The Sicilian cassata, known and appreciated all over the world, is the undisputed queen of Sicilian pastry. The base of sponge cake, the stuffing of ricotta cheese and chocolate chips, the marzipan, the covering of sugar icing and the candied fruit to create sinuous geometries: cassata, as we know it today, is the result of a long process of transformation.

First of all it must be distinguished from the oldest baked version, mostly made in the western part of the island, which differs in composition and ingredients; Although today they are immediately recognizable as distinct sweets, it is important to consider, in order to have a complete picture, the common origin of the two preparations; tough today they are immediately recognizable as different cakes, it’s important to consider, to have a complete picture, the common origin of the two preparations. Already in classical antiquity a shortcrust pastry cake with ricotta cheese called cassata was made. Over the following centuries, we have certain news of its production in monastic environments, especially at Easter time, between 16th and 17th centuries. In the cookbook of the Abbey of San Martino delle Scale, for example, there’s a recipe of cassata in which are present, among other ingredients, mendole scaldate e ben mondate, zuccaro insieme con cannella, garofali – peeled toasted almonds, sugar, cinnamon and clove – (filling varied depending on the seasonal ingredients available). There’s no evidence of the hypothesis of a Saracen origin of the dessert, later revised in monasteries and convents with the Norman conquest, but it’s obvious the contribution of raw materials and techniques introduced in Sicily by the Arabs, not only in the case of the cassata: sugar cane, that replaced the most expensive honey; citrus fruits such as citrons, bitter oranges, lemons; candied fruit; the increase in almond trees cultivation. The first cold version of cassata may be traced to the Norman period: the filling was wrapped by the marzipan, skillfully worked, as is well known, by the nuns of the church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio in Palermo, known as Martorana. The stories of the two cassata may have split up then, when, even with similar ingredients, cooking in the oven could be avoided. A key element of the present Sicilian cassata is the sponge cake, introduced in the island pastry only in the mid-eighteenth century. In this regard, a source of great importance is the shopping book of the noble Moncada family of Palermo, where Monsù Phelipe noted the ingredients of the sponge cake cassata made for a dinner on October 23, 1788: sponge cake, ricotta, milk, pistachios, sugar, cinnamon, zuccata (pumpkin preserved in sugar) and candied pears in sugar syrup. It is therefore possible to identify in the dessert of the Monsù Phelipe the closest ancestor of the present Sicilian cassata, that assumed that name from the following century, when the pastry chef from Palermo Salvatore Gulì presented it at the 1873 Vienna World’s Fair. Known by the people of Palermo as la cassata di Gulì, it already looked exactly as today: sugar icing covering, alternating rectangles of marzipan with those of sponge cake, and, above all, the majestic decoration of candied fruit. In fact, the pastry chef specialized in candying of the fruit, decided to create a cake capable of enhancing his creations and making them shine, in particular the zuccata. The success of the new creation was so great. The magnificent appearance of the Sicilian cassata was performed to represent the richness and elegance of the families of Palermo of that time, like the Florios, that, used to send it, in famous travel tin boxes, to nobles and high-class people from all over Europe. Widespread throughout the island, the Sicilian cassata became the symbol of confectionery of Palermo and not only. Present in pastry shops throughout the year, it is mainly eaten for the holidays: as the famous saying goes, tintu è cu nun mancia a cassata a matina ri Pasqua (“Petty who doesn’t eat the cassata on Easter morning”).



For the sponge cake

  • 8 eggs
  • 300g sugar
  • 240g pastry flour
  • 100g potato starch
  • 1 sachet vanilla

For the ricotta cream

  • 800g sheep ricotta cheese
  • 480g sugar
  • 100g diced pumpkin
  • 100g dark chocolate chips
  • 1 sachet vanilla

For the marzipan

  • 200g almond flour
  • 200g sugar
  • 50ml water
  • green food coloring

For the syrup

  • 150ml water
  • 50g sugar
  • 70ml Marsala

For the icing and decoration

  • 300g powdered sugar
  • 80ml water
  • candied fruit to taste (zuccata, citrus, peas, cherries, tangerines, etc)

You’ll need a flared edge cake mould with sloped sides, about 5 cm high, and raised bottom, measuring about 30 cm in diameter.

Preparation of sponge cake:
Beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla until they are well blended and puffy. Gradually add sifted flour and potato starch. When the dough is dense, pour into a previously buttered and floured baking pan and bake in the oven preheated to 180 for about 25 minutes. Once ready, let cool in the pan and then on a wire rack to remove moisture.

Preparation of ricotta cream:
Ricotta must be dry, so let it drain well if it has some serum. Mix ricotta cheese, sugar and vanilla, sift the mixture, then add pumpkin and chocolate chips. Let stand.

Preparation of marzipan:
Put water and sugar in a saucepan. Stir on a slow flame until the sugar is melted and smooth, then add almond flour and natural dye. When the mixture is blended, pour it on a work surface moistened with water. Let cool. Work with your hands until you have a soft and smooth dough. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, until it’s about 8 mm thick, then cut into rectangles as long as the edge of the mould used.

Preparation of syrup:
Dissolve sugar in water and add Marsala.

Assembly of the Cassata:
Take the sponge cake and cut it into 3 disc shapes. Place one of the discs on the base of the cake mould and sprinkle it with the syrup. Cut the second disc into slices of the same size as those prepared with the marzipan, then place them on the edge of the mold alternating them. Pour the ricotta cream into the mould without crushing it, then place the last disc of sponge cake. Allow to rest for at least one hour. After this time, flip the Cassata on the serving dish. Prepare the icing by putting sugar and water in a saucepan. When the mixture reaches the boil, turn off the heat. Spread the icing on the whole Cassata covering also the edges (the icing dries instantly and must be glossy and transparent). At this point, decorate the cassata with candied fruit, alternating colors and shapes.