Rustic Sicilian-Style Strawberry Cassata

Jump to recipe

A rustic but still decadent strawberry dessert for Mother’s Day? Shavuot? Just because? Yes, yes, and yes, please. Ever since seeing a photo last year of a strawberry cassata, a Sicilian-style ricotta cake, it’s been on my list to try. This year’s arrival of spring’s best strawberries motivated me to do it—to create my own recipe for this festive and creamy cake that would celebrate the season, be lovely for Mother’s Day, and represent the dairy food tradition of Shavuot coming up at the end of May.

A traditional Sicilian cassata is quite elegant and special, often made for Easter and Christmas. It features sponge cake layers, a liqueur-spiked syrup, ricotta filling, a marzipan coating, and elaborate decorations of chocolate or candied fruit. Because the ricotta filling resembles that used to fill cannoli, you’ll sometimes see these called “cannoli cakes.”

Although originating in Sicily, the recipe migrated. Edda Servi Machlin, who lived in central Italy and chronicled Jewish-Italian cuisine, made a version of Sicilian cassata with lady fingers (essentially, sponge cake cookies), cherry liqueur, and ricotta filling. And the recipe also traveled to the United States, of course. Interestingly, in Cleveland, Ohio, there’s a version that features a custard filling, strawberries, and a whipped cream topping. Luckily, as all the adaptations show, home-style or more rustic versions still create a luscious knockout of a cake. That’s what I was going for.

Sponge cake forms the foundation. The light texture soaks up the flavored syrup and pairs nicely with mild ricotta filling. Making a sponge cake requires attention to a few extra details—room temperature eggs, a light touch when folding ingredients together to not deflate the airy batter, a clean dry bowl and beaters for beating the egg whites, and avoiding overbaking (because a dry sponge cake is pretty unappealing and tastes a little off, speaking from experience). I like adding a little cinnamon and vanilla powder to the cake to give it a hint of spice.

To enhance the strawberry flavor, I use preserves in the syrup, spiked with spiced rum (you can omit or use another liqueur). I added mascarpone to the filling for added creaminess and flavor. Note that by design, this is not an overly sweet dessert. If you prefer it sweeter, you can add more sugar to the filling and the berry topping (which you might want to do anyway if your berries aren’t very sweet on their own).

Finally, you know I love make-ahead desserts, right? Happy to add another recipe to that repertoire. You can bake the sponge cake up to two days in advance (I think the flavor benefits from letting the cooled and wrapped cake rest overnight before proceeding with the recipe). Make the filling and assemble the cake except for the berry topping at least 5 and up to 24 hours in advance and cover and chill. This lets the flavors mellow and meld. Before serving, slice the berries, lightly macerate them, and arrange them on top. Then … admire, share, and enjoy.

Happy strawberry season, happy Mother’s Day, and happy Shavuot (chag sameach)!

P.S. Below are a few tips on the process followed by the full recipe.

If, like me, you have trouble cutting in straight lines, you can try this—place the cake on a low-rimmed baking sheet, and align your knife with the edges as you cut.

Brush a generous amount of strawberry syrup on each layer.

So that your top layer will be more even and able to absorb the syrup, place it cut side up.

You can halve your berries or slice them. Arrange them in a pattern or mound them up in a pile. Whatever you like.


  1. So you use the same riccotta filling to frost the outside as well? I’ve always had it with a custard filling and then the light whip cream like frosting that may or may not be riccotta and mascarpone.

  2. I am making a version of this recipe for my parents birthday party this weekend. All the ingredients look great together. I am working on the syrup and filling now. I also love that I don’t have to use whipped cream as it is going to travel for an hour (in refrigerated car though) and put in fridge when we get to party. I am making it into a sheet cake. My parents are born in Italy and are American citizens. This will be special.. OK , back to baking….

    • How wonderful, thank you for sharing this. I hope it turns out beautifully and your parents love it. Wishing them a very happy birthday!

  3. Thank you. I decided to only have one layer with the strawberry and ricotta filling as I was worried I would break my sponge cake layer. I will make a whipped cream topping or buttercream to frost the top so I can write “Happy Birthday” and put the macerated strawberries all around. The recipe was easy to follow. Thank you. If you have instagram I can share with you or maybe email to you .

  4. This is a fabulous recipe! If I want a larger size cake, I’m assuming I can double the portions?

    • Hi, thank you! I haven’t tested doubling this myself, but I think it’ll work fine. I’ve read other recipes that suggest sponge cakes can be doubled. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

  5. Maxie Ferguson says

    Your recipe delivers an absolutely fantastic cake! It is delicious, beautiful, and very easy to make. It is just perfect in every way! I will definitely make it again and again! Thanks, so very much for sharing!

    • Maxie, I’m thrilled to hear this and so happy that you will enjoy the cake many times in the future. Thank you for your comment!

  6. I made this recipe. My ricotta mixture was yellow, not white. Did you use clear vanilla? When I whipped it, it never really got light and fluffy.

    • Hi, I do not use clear vanilla. Some mascarpones can have a slight yellow cast, so that might be why. And as for not getting fluffy, perhaps your ricotta was a little too wet or runny (and if by chance you used part-skim ricotta instead of whole milk ricotta, that would affect the texture as well). I hope your cake at least tasted good!



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.