to taste

HOW TO PREPARE THE SICILIAN CASSATA

Divide the sponge cake into three discs and place one of them in the bottom of the pan (which should be round with flared edges). Melt the sugar into the water, flavor it with the rum and soak the sponge cake with this syrup.

cassata-siciliana-lavorazione

From another sponge cake disc obtain some rectangles equal to those prepared with the marzipan, then place them on the edge of the pan alternating sponge cake and marzipan.

Pour the ricotta cream into the mold. Then cover everything with the remaining sponge cake and let it stand for about an hour. Then, turn the cassata upside down on a round cake tray and let’s prepare the sugar icing.

SICILIAN CASSATA PROCESSING

Melt over low heat 150 g of powdered sugar with a spoonful of water until it forms srings and it0s transparent, then pour the still warm icing on the cassata, spread well also on the edges, using a spatula, so as to cover it all and leave it cool down (nowadays you can find in specialty stores, the “fondant sugar ” ready for use). Finally garnish artistically arranging the candied fruit (see photo).

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