Cassata is a Sicilian cake which hails from the city of Palermo. It’s difficult, however, to determine the exact origin of cassata, as noted by Clifford A. Wright. It is a cake that has evolved over time, since the 1600s, through religious roots and ethnic ties to Catholicism, (Baroque era in art which the Catholic Church supported) Judaism, (Sicilian Jews ate a cake that was called cassati during Passover) and the Arabs, who brought sugar to Sicily in the tenth century.
So what exactly is cassata? It is a decadently rich, sweet cake composed of pan di Spagna (sponge cake) soaked in cherry liquor or orange flower water, marzipan, sugar-sweetened sheep-milk ricotta, chocolate chips, candied fruits, glazed icing and finished with elaborate or Baroque-like decorative icing. Marzipan is lined all the way around the border of the cake. Speaking for myself, this element is what makes it completely irresistible.
Fast forward more than three centuries later and a famous Neapolitan master pastry chef named Mario Scaturchio is known for having “Neapolitanized” the Sicilian cassata, making it lighter by using cow-milk ricotta
Living in Brooklyn, we are relatively close to Bensonhurst, a neighborhood that is historically Southern Italian and Sicilian. Villabate Alba Pasticceria, (since 1932) has been on my list of “must see places” since I don’t know when. The atmosphere is quite charming and one will hear Italian spoken by its staff and likewise by its customers. At the bar area, the caffé or coffee is top notch. Authentic as stepping into a pasticceria in Sicily.
Top left to right we have Sicilian cassata, Neapolitan cassata and last but not least a cannoli. In my humble opinion, the Sicilian cassata was my favorite because as mentioned previously, I love marzipan. Period.
There is a world of desserts, cakes and gelato at Villabate Alba Pasticceria. The next time you find yourself in Brooklyn, make it a point to visit Bensonhurst. You won’t be disappointed to say the very least!