Getting Sicilian in Gloucester

Type of Post: 
Best of Show
Destination: 
Cape Ann, MA
Best of Show: 
The Cassata alla Siciliana at Caffe Sicilia

Caffe SiciliaLike Boston, Portland, and many other fishing ports, Gloucester has a sizable and old Italian population, and the restaurants and markets to support it. This means you have a good chance to find real Italian products and authentic Italian specialties.

The Cassata alla Siciliana is a revelation of the baker's art. It's a Sicilian cake made from a sponge cake with a cannolli filling, covered with fondant and candied fruits, and sometimes wrapped with a band of pale green marzipan. It is difficult to make, and because it is sometimes imported frozen by Sapori di Napoli, few bakeries actually make it.

Lorna had tried the imported Cassata at La Trattoria, just a few doors down, and fallen in love with it. Naturally I decided I had to make it myself. I carefully deconstructed a slice, observed the cake in the pastry case, and asked where I could find one. The hostess directed me to the Caffe Sicilia.

Well, I spoke to the owner and it did not go well. He told me I cannot make the Cassata because I am not Sicilian! (I have a Neapolitan last name, but three of my grandparents were Irish...)

Challenge accepted.

I am not the most talented baker in New England, but I did my research and gave it the old college try. There are many recipes available, including one in the Joy of Cooking, but they all seem to cut corners or in some way produce something less elegant than the imported version or the almost-identical version that I saw at the Caffe Sicilia.

Cassata alla Siciliana, homemadeBut I did it! And it was delicious. And it was enough work that next time I will buy it...

You  know, some things, like petit-fours for example, are so formal and regular that a machine makes them well (if it has good ingredients) and makes it well enough for my use. Then I can make something that I am good at!