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The cassata

May our Sicily, an island of infinite contradictions, be a land, at the same time, amara and duciit is certainly not new; that, then, coffee is better to take it sweetened because we already have this life of bitterness is another hard truth (even if difficult to accept for those who would like to follow a strict diet), so ... why not concentrate (at least here) exclusively on the boundless , as well as reassuring, range of delicacies ducezzethat our island generously gives us?

Perhaps it is useless to spout in bursts, at the very beginning of this greedy journey, the myriads of famous fruity smells and mixed, toasted and baked fragrances that can be encountered in this synaesthetic journey, enriched by the secrets kept and matured by the maternal Sicilian tradition and from the historical curiosities that these jealously contain. As they say, even culinarily speaking: we proceed "sparingly". Considering above all that it is a purely spontaneous and amateurish path, destined to grow under the pushes and impulses suggested by the periods (festivals, holidays), situations, friends and the unquestionable will dictated by the belly.

You will immediately realize that, in addition to classic and revisited recipes, we will always add a pinch of history, folklore and curiosity q.b.,perhaps deepening the beneficial properties of some ingredients, recommending places on the island where you can gorge yourself on the best sweets, or simply adding a healthy and meaningful popular saying. Everything is allowed, as long as it is sweet.

So let's start. It may be trivial, however it would have been a crime not to start with and with her ... the Queen is the quintessential symbol of Sicilian sweets:

The Sicilian cassata

Cu 'nappi' nappi de cassateddi i pasqua ...

The typical cake of the Sicilian tradition based on sheep's milk ricotta, sponge cake, royal pasta, candied fruit and sugar glaze, is so good because, just like its land of origin, it is the fruit (and sweet) of centuries of changes and influences, including foreign ones. 

At the end: History. The roots of the cassata date back to between the 9th and 11th centuries, when the Arabs introduced sugar cane, almond, cedar, lemon, bitter orange and mandarin to Palermo. In fact, these ingredients were fatally added to the ricotta, already produced in Sicily for some time. The origin of the name remains uncertain, according to a current of thought it derives from Arabicqas'at, that is, a "basin" with a circular cylindrical pan and flared underneath, in which it was and is still prepared today. According to others, however, the cake owes its name to the Latin caseum, “cheese”, for obvious reasons. Initially it was simply a pastry dough filled with ricotta and baked in the oven. However, when in the Norman period, around the end of 1100, some nuns created the royal paste at the Martorana convent in Palermo, a very sweet dough made of almond flour and sugar, the latter replaced the shortcrust pastry as a wrapper. First major change: in fact, it passed from baked cassata to cold.  Later, together with the Spaniards, chocolate and, precisely, the sponge cake also arrived. These last ingredients married so well with the cassata recipe that they could never be missing again. Last touch: the Baroque. The opulent and sumptuous style of the seventeenth century threw itself headlong into the soft dough of our cassata to embellish it with rich decorations of candied fruits. In reality, the external appearance of the cake varies a lot, and can range from a meager icing decoration with a little candied orange peel, to the baroque construction with which most of the time it is represented.

 Tasty Curiosities

  • Due to its shape and its often orange colors, cassata is considered a symbol of the sun and of life which therefore ideally places it as a dessert of the feast of
  • According to local variations there may be additional ingredients, such as pistachio, pine nuts, chocolate, cinnamon, maraschino or orange blossom.
  • An official document of a synod of Sicilian bishops in Mazara del Vallo, in 1575, states that the cassata is "indispensable during the holidays".
  • Today's Sicilian Cassata was created by a pastry chef, Cavaliere Salvatore Gulì, whose pastry shop was located in Corso Vittorio Emanuele, near Palazzo Belmonte. The cake was exhibited for the first time at an exhibition of Vienna, in 1873.

“Dulcis in furno”: Recipe   (tell me which one you prefer or if you want to add yourself)

Here is the recipe divided into various parts to make the procedure clearer.

Ingredients for 4 people

For the ricotta filling:

500 grams of fresh sheep ricotta

300 grams of sugar

 50 grams of chocolate chips

 1 sachet of vanillin

Method: Keep the fresh sheep ricotta in the fridge at least one night before processing it so that it loses the whey. Add the sugar and vanilla to the fresh and dry ricotta and mix everything together, leaving it to rest for about an hour. Then sift the dough until you get a soft and smooth cream to which you add the chocolate chips.

 For the royal pasta:

250 grams of almond flour

250 grams of granulated sugar

150 grams of water

 Green food coloring

Method: In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the water over low heat, stirring constantly. As soon as the sugar begins to spin, pour in the almond flour and add the coloring. Continue to mix and pour onto a wet marble surface where you can let the mixture cool.  Then work with your hands until you get a soft and smooth dough.  Then roll out the dough with a rolling pin until it reaches a thickness of 8 mm, cut into rectangles about 6 cm wide and the same height as the edge of the mold.

 For the sponge cake:

 75 grams of flour

 75 grams of potato starch

 A pinch of salt

 5 eggs

 1 sachet of vanillin

 150 grams of granulated sugar

Method: Divide the egg whites from the yolks into two bowls; then beat the egg yolks with half the sugar with the help of an electric whisk until a creamy, light yellow mixture is obtained. Beat the egg whites until stiff and then add the other sugar. Continue to mount. Add the whipped egg whites to the yolks and mix everything well. Add the flour, vanilla and sifted potato starch to the liquid parts. Mix everything well until you get a homogeneous mixture. Grease and flour a pan and pour the mixture. Preheat the oven and bake for about 40 minutes at 180 °. Seek  not to open the oven during cooking, as the compote could deflate. Check the cooking with a toothpick, remove the pan and let it cool.

For the sugar glaze:

150 grams of sugar

1 ladle of water

 

Method: Dissolve the sugar in the water over low heat until it becomes stringy and transparent. Prepare the icing just before you need it as it must be poured while still hot.

Final composition of the cassata

base of sponge cake

Mixed candied fruit

Water q.s.

Method: First of all equip yourself with a cassata mold, round with flared edges. Then divide the sponge cake base into three equal discs and place one on the bottom of the mold. Dissolve the sugar in water and moisten the sponge cake. From another disc of sponge cake, then obtain rectangles of the same size as those prepared with royal pasta, then place them on the edge of the mold alternating them. Pour the ricotta cream into the mold and cover with the remaining sponge cake, leaving it to rest for an hour. At this point it will be possible to turn the cassata upside down on a round tray and cover with the freshly prepared sugar glaze. Be careful to spread the icing well even on the edges in order to cover it entirely, and let it cool again. Then decorate to taste with candied fruit and serve.

or

Ingredients for 4 people

1 disk of about 500 gr. of sponge cake

700 gr. of fresh ricotta

400 gr. of sugar

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla essence

100 gr. of candied orange peel

100 gr. of dark chocolate chips

300 ml of water

200 gr. of powdered sugar

1/2 glass of Marsala

 For finishing

250 gr. of almond paste

Marzipan to taste

Mixed candied fruit

For the icing

300 grams of powdered sugar for garnish

180 ml of cold water

Preparation: Slice the sponge cake disc into thin slices and line a pan of about 24 centimeters in diameter covered with a plastic sheet, carefully covering the bottom and edges. To make the filling, sift the ricotta. Mix it with the sugar and vanilla, possibly adding a little milk if the mixture is too hard. Then add the candied orange peel, cut into small pieces, and the chocolate chips. Then mix the ingredients until they are amalgamated and pour the ricotta mixture into the pan with the sponge cake. Then cover the filling with other slices of sponge cake.  Meanwhile, in a saucepan, dissolve the 200 g of icing sugar with the 300 ml of warm water, letting the mixture cool before adding the marsala. Use this mixture to gradually wet the slices of sponge cake. At the end, place the cassata in the refrigerator and let it rest overnight. The next day, carefully turn out the cassata and arrange it on a serving plate. Then soften the marzipan in your hands before reducing it to a sheet of about 5 mm thick. Cut it out using the cassata tray, now empty, as a guide and cover the cassata with the marzipan disc and other strips of marzipan lined the edges. To make the icing, bring the cold water and the icing sugar to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and stir continuously until the sugar has completely dissolved (3-5 minutes). Pour it immediately on the cake and distribute it evenly with a wet spatula. Decorate the cassata with candied fruit of your choice. And curl up! 

Let's deepen

Ricotta cheese: The winning ingredient of this first study could only be ricotta.  Perhaps we will not be interested in knowing that it is wrongly defined as cheese, because it is actually a dairy product made from whey and not from curd, because whatever it is is really good. However, we will be more interested in knowing that it is an extremely complete food containing many mineral salts and proteins and that it is essential that it be consumed very fresh as it is not able to withstand the attack of microorganisms, which would therefore make it inedible. The ricotta proteins are one of the strengths of this dairy product.  In fact, they have a biological value that is extremely superior to that of both cheese and meat. We will then be interested in discovering that although in terms of calories, it is certainly not considered a fat product, we must be careful with the type of preparation as this affects the intake of calories. In fact, milk and cream are often added, making it heavier. Finally, let's remember that ricotta is an extremely versatile ingredient in the kitchen, we can use it to produce bread but also cakes, for sweet and savory recipes. It will be good, therefore, for desserts, cakes and first courses, rather caloric, to choose a ricotta with few calories and if artisanal maybe opt for that of only serum.

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