Sicilian cassata is a traditional dessert made with the same ricotta cheese mixture
as is used in cannoli, candied citrus peel, and homemade sponge cake (pan di
spagna) soaked in a sweet liqueur. It is traditionally a winter and spring dessert served
at Christmas and Easter. There are many variations of cassata throughout Sicily.
Although the cake and filling is usually the same, the frosting and decorations can
range from simple to extremely elaborate. You can find cassata covered with fondant
or whipped cream and topped with marzipan or candied fruits. It may be formed as a
round layer cake or a loaf cake that has been cut and reformed into many layers. For
a twist on the traditional cake, try our Cassata Ice Cream Cake.
Our cassata uses a traditional pan di spagna (sponge cake) and cannoli-style cream filling. However, we roll our cake, jelly-roll style, and cover it with a rich
chocolate frosting topped with chopped pistachios and candied orange peel. The cake does take some time to make but it is truly a luscious dessert for
Christmas or any special occasion and it makes a large number of servings. The cake can be baked in two 9-inch cake pans, if you wish to make a layer cake.
To simplify the process you can purchase a pound cake, cut it horizontally into several layers, and fill it with the cannoli filling. Use our chocolate frosting, use your
own favorite frosting recipe, or buy it ready-made. Sweetened whipped cream or a non-dairy cream topping would also work well an icing.
Cassata or Cannoli Cake
(Cake is 4-inches in diameter and 17-inches long - serves about 16)
Pan di Spagna:
1-1/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup dark rum *
1/4 cup sugar
An orange-flavored liqueur, Strega, Amaretto, or Marsala wine
may be substituted for the rum
15 ounces ricotta cheese
4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
Grated zest of 1 large orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
8 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 to 3/4 heavy cream
Chopped candied orange peel
To make the cake:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Butter a 12 x 17-inch baking sheet.
Line the baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar, using the whip attachment.
Beat until tripled in volume and light in color, about 5 minutes.
Beat in the honey, melted butter, and vanilla extract.
Set the mixture aside.
In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
With a rubber spatula, fold 1/3 of the flour mixture into the egg yolk mixture.
Then fold in 1/3 of the egg whites. Alternate folding in the flour mixture and egg
whites until the batter well combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly touched.
The cake will be lightly golden not browned.
While the cake is baking, make the rum sauce:
Combine the rum and sugar in a small saucepan; cook until the sugar dissolves,
2-3 minutes. Set the saucepan aside.
When the cake is done, immediately invert the hot cake onto a kitchen towel.
Carefully peel off the parchment paper. Brush the cake with the rum mixture.
Starting from a long side, roll the cake with the towel into a jelly roll.
Cool the cake roll, seam side down, on a wire rack until completely cool, about 1
To make the filling:
Put all the filling ingredients, except the chocolate chips, in a bowl.
With a electric mixer, combine the mixture until smooth.
Stir in the mini chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate while cake cools.
To make the frosting:
Place the chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl.
Heat the chocolate for 30 seconds, remove and stir.
Continue heating and stirring at 30 second intervals until the mixture is smooth.
Stir in the corn syrup, vanilla, and espresso powder.
Add 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar and half of the heavy cream.
With an electric mixer, beat until fairly smooth (the mixture may still look a little
thick.) Add the remaining confectioners’ sugar and continue beating to
incorporate. Then add more of the cream, a little at a time, until the frosting
becomes smooth and glossy.
To assemble the cake:
Gently unroll the cooled cake.
With an off-set spatula, spread the cannoli filling over the cake almost to the
edges. Starting from the same long side, roll the cake without the towel.
Place the cake, seam side down, on a platter.
With an off-set spatula, spread the chocolate frosting over the cake.
Sprinkle the top of the cake with chopped pistachios and candied orange peel.
Serve at room temperature or refrigerate.