If I can cook it, you can cook it And I'll travel the world to bring it back home to you.

Cassata Siciliana or Italian Strawberry Shortcake from Julie Richardson

Cassata Siciliana or Italian Strawberry Shortcake from Julie Richardson
Julie Richardson wrote a cookbook devoted to old-fashioned cakes, the ones you may remember your grandmother cooking or at the very least, bringing home from the local bakery.   “Vintage Cakes” (Ten Speed Press 2012) is filled with gems that are not only nostalgic but are every bit as good today as you remember.   Case in point: The Cassata Siciliana or Italian Strawberry Cheesecake, sometimes called an Italian Cream Cake.
This recipe has a quite a history.  Some food historians would like to attach it to the period when Sicily was under Arab rule in the 10th century.  They supported their point of view using the Arabic word qas’ah from which “cassata” was believed to have been derived.  It means ‘bowl’ and the logic was that the bowl was used to shape the cake.  It took an Englishman, John Dickie, to figure out that the cake’s name was a derivative of ‘Caseata’ which means “cheese concoction”.  He went on to point out that Casatta didn’t even mean it was a dessert until the late 17thcentury and didn’t look anything like its current incarnation until the 18thcentury.  Oh those pesky historians!  Then again, Julie Richardson’s Cassata is nothing like the Sicilian version because this particular recipe hails from Cleveland, Ohio, of all places.
A true Sicilian Cassata

The original recipe for a Cassata Siciliana consisted of a round sponge cake, moistened with liquid from liqeuer-lacerated strawberries and layered with ricotta cheese, candied orange peel and a chocolate filling similar to cannoli cream.  Then the whole cake was covered with a layer of marzipan, pink and green pastel icing and decorative designs made with candied fruit depicting cherries and citrus native to Sicily.   The “Cleveland Cassata” was created in the 1920s by LaPuma Spumoni and Bakery which had been around since 1893.  Apparently the children of the owners didn’t like the traditional cake so the recipe was

Cleveland’s Cassata from LaPuma Spumoni and Bakery

altered to the one on which Julie Richardson based her recipe.  Sadly, LaPuma Spumoni has closed. So we are left with Julie’s take on their recipe.    Except that Julie herself changed the LaPuma recipe by opting to make Lemon Chiffon instead of Sponge Cake. She did away with the candied fruit on top and substituted fresh berries.  She also omitted the candied orange in the cake and substituted orange zest. She reinstated the use of chocolate shavings replacing the chocolate chips the Cleveland contingent used in their recipe. However altered the recipe, the most important thing to know about this cake is that it is a complete show-stopper.  It tastes every bit as good as it looks.  It is the perfect opportunity to use this Spring’s first strawberries, the perfect cake to serve at a dinner party as it serves up to 18 people, and above all, it tastes absolutely fantastic.   Here is the recipe:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *