Cassata Siciliana is a sponge cake moistened with fresh orange juice or liqueur; layered with creamy sweetened ricotta cheese and candied citrus peel; covered with a shell of marzipan, pastel colored icing, and decorative designs; and topped with candied fruit. You can find it with ice-cream filling instead of ricotta and it becomes a semifreddo perfect for summer.
Cassata originated in the province of Palermo, Sicily, in the 1500s. A document from 1575 written by the Sicilian bishops declared that “you cannot do without cassata during holidays” and a Sicilian proverb says "Tintu è cu nun mancia a cassata a matina ri Pasqua" (Unfortunate is the person who doesn’t eat cassata on Easter morning).
Cassata Catanese is similar but it has a top and bottom crust and it is baked.
The Cassatella di Sant'Agata—aka Minni di Vergini (virgins’ breasts) is a one portion cassata, with a candied cherry on top. It is typically made in Catania for the festival of Sant’Agata. She is the patron saint of Catania, of breast cancer patients, martyrs, wet nurses, fire, earthquakes, and eruptions of Mount Etna. According to Jacobus de Voragine in Legenda Aurea of ca. 1288, having dedicated her virginity to God, fifteen year old Agata, from a rich and noble family, rejected the amorous advances of the low-born Roman prefect Quintianus, who then persecuted her for her Christian faith. He sent Agatha to Aphrodisia, the keeper of a brothel. The madam found her intractable, so Quinitianus sends for her, argues, threatens, and finally has her put in prison. Among the tortures she underwent was the cutting off of her breasts. That’s why the cassatelle have that shape.
Cleveland Cassata is a sponge cake soaked in syrup or rum, filled with strawberries and custard, and covered with sweetened whipped cream. It appeared in the early 1920s at the local Italian bakery LaPuma Spumoni & Bakery. The children of the owners did not like traditional cassata cake, so Tomasso LaPuma created a new version.
Neapolitan Cassata, instead, is an ice cream containing candied or dried fruit and nuts.
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