Sweet as Life: The History and Recipe of the Sicilian Easter Cake

“Poor fellow who didn't eat cassata on Easter Day” is a Sicily saying. This cake made of ricotta and marzipan is used to share with loved ones, because it is prepared both for Easter and on the occasion of various family celebrations

The name of the dish, according to one version, comes from the Arabic qas'ah< /em> (bowl), because when preparing this dessert, all the ingredients & nbsp; – ricotta, biscuit, marzipan paste – are laid out in layers in a special bowl. The layers of cassata can be used to learn the history of Sicily.

Sweet as life: the history and recipe of the Sicilian Easter cake

Sheep ricotta has been made on the island since antiquity. Until now, every good Sicilian housewife in the countryside makes this cheese from the whey left over from the production of mozzarella or other cheese.

Ricotta is translated from Italian and means “secondary cooked”. Sheep ricotta has a distinctive taste, so when making cream for cassata, it is often mixed with cow's milk ricotta. In the original version of this dish, ricotta was simply baked in dough, like a pie.

It is believed that the dessert was invented in Sicily in the 10th century, during the period of Arab rule. It was the Arabs who began to grow sugar cane here – and the Sicilians were the first Europeans to start making sugar. The Arabs also introduced the locals to the device of a distillation apparatus that allows the production of an orange blossom liqueur, an important component of Sicilian marzipan, which has become one of the main ingredients of cassata.

The chocolate chips added to the ricotta are a Spanish touch in this dessert. Chocolate was brought to Sicily by the Spaniards, who ruled the island from the 13th to the 18th centuries. But who came up with the idea of ​​mixing crushed almonds with sugar and liquor to make marzipan dough is not exactly known.

Giuseppe Davi

Sweet as life: history and recipe of the Sicilian Easter cake

Native of Verona, Chef restaurant Butler (in 2018 – note Vokrugsveta.ru), tells whether it is possible to make cassata from cottage cheese

What is the secret of making cassata?

The main thing is to use the right ricotta. Cheese must be fresh, but not wet. You need to let him drain well. Otherwise, if you immediately mix ricotta with sugar, the whey will leave and the cassata will not harden.

Is it possible to replace ricotta with cottage cheese?

In no case! This cheese is made from whey, and it acquires a sweetish aftertaste. The cottage cheese is too sour, which cannot be corrected even with sugar. Using cottage cheese for cassata is like making pizza with ketchup instead of tomato sauce.

Where is the best place to try cassata?

Sicilians are sure that only they know how to cook this dessert. After all, here, in addition to ricotta, they make the world's best candied fruits from whole fruits. I was taught to cook cassata by my grandmother, a native of Sicily. And in Palermo or Catania, feel free to go to any pastry shop, here you can't go wrong. Pasticheria is very popular in Catania Verona & Bonvegna, and Pasticceria Oscar in Palermo.

See also

The popularity of cassata in Sicily was promoted by the Martorana Monastery in Palermo, founded by the Byzantines in the 12th century, but eventually passed to the Benedictines. The nuns from Martorana were the first to make various fruits from marzipan dough – lemons, peaches, apples, almost indistinguishable from real ones in shape and color.

For cassata, marzipan dough is rolled into layers and cut into squares. It was made in the past not only from almonds, but also from pistachios. The most famous jewelry for cassata is made from Sicilian citron of bright green color.

In addition to marzipan, candied fruits are used to decorate the cake, in the manufacture of which the Sicilians have no equal. As a rule, fruits are not cut into small pieces (in extreme cases they are divided into halves), but for a long time they are boiled whole in sugar syrup. Actually, according to many historians, it was thanks to a trader in candied fruit from Palermo that the Sicilian cassata appeared in its modern form at the end of the 19th century.

Today, this dessert is an indispensable attribute of a large family feast. According to tradition, women prepare dishes and serve the solemn table, while men at this time are talking with friends over a cup of coffee. Making cassata starts the night before, because it must spend several hours in the cold to harden well. Dessert is served at the end of a festive dinner that lasts for hours, often from noon to evening. After all, no Sicilian would spare time for family and friends!

Sicilian cassata5,0

Traditional ricotta Easter cake

Sweet as life: the history and recipe of the Sicilian Easter cake

Cooking time3 hours.Recipe for 8 personsKitchenItalianType of dishDessertsIngredientsFor the biscuit white

125 g

chicken egg

5 pcs.

125 gFor marzipan

almond flour

0.5 kg

powdered sugar

1 kg

glucose syrup

200 ml


80 ml

vanilla pod

2 g

food coloring

1 mlFor cream

ricotta cheese

700g< p class="recipe-block-ingredients__row-wrapper-label">powdered sugar

300 g

bitter chocolate

100 g

ground cinnamon

2 g

candied orange

50 g

candied citrus

p>50 g

any candied fruits to taste

8 pcs. Cooking method1

Sweet as life: the history and recipe of the Sicilian Easter cake

For the marzipan, mix all the ingredients, including 3 drops of green food coloring, knead the plastic dough. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 2 hours. For cream, combine ricotta with sugar and pass through a sieve. Add chocolate chips, cinnamon and candied orange (50 g), lemon (50 g) and kumquat (8 pcs). Mix everything thoroughly. For the biscuit, beat the eggs with sugar and flour. Transfer the dough into a mold and bake at 180 ° C for 10 minutes. Cool the finished biscuit. Cut a strip 1.5 cm thick from it, divide it into squares 3 × 3 cm.


Sweet as life: the history and recipe of the Sicilian Easter cake

Divide the marzipan dough into several pieces. Roll out one into a 0.5 cm layer and cut it with a pizza cutter into 3×3 cm squares. Put biscuit and marzipan squares on the sides of an aluminum cassette mold, alternating them.


Sweet as life: the history and recipe of the Sicilian Easter cake

Cut out a thin circle from the biscuit and place on the bottom of the mold. Lubricate the circle with ricotta cream, put the biscuit again, and cream on it. Cover it with sponge cake and refrigerate the cassata for 2.5 hours.


Sweet as life: the history and recipe of Sicilian Easter cake

Gently remove the dessert from the mold, place it on a flat sieve and carefully pour hot fudge sugar (100 g) from the center to the edge. Transfer the cassata to a dish and garnish with the remaining candied fruits.

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Photo: Grigory Polyakovsky, unless otherwise noted

The material was published in the magazine ” Around the World” No. 4, April 2018, partially updated in April 2023

Elena Knyazeva


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