Cassata Siciliana | Sicilian Cheesecake Recipe
Cassata is a decadent and colorful desert which speaks to the varied influences present in Sicilian cuisine. At its heart it is a simple ricotta cake, but layers of light sponge cake and bright decorations of marzipan and candied fruit take this exquisite dessert to the next level.
Be aware that this recipe requires several days of preparation. But trust us, it's worth it.
Watch the Pasta Grammar video where we make this recipe here:
For this recipe, you will need:
- 18 oz. (500g) ricotta
- 4 eggs
- 2 1/2 cups (330g) sugar
- 1 1/4 cup (150g) all-purpose flour
- 1 3/4 tsp (8g) baking powder
- 1 pat butter for greasing
- 1 cup (150g) almonds, peeled
- 1/3 cup (50g) shelled pistachio nuts
- 2 2/3 cups (300g) powdered sugar, plus extra for dusting
- 1/2 cup (75g) mini chocolate chips
- Orange zest (optional)
- Candied citrus and cherries for decorating (we used cherries, orange peel and cedro)
Note: The almonds can be easily peeled by hand after soaking in water for 30 minutes, just be sure to let them dry completely before proceeding. If you wish to preserve the traditional green color of the cassata marzipan, be sure to remove any brown inner husks that may cover the pistachios.
Using a spatula, press the ricotta through a mesh strainer to smooth it out. Place the ricotta back in the strainer and allow to drain over a bowl, refrigerated, overnight.
Meanwhile, bake the spongecake and prepare the marzipan. Preheat an oven to 355 degrees F (180C).
In a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer) combine the eggs with 3/4 cup (150g) sugar. Beat until the sugar has completely dissolved and the eggs have turned from yellow to white, about 10 minutes. Gradually add the flour while mixing on a slow setting. If mixing by hand, ditch the hand mixer and use a spatula to gently fold the flour in. Finally, mix in the baking powder.
Pour the spongecake mix into a buttered 10-inch springform mold. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and an inserted knife draws out clean. Remove and let cool to the touch before removing the mold. After it has cooled completely, wrap it in plastic.
To make the marzipan, combine the peeled almonds, pistachio nuts, and 1 3/4 cups (180g) of sugar in a food processor. Blend into a very thick marzipan paste. Wrap this in plastic and refrigerate overnight.
The following day, add the chocolate chips and a sprinkle of orange zest (optional) into the ricotta. Add roughly 1 1/3 cup (150g) powdered sugar, although we recommend doing this gradually and adjusting to taste. Mix thoroughly.
To assemble the cassata, begin by carefully slicing the spongecake into 1/2-inch discs: you should end up with 3-4 sections.
If you ended up with 3 discs, take the top-most one (otherwise use a middle section) and slice it into parallel strips that are 1 1/2-inch wide. Cut these strips into trapezoids with roughly a 1 1/2-inch width on the longest side. The precise width isn't crucially important but each piece should be the same size. See pictures for clarification.
Take 1/3 of the marzipan and roll it out with a rolling pin until it is 1/2-inch thick. It will be quite sticky, so use powdered sugar to dust your work surface and dough. Cut matching trapezoids out of these strips. Feel free to do so in batches if you find it difficult to work with the sticky marzipan.
Dust the inside of a 9-inch pie tin with powdered sugar. Alternating between spongecake and marzipan, tesselate the trapezoids so that they completely line the walls of the tin. Again, see pictures for clarification.
Take a middle section disc of spongecake, trim the edges as necessary, and fit it flush into the bottom of the pie tin. Strive for a fairly tight seal between the disc and the trapezoid lining.
Spread the ricotta filling evenly over the spongecake, then top it with another cake disc. We recommend using the bottom-most section with the "crust" facing up, as this will become the bottom and add some stability. If necessary, trim the trapezoids with a paring knife so that they sit flush with the top of the dish. Cover and refrigerate the cake overnight.
The next day, carefully flip the cassata onto a flat platter and remove the pie tin. In a small bowl, add 1 1/3 cup (150g) of powdered sugar. While whisking, gradually add a little bit of water at a time until you have a very thick glaze—the consistency should be almost that of frosting; if it's too thin it will simply soak into the cake.
Spread this glaze evenly over the top of the cassata. Roll the remainder of the marzipan into 1/2-inch sheets and use a cup or cookie cutter to make circles. Drape these circles over the edge of the cassata to cover any glimpses of spongecake.
Finally, decorate the top with candied citrus and cherries. We used cherries, orange peel and cedro, but feel free to get creative!