Cassatella di sant’Agata (minnuzzi ‘i sant’Àjita or minnuzzi ‘i Vìrgini in Sicilian) is a traditional Catanese dessert, which is made during the feast of St. Agatha.
According to Emanuele Ciaceri’s argument, the feast of St. Agatha originates in many of its parts from the Isidean cults. One of the elements of greatest interest to the scholar is precisely the sweet called minnuzza di Vìrgini, which would re-propose the breast of the goddess Isis in her capacity as mother goddess.
Another parallel is found in the cults of the Eleusinian mysteries, where on the occasion of demetriac rites it was customary to consume sweet buns whose appearance re-proposed the breasts of the goddess Demeter, protector of the harvest and in turn also considered a mother goddess.
Both cults, the Isidean and the Demetriac cults, are documented in Catania from both written sources and archaeological findings; these cults influenced, where rather they were not fully absorbed, the Agatine religious festivities, thus the sweet loaf representing the fertility of mother earth takes on the symbolic value of the act of martyrdom suffered by the Catanese saint whose breast was amputated.
For the Filling and Decoration:
- 1 1/4 cups fresh ricotta (preferably sheep milk)
- 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, divided
- 1 1/2 ounces finely chopped dark chocolate (or chocolate chips)
- 1 ounce finely chopped candied citron or orange
- 1 egg white (leftover from making the dough)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 6 candied cherries
For the Pastry Dough:
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cold, chopped butter
- 1 whole egg (60-gram egg or U.S. large size eggs)
- 1 egg yolk (save the white for the glaze)
Combine the ricotta with 1/4 cup of confectioners’ sugar and whisk until smooth.
Add the chopped chocolate and candied fruit. Cover and let it rest in the fridge for about 1 hour.
Prepare the pastry dough by combining the flour and sugar.
Add the butter and process in a food processor or rub together with fingers until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is distributed evenly through the mixture.
Add the egg and yolk (saving the white for the glaze) and continue mixing until you have a smooth, solid, and not sticky or crumbly dough.
Let it rest for 30 minutes in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (180°C).
Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface until thin (about 1/10 inch or 2 to 3 millimeters at most).
Fill a 6 half-sphere Silicone mold tray with a piece of pastry and trim evenly so it fills the sphere perfectly.
Fill with the ricotta mixture right to the top, smooth over, then cover with a circle cut out of pastry.
Push down along the edges to seal the pastry (if you want to, you can brush some of the spare egg white or even a bit of water around the bottom of the circle of pastry before pressing down to help seal).
Continue with the rest of the mixture and dough.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the pastry is cooked evenly and is golden.
Let the pastries cool in their mold. When cool enough to handle, carefully remove them from the mold and place on a cake rack to let them finish cooling.
In the meantime, whip the leftover egg white to fluffy, soft peaks.
When the pastries are completely cool, make the glaze by combining the rest of the confectioners’ sugar with the lemon juice and enough of the egg white (about 2 tablespoons—but do it bit by bit) to create a very smooth, opaque icing that runs off the spoon like pancake batter.
Place the pastries on a cake rack set over a tray or a chopping board.
Ice the pastries by pouring a spoonful of icing at a time over the top (let it run down on its own; if some areas aren’t covered, help it along by spooning another bit of icing from the top).
Allow the icing to set, then top with a candied cherry.
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