If you compare the Indian cassata to the Italian delicacy, they are evidently different. The Italian version is what refers to a 'cheesecake' because ricotta cheese is used in its making. It is in fact a complex dessert where sponge cake or genoise is moistened using fruit syrup or liqueur, and layered up with sweetened ricotta cheese, fruit preserves and jellies. It is then covered with marzipan and decorated with marzipan fruits, flowers and curlicues. Many food experts suggest that traditionally it could have been a simple layered cake with ricotta cheese, but over the centuries various features were added to the cake, as part of the great confectionery traditions of the convents, to finally being referred to as a Sicilian speciality.
In India, cassata is mostly recognised as an ice cream dessert like the Neapolitan ice cream, where sponge cake is layered with different flavoured - strawberry, pistachio, vanilla, chocolate - ice cream, loaded with tutti-frutti and finally crusted with chopped nuts. In the stores or pastry shops, you will often come across it as a dome-shaped frozen dessert.
How to Make Cassata Ice Cream at Home
While frozen cassatas are readily available in the supermarkets, you can also create it at home without any fuss. Step one to making cassata is to prepare the sponge cake. Sponge cake works best because it is light and fluffy, and you can use fruit syrup or liqueur to moisten it and add to its flavour. If you are short on time, you can buy sponge cake from the store, otherwise here's a recipe of Victorian Sponge Cake by Chef Joey Matthew - Sponge Cake.
Then comes the ice cream. Celebrity Chef Amrita Raichand says, "A cassata is easy to make at home. The only tough part is deciding which ice cream flavours to use. My favourite mix of three flavours are rich pistachio, dark chocolate or chocolate chip and a sharp berry ice cream like raspberry or strawberry, which work well between layers of buttery cake slices."
According to award winning food blogger Neha Mathur of Whisk Affair, "To make cassata, soften one flavour of ice cream at a time, layer it in the pan, freeze until it sets and then start working with the next flavour. My favourite flavours to layer in a cassata are coffee, hazelnut and red wine chocolate. It makes a great combination with each flavour standing out yet being in sync with each other."
Author and food blogger Ruchira Ramanujam of Tadka Pasta says, "Making an Indian-style cassata ice cream cake is a fun project that you could even get your kids involved. Just use thin slices of store-bought cake and then layer in three or four complementing ice cream flavours. For an unusual dessert, try a chocolate-coffee-caramel cassata or a fresh mango-raspberry-white chocolate version."
Food blogger Rowena Dumlao-Giardina of Apron and Sneakers, in her blog she shares a delicious Cassata Gelato Loaf, inspired by her husband's hometown in Sicily. Gelatos have a creamier texture that can surely make the cassata more enjoyable. Her choice of gelato flavours includes hazelnut, chocolate and pistachio, and she also adds in Vermouth to make it boozy. Other liqueurs you could try using are Kahlua, Baileys, Cointreau, and even bourbon.
How to Spruce it Up
What makes cassata so popular is that you can relish myriad flavours in one dessert, and it's rich, creamy and sinful. Using just a few ingredients, you can turn it into a showstopper dish when guests come over, and it is always a big hit with kids and grown-ups alike.
My friend's mother Nina Ahuja, whose cassata creations have been a rage in our friend circle, says, "Cassata is a no-fuss dessert that anyone can put together. Once you have your sponge cake and choice of ice cream, you only need to layer it up. I also play around with garnishes and add-ons to spruce it up to present a different cassata each time my children ask for it. Fresh fruit slices, candied fruits, tutti-frutti, coconut flakes, Nutella, chocolate chips, fruit jams, jellies and caramel are some ingredients I add in while layering the dessert."
"While serving, on top of the nutty crunch, you can drizzle melted chocolate syrup or salted caramel sauce, and finish with fresh berries," adds Aunty Nina.
Amrita Raichand shares, "A true indulgence is a cassata with a liquid centre like salted caramel ribbon running through the centre of each slice."
So now that you have a bunch of ideas to make cassata at home, get started and surprise your guests with this showstopper dessert! It will only take about 15 minutes to layer it up, and about two hours to let it set flawlessly. Tempted much? Here's a delicious recipe for you to try - Cassata.
Scoop in and enjoy!