The classic Italian cake Cassata Siciliana shines as a traditional favorite at Easter. This version uses a muffin pan to create individual servings.
I’m squeezing in one more Easter recipe before the holiday on Sunday. I’ve wanted to explore Cassata Siciliana, a classic Italian confection, for more than 2 years now! There are a few different versions across its geographic origins with varying instructions, but this one with its marzipan cover is an Easter classic. The green is so springy and the candied fruit adds a pop of color that is irresistible to my eye.
When I began this recipe, I’d planned to make it as a single cake using a deep dish pie pan. I guess my pan grew legs and walked off, and it remains MIA. My improvisation involved a jumbo muffin tin to make 6 little cakes. They’re just the cutest! Now I’m almost glad that I couldn’t find that pie pan. (Almost.)
If you love cannoli, then you’ll love eating this cake. The filling is practically cannoli cream. The ricotta cheese needs to drain overnight so it loses some of its moisture. This keeps the cakes from becoming soggy and protects the marzipan from breaking down.
I must have researched at least 20 cassata filling recipes – and all of them different. Some opted for nuts and chocolate chips, others went all-in with candied fruit. I’m a huge fan of chocolate and pistachio together, so that’s what I put in this filling. It also has a little sugar along with the zest of one orange.
A sheet of sponge cake will provide the tops and bottoms of the mini cakes. You’ll need some circle cookie cutters, around 2 3/4 inches and 3 1/2 inches. I own a set of round cutters just like this one that I use all the time. They’re so useful! If you don’t have cutters that size, you could use similar size jar or bottle caps, or cut some templates to trim around.
Marzipan is easy to make, but ready-made will shortcut this recipe. I recommend using it. Just knead in some food color to create your favorite Easter green color. Roll it on a dusted surface and cut it into 2-inch strips. Line each muffin cavity with an overlapping piece. Press in evenly and trim away the excess. Now you’re ready to fill!
The smaller cake pieces go in first. Lay them in and gently tamp them down. There’s no need to force them into the bottom. Next, fill with that delicious ricotta cheese mixture. Last, cover the filling with the large cake rounds. Refrigerate for about an hour.
The marzipan coverings will be dusty with powdered sugar when you turn them out. I used a little almond extract and an art brush to remove it. The extract will evaporate quickly.
Simple confectioners’ glaze whisks together with just powdered sugar, lemon juice, and a little milk. Be sure it’s thick and opaque. You’ll be using it to cover the top centers of the cakes, and you’ll also use it to pipe a few swags on the sides. Some Cassata Siciliana have elaborately piped designs on the green marzipan.
Piping with this glaze is not as precise as I’d like it to be, but if you keep your design simple then things will work out fine. I think they’re real cute with single line swags and a few dotty embellishments!
You’ll have a little ricotta filling left over, and if you save your cake scraps, you can make some mini trifles like I did! Just crumble the cake and layer with the ricotta in tiny dessert cups. I added some whipped cream and marzipan flowers.
These little confections are deceptively light with their spongy cake layers and whipped ricotta filling. Individual desserts always feel special on the table, and these are not only tasty but a cheerful sight to behold. Sharing them has been a delight.
Mini Cassata Siciliana Cakes
- 32 oz. ricotta cheese drained in cheesecloth overnight
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup 6 oz. mini chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup 2 oz. chopped pistachios
- Zest of one orange
- 4 eggs
- 3/4 cup 150g granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons milk or buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Powdered sugar for dusting
- 1 lb. prepared marzipan
- Green gel food color
- Yellow food color
- Glaze and decors
- 1 cup 113g confectioners’ sugar
- Juice of one lemon
- Milk or cream if needed to thin
- 6 candied cherries
- 6 candied orange peel strips
- 1/4 cup candied chopped citron
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the drained cheese, sugar, chips, pistachios and orange zest. Mix well until combined. Scrape down the bowl and mix again. Refrigerate until ready to use.
For the cake
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 17×11 jelly-roll pan with flour-based baking spray. Alternatively grease the pan with shortening and line with parchment paper. In a large bowl, beat eggs with a hand mixer for 5 full minutes – set a timer. Properly whipped eggs will lighten in color considerably and have the appearance of yellow cake batter. With the mixer still running, slowly add sugar and oil to the whipped eggs. Next, add buttermilk or milk, and vanilla extract. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Slowly add to the liquid ingredients. Mix until well combined.
- Pour batter into prepared pan and spread to distribute batter evenly. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Check at 12 minutes. Cake is done when it springs back when pressed with fingers. Let the cake cool slightly, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Cut six 2 3/4-inch round circles from the sponge. Cut six 3 1/2-inch round circles from the sponge.
- Knead together the marzipan, a drop of green food color and a drop of yellow food color. Add more food color as needed for a brilliant grassy green color. When color is consistent, dust a work surface with powdered sugar and roll to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into six 2×10-inch strips (roughly).
- Lightly dust the cavities of a nonstick jumbo muffin tin with powdered sugar. Line the edges of each cavity with an overlapping strip of marzipan. Press evenly into the pan; trim off excess marzipan. Place the smaller circles of sponge cake into the bottom of the pan. It’s not necessary to tamp them completely down; just place them in the bottom. Fill each cavity with the ricotta filling within 1/4 inch of the top edge. Top each cavity with the larger cake circles. Press firmly and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Combine the sugar and lemon juice in a bowl whisk while dribbling milk into the bowl a little at a time. The glaze should be opaque white and thick enough to hold in the whisk, then fall into the bowl in a ribbon. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a small (#2) round piping tip. Turn cakes out onto a parchment sheet. If cakes want to stick, tap the pan on the work surface and they should fall out. If cakes are dusty with powdered sugar, lightly brush them with some almond extract using a soft bristle kitchen-dedicated art brush.
- Pipe glaze onto the top cake rounds until covered. Add a cherry, orange peel, and a sprinkle of citron to the top of each cake. Pipe single line swags around the top edges of the cakes. In between swags add three dots of glaze. Refrigerate cakes until ready to serve.