Cassata .. The Queen of all Easter Cakes

Easter is one of the most beautiful times of the year to visit Sicily. The climate is usually mild, the orange and lemon trees are heaving with their delicious fruit, the countryside is full of wild flowers and there are no summer crowds.

In Sicily Easter is the most important religious date of the year and there are many festivals across the island during Holy Week, which include solemn processions and masses. It is an event that brings families and friends together and as is always the Sicilian way it is the perfect excuse for a gastronomic experience.

In Sicily there are lots of interesting legends associated with many different desserts. One of these describes the creation of the Cassata, traditionally attributed to the court of an Emir during Arab rule in Palermo.

Several centuries after his rule, in 1575, a document was found from the Synod of Mazara which certified that this particular dessert was indispensable for Easter festivities in Sicily.

For many years following, the Cassata was only prepared for Easter as a celebration of the end of Lent fasting.

Nowadays the Cassata adorns the display windows of Sicilian confectioners and is a favourite on most restaurant dessert menus all year long and not just for Easter.

Cassata Siciliana (not to be confused with the frozen ice cream cake called Cassata Gelata) is said to take its name from the Arabic word 'Quas'at' after the sloping mould in which it is made. Some say that the name originates from the Latin word Caseo (Cheese concoction) from which the cassata is made, still others insist it is because the cake is Incassato which means packed into a tin for construction.

Either way, by the 16th century the cake had become so popular that the nuns of the Convent of Mazara del Vallo had to be temporarily banned from making them when, in an effort to keep up with demand, they neglected to fulfil their religious duties.

A Sicilian Cassata is certainly worth sinning for, the dessert is made with sponge cake and sweetened ricotta and is decorated so seductively that one simply cannot resist its allure.

The end product resembles a work of art.

Another popular cake to eat in Sicily at Easter is Colomba which is a wonderfully fragrant leavened cake shaped like a dove (colomba), the symbol of peace. You find these beautifully hand wrapped cakes in confectioners across the island. This traditional Easter cake is topped with raisins and covered with a light frosting. Its origins have been the subject of heated debates but it has now been officially established that there are two different versions with the oldest being traced back to Sicily and the other to Lombardy on the Italian mainland. The Sicilian version features an ancient history as locals have been preparing this cake in a traditional method for centuries.

Another sweet you will find at Easter is marzipan lambs.

Marzipan modelling is a traditional craft in Sicily and you will see this sweet almond paste modelled into shapes of fruit and vegetables and much more. At Easter you will find marzipan modelled into the shape of lambs. Agneddu Pasquali (marzipan lambs) are made at Easter time to represent the sacrifice of Jesus Christ during Holy Week and the creators take great pride in how they dress their lambs. In some parts of the island they are stuffed with candied fruit, nuts or marmalade made from local oranges, however in Palermo they only use plain marzipan.

Another treat is Easter bread which is simply a sweet bread baked with colourful eggs nestled into the dough then decorated with sugar strands. It is known as Pupo con L'uovo (Bread with Eggs). Bread is an important part of every Sicilian meal however this bread is best enjoyed in between meals due its sweetness. Some make a perfect colourful table centrepiece for Easter Sunday when it has been shaped into a plait and left long or pulled into a circle. They can also be bought shaped as a doves.

But back to Cassata .....

If you are brave enough to have a go at constructing a Cassata Siciliana yourself here is a simple recipe.


Pre-made Sponge Cake
Marzipan with green food colouring
500g Ricotta Cheese
150g Sugar
1tsp Vanilla Extract
50g Candied Fruits
50g Chocolate Chips
50g Pistachios
Rind of one Sicilian Lemon
60ml Limoncello


Line a loose bottomed cake tin with cling film and roll out the marzipan, use it to line the sides and bottom of the tin.

Make the ricotta filling by mixing it with the sugar in a food processor until it is smooth in texture. Add the chocolate chips, the vanilla extract, candied fruit, nuts and lemon rind and mix well with a wooden spoon.

Cut the sponge cake into a round shape for the base to cover the marzipan and cut some rectangular pieces to go at the sides. Sprinkle these with limoncello.

Spoon the ricotta over the sponge and press down gently. Place a second piece of round sponge cake over the ricotta mixture and press down further.

Chill and refrigerate for a few hours.

When required take out of the refrigerator and place a serving plate on top of the Cassata, turn over gently while holding the plate firmly onto the Cassata. The Cassata should come out easily.

Peel off the cling film and decorate with white icing, melted chocolate and candied fruit and peel.

Let your creativity go crazy.

Now stand back and admire your work of art.

Good luck, Enjoy and Happy Easter 🐰🐣🍰

If cooking is your thing then please feel free to contact me for recommendations for
Cooking Classes in Taormina, Syracuse, Agrigento, Palermo and on Mount Etna

Photo Gallery

Cassata Siciliana

Marzipan Lamb

Easter in Taormina

Easter Bread


Easter in Caltagirone

To discover Easter celebrations in Sicily this great link on
Visit Sicily tells you where to go ↓

Holy Week in Sicily, the celebrations you don't want to miss !!!

and finally ....

"My Lemon Grove Summer"
by Jo Thomas

Could Sicily be the place to start again?

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