Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Cassata al forno", the most tempting Sicilian baked pie


Do you know what the "Cassata al forno" is? The Cassata is a lovely baked pie filled with a delicious cream made of ricotta cheese and chocolate chips. You can either prepare a big one or if you prefer some mini-pies just like the ones in the picture below on the right.
 
Before carrying on with the recipe it's important to make some preliminary remarks. The Cassata is the most traditional dessert made in Sicily together with the famous cannoli.


Thanks to a very renowned line of the movie "The Godfather"... "leave the gun, take the cannoli", almost every person in the planet has an idea of what cannoli look like.


But what about the Cassata? We have two different kinds of Cassata that we call: the classic one, the Sicilian Cassata (cassata siciliana) and the baked cassata (cassata al forno). 
While the first is famous for its cover of icing and colored candied fruits and it is made of green marzipan on the sides (just like shown in the pic on the left) the second one, which is the most ancient, has got exactly the same filling but it's simpler because it is just a baked pie. (See the main pic on top or the one below on the right).
Nowadays you can find both all year long, but remain traditional of big important festivities like Christmas and Easter.


The origins of this dessert with ricotta cream go probably back to the Arabic domination (IX- XI centuries), but the version with marzipan and candied fruits was created more recently in the middle of XIXth century from a patisserie chef named Gulì.

About the etimology of the word cassata is still uncertain. Some people think that comes from the Arabic qas'at, that was the rounded bowl or basin where the cassata was prepared, that gives it that particular shape, some others think comes from the latin caseus, that is cheese, probably in reference to the ricotta cheese that fill the pie.
To prepare about 10 mini-pies or just one big baked pie instead, you will need:

For the dough
500 gr flour - 
200 gr lard - 100 gr caster sugar - 2 eggs + 2 yolks - half glass of Marsala wine - a pinch of salt


1. Let soften the lard out of the fridge, then mix it with the sugar until the result is smooth and soft.
2. On a surface put the flour and making a well put inside the mix of lard plus eggs, some of the Marsala and the pinch of salt. 3. Mix well all the ingredients until you have a soft dough. In case is a bit hard, add the other Marsala, then make a ball and place in the fridge for about an hour. 

For the ricotta cream
500 gr sheep fresh ricotta cheese - 300 gr sugar - 80 gr dark chocolate chips - 60 gr zuccata (which is a candied kind of big zucchini or cougettes) - cinnamon in powder - icing sugar - (In addition lemon zest if liked).

1. Sift the ricotta cheese in a sieve and mix it with the sugar. 2. Stir until it turns very soft and creamy, then add some dark chocolate 
chopped in small pieces (or chocolate chips if you have) and cinnamon to parfume the cream. 3. If you like it, cut the piece of zuccata in tiny cubes and mix them to the cream. Its taste is very delicate.
4. Now prepare the pie as usual, dividing the dough in two parts, one a bit bigger for the bottom part. 5. Roll out the first half of the dough on the special cassata tin, giving a rounded shape, fill with the ricotta cream and cover with the second half of pastry, that has to be flat.
6. Careful in sealing the sides of the pastry well, so that the cream inside won't come out with the heat of the oven.
7. Bake for about 45-50 minutes at a temperature of 180° C. It obviously has to be brown.
8. When is ready and has cooled down a bit, sprinkle with icing sugar and cinnamon powder if you like. Usually here in the patisserie you find a checked or a rhombus decoration done with sugar and cinnamon.



If you have some left-over place it in the fridge, it will be still perfect for the following 2 or 3 days (especially if your ricotta cheese was really fresh!) and you will be able to enjoy it for more than just one day!

4 comments:

  1. In all my many visits to Sicily I have never seen this, nor have my cousins there told me about it. Thank you for sharing, and I'm definitely going to search it out the next visit.

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  2. Dear Kathy, thank you so much for your comment. Shame on your cousins... ahahahah just kidding.
    This dessert is typical of Palermo, so next time you come, just drop me a line and we will taste it together!!!

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  3. Thank you! This was our favourite dessert at our Italian restaurant on Mull, made by Francesca. Sadly she has now returned to Palermo. I think of her when I make Biscotti di mandorla from the recipe she wrote out for me. I must give this one a try!

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  4. Thanks to you for reading and commenting. You should definetely try it, you will be very happy with the result, just make sure you have a very fresh sheep ricotta! :)

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