When ever I walk into a pasticceria I always admire all the beautiful sweets behind the glass counter... At home, I then enjoy creating my own sweet treasures. Profiterol, Torta di ricotta, Lo sfoglio Polizzano, Cuddura cu l'ova, and Hazelnut Biscotti are just a few delicacies that I found the inspiration from one of the many pasticceria siciliana. One dolce, that has been taking my fancy lately, is the Cassatella di Sant'Agata (cassatedda di sant'Àgata in dialect). The Cassatella is a traditional sweet from Catania that can be found in almost every bar during the festival of St. Agatha. The cassatella is in fact a small sicilian cassata (in catanese dialect, minnuzzi ri Sant'Àjita) in the form of a breast, to symbolize the martyred saint of Catania, St.Agatha, as her breasts were amputated. She is therefore often depicted iconographically carrying her excised breasts on a platter.
(Last year we attended the Festival of St. Agatha. Check out the amazing devotion the towns people of Catania have for her.)
The original Cassata captured many of the traditional Sicilian ingredients; the intense green pistacchio of Bronte, the perfumed almonds of Noto, and the many citrus fruits of the island. It has been an ongoing joke between me and my friends to find the perfect Cassatella, and this past weekend I decided to dive in and attempt just that, with the help of Mandi and Diana!
One very important ingredient is the Marzipan, pasta di mandorle. I made sure not to make it too sweet, often times I do not enjoy marzipan because of it's sweetness. I used more almonds and the taste of mandorle filled your mouth with flavor.
Pan di Spagne, a type of sponge cake, is the next ingredient that is layered into the mold after the marzipan. To achieve a light and fluffy cake, the egg and sugar mixture should be mixed no less than 20 minutes to create a nice frothy texture before adding the flour.
The principle ingredient in the Cassatella is the ricotta di pecora, fresh sheep's milk ricotta. Our nearby pastore, shepherd, passed by the night before and delivered a kilo for me. I added less sugar to the ricotta than when I make the Torta di Ricotta because of the sweet marzipan wrapped sound the filling.
The molds were then inverted and ready for the glasse di zucchero...
Hello! Ok, better late then never, right... ;)
I have so many people ask me how to make these little beauties, so here we go! Once all the parts are finished, follow the pictures with their step by step assembly.
Pan di Spagna (Spong cake)
6 eggs, 180 grams sugar, 180 grams flour
Just mix the eggs and sugar for at least 15 minutes, until they write. (Very important!) They, little by little, sift in the flour. Pour into a large buttered and flowered cake pan, and place into a preheated oven 180°C for 30 minutes. Once cooled, slice into thin pieces and set aside.
400 grams almonds, skinned. Sliced almonds will give you the result much faster.
400 grams powdered sugar (plus extra for kneading)
Grind the almonds until they have a very fine consistency. Add the powdered sugar and a touch of water. Very small amounts of water at a time. If you add too much at the beginning, you will have to add more powdered sugar. Like making a pie crust, fold and knead until you reach a compact texture. (see picture)
At this point, when I wrote this post I added a few drops of green food color. Nothing fancy unfortunately. However now, I prefer to stay away from colors. You can completely create this sweet omitting the color and you are left with a beautiful, delicate alternative.
Roll out thin like you were making cut out cookies, cut, and line a baking form that was already covered with plastic wrap.
The flavor is all about the fresh sheep’s ricotta. Let it sit in the fridge for a least a day to drain all the excess liquid. Then add 120 grams of sugar to 500 grams of ricotta and mix.
Glasse di zucchero
I choose to simply use 250 grams of powdered sugar and water. Again, add very small amounts of water at a time, one tablespoon, two tablespoons at a time, until the glasse is nice and runny.
Sorry it has taken me so long, Enjoy!