Where is cassata come from?
Like most Sicilian specialties, even cassata has an Arabic origin. During the 11th century Palermo was the largest city in Europe and the Arabs had imported various products. Pistachio, citrus fruits, almonds and sugar cane have started to circulate within the island at this time.
According to tradition the baked cassata has a totally unexpected history. The protagonist was a shepherd who, one night, decided to use a bowl to mix inside a little sheep’s ricotta with sugar and honey, thus discovering something really exceptional. Later, the cooks of the Palermo court of the Emir, worked hard to wrap the same dough in a puff of shortcrust. The cassata was baked in the oven. Even today, the baked version is the oldest version of this cake.
However, the word cassata appeared for the first time only in the 14th century. In the Declarus of Angelo Senisio (a lexicon preserved in a single manuscript of the fifteenth century), we read that cassata is a food composed of bread and cheese paste. The following centuries mark the evolution of this sweet. In the eighteenth century they began to use the sponge cake instead of the short pastry and they were added chocolate chips with ricotta. In the same way, decorations were created with martorana paste, candied fruit and sugar icing. It is with these ingredients that, in 1873, the pastry chef Salvatore Gulì from Palermo created the colourful Sicilian cassata that we know today.
Despite this great innovation, only from the end of the 19th century the cassata“dolce” will be fully established in the houses and in the popular tradition. Until then it was considered an official dish of the Easter feast. The Synod of the Diocese of Mazara del Vallo established it in 1575, also prohibiting to prepare it during the period preceding the religious feast in order to avoid falling into temptation.
Emporio Sicilia offers you the recipe of the oldest variant, the baked one. A dish characterized by an unmistakable taste of tradition.
Ingredients (for a baking pan of 24cm of diametre)
FOR THE TART:
- ½ kg of flour (type “00”)
- 200 g of butter
- 200 g of sugar
- 2 eggs and 1 yolk
- Peel of 1 lemon
- 1 sachet of vanilla
- Dry biscuits (like digestive) as necessary
- a pinch of salt
- icing sugar
- 1 kg of ricotta
- ½ kg of zucchero
- 60 g chocolate chips
After draining the ricotta for one night so that it loses all the excess water, add the sugar and stir vigorously to avoid the formation of lumps.
For the shortcrust, add the flour, sugar and lemon peel in a bowl. Add the cold butter from the fridge, cut it into cubes, a pinch of salt and the eggs and the yolk (keep the remaining egg white, because it will serve later). Knead the pastry with your hands until the ingredients are perfectly blended (not too much, to avoid the butter melting). Make a dough and put in the fridge for a few hours.
In the meantime, line the bottom of the baking tray with a disc of baking paper cut in the right size and butter the edges. Level 2/3 of pastry between two sheets of baking paper and cover the baking pan going up to the edges. Sprinkle the crumbled dry biscuits with a generous layer to absorb the moisture of the ricotta. Pour the ricotta cheese into the baking pan, level and crumble over other dry biscuits.
At this point, lower the edges (they have to touch the cream) and brush them with the egg white. Smooth out the remaining shortcrust and cover the tart by cutting the excess and adhering well to the edges. Hole the surface with the tip of a knife (small cuts) and bake at 180°C for an abundant hour, checking that the cassata takes a nice golden color.
When it is ready, remove remove from the oven and after 10/15 minutes flip the cassata on a tray, letting it cool in the baking tray so as not to lose its shape. Sprinkle the cassata with icing sugar. To obtain the classic lozenges, before putting the powdered sugar, place the spaghetti in a crossing shape, sprinkle with icing sugar and then remove them gently.