SICILIAN CASSATA. Nothing is simple in Sicily. So much has happened for innumerable centuries. Every population around the Mediterranean has had a kingdom there, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normands, Spanish, Bourbons. Each left memories, traditions, ingredients. The Arabs brought in almonds and citrus. Marzipan was developed under the Normands. The Spanish introduced chocolate, candied fruits and sponge cake. The cassata is a sophisticated cheese cake enclosed in a marzipan shell and decorated with candied fruits. It’s exquisite when fresh and made with good quality ingredients. This is another recipe of my friend Luana. She is such a perfectionist, she even makes the marzipan from scratch.
For the sponge cake shell:
- 5 eggs, separated
- 200 gr sugar (7/8 cup)
- 150 gr (1 and 1/4 cup)00 or pastry flour
- 100 gr (7/8 cup) rice or potato starch
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 5 tablespoon hot water
- 250 gr. (9 ounces) marzipan
- 1/2 cup Marsala or other sweet wine
Preheat oven at 170°. Whip egg whites to firm peaks with 75 gr. sugar. Whisk egg yolks, hot water and 125 gr. sugar.
Add the baking powder to the flour and slowly fold it into the beaten yolks. Finally, gently fold the beaten egg whites into the mixture.
Bake for 20 min. or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.
For the filling:
- 700 gr ricotta cheese
- 150 gr (2/3 cup) granulated sugar
- 200 gr (7 ounces) dark chocolate finely chopped
- 200 g (7 ounces ) mixed candied fruit finely diced plus additional larger pieces for decoration
- 200 g (7 ounces) toasted peeled almonds finely chopped
Whisk the ricotta with the granulated sugar until smooth and then add chocolate, almonds and diced candied fruits. Line a 25 cm (10 inch) diameter pudding mold with plastic wrap. Roll the marzipan 1/2 cm (1/4 of an inch) thick and as wide as the mold. The marzipan used in Sicily is traditionally colored green using food pigments. Line the mold with marzipan. Slice the sponge cake in 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick slices and use the slices to line the marzipan inside the mold. Sprinkle with Marsala wine and add the ricotta mixture. Cover with more sponge cake slices, press down gently and sprinkle again with Marsala.
Cover and refrigerate the cassata for several hours. When firm, turn the cassata over onto the serving dish and remove mold and plastic wrap. Decorate with sugar frosting and strips of candied fruit and chill for a few more hours before serving.
In Assisi you can find good Marsala at Il Baccanale wine shop: via del Comune Vecchio 2, near Piazza Matteotti, Assisi, Umbria, Italy.