In this simplified version of a traditional Italian Cassata Cake, citrusy sponge cake is soaked in honey and layered with a creamy ricotta and chocolate chip filling. It may be significantly easier than the more ornate classic, but this cassata cake recipe is just as much of a crowd-pleaser!

The easy cassata cake on a serving platter, with a bowl of lemons and oranges in the background.
Photo Credits: Mark Beahm

Traditionally, cassata cake is a Sicilian sponge cake filled with sweet ricotta and covered with marzipan and colorful candied fruits. The cake has a long history in Sicily.

The name derives from the Arabic word Qas’at, referring to the wide bowl the cake is assembled in (many traditional Sicilian dishes, from Sorbetto al Limone to Caponata, have Arabic influence due to Arab rule in the region from 9th to the 11th centuries). 

The original version of this recipe is undeniably stunning, if elaborate, requiring a lot of work and especially time. Because of this, it’s saved for festive occasions, especially Easter. But if you’ve ever tasted Cassata Cake, you won’t want to give up so easily!

I like to make a simplified version, with just two cake layers and a creamy ricotta filling studded with chocolate. I skip the complicated assembly, marzipan, and candied fruits, which I find overly sweet. My version has a more rustic appearance, but it does not skimp on flavor or indulgence, reminding me of a Cannolo (cannoli) in cake form.

Table of Contents
  1. What is Cassata Cake?
  2. Types of Cassata Cake
  3. What is Pan di Spagna Sponge Cake?
  4. Ingredients for this Cassata Cake Recipe
    1. Cake Ingredients
    2. Filling and Finishing Ingredients
  5. How to Make Cassata Cake
    1. Up to 1 Day Ahead: Make the Cake
    2. Layer, Chill, and Serve
  6. Best Ricotta for Cassata Cake
  7. Getting Ahead
  8. How to Get Perfect Cake Slices
  9. Cassata Cake Variations
  10. How to Serve Cassata Cake
  11. You'll Also Like: More Cake Recipes
  12. Easy Cassata Cake (Italian Sponge Cake with Ricotta, Chocolate, and Honey) Recipe

What is Cassata Cake?

The traditional cassata cake recipe from Palermo is an elaborate layered cake decorated with marzipan and candied fruits. To make it, bakers slice sponge cake into thin layers and assemble it in a mold encasing the ricotta filling. The cake is unmolded and covered with a layer of marzipan, similar to fondant. 

Then the cake is decorated with bright and colorful candied fruit, like candied citrus and red and green maraschino cherries. Sometimes instead of ricotta, the cake is filled with gelato, like an ice cream cake.

A slice of the easy cassata cake on a plate, with the rest of the cake on a serving platter in the background.

Types of Cassata Cake

There are several versions of cassata cake in Sicily and abroad. The version from Catania is more like a pie or tart where the ricotta filling is baked inside a pasta frolla crust (a shortcrust pastry dough).

Italian immigrants brought their beloved cassata cake recipe to the U.S. which has since evolved. The American version is made with yellow cake soaked with rum syrup and filled with strawberries and custard.

An overhead photo of the easy cassata cake on a platter with a slice cut and separated from it. Next to this is a stack of plates with forks.

What is Pan di Spagna Sponge Cake?

The base for cassata cake is pan di Spagna, meaning Spanish bread. It’s an airy Italian sponge cake made with just three ingredients: eggs, sugar, and flour. The light, spongy texture makes it perfect for soaking up flavorings and syrups, but it can taste dry without them. It’s one of the basic building blocks of Italian pastry, as it’s used as a base for many Italian cakes and even in place of ladyfingers for tiramisu.

Pan di Spagna traditionally gets its leavening from lots of time whipping the eggs and sugar until thick, pale, and tripled in volume. Cake flour is carefully folded in to avoid deflating the delicate, aerated batter. The trapped air expands in the oven for a light, spongy cake. I like to add a bit of baking powder for insurance in case I overmix slightly.

As the name suggests, pan di Spagna likely made its way to Italy by way of Spain, where it’s known as bizcocho. But the same technique has been used for centuries in Portugal, Spain, and Italy.

A slice of the cassata cake on a plate with a bit of it sitting on a fork.

Ingredients for this Cassata Cake Recipe

Cassata cake is assembled from three components (cake, filling, and honey syrup), but each component is simple with a short ingredient list. For the best cake, treat yourself to high-quality ricotta, and use cake flour or a blend of all-purpose flour and cornstarch.

Cake Ingredients

  • Eggs: Whipped eggs contain a lot of trapped air that expands in the oven, providing the structure and fluffy texture for the sponge cake.
  • Granulated sugar: Helps to whip the eggs and adds sweetness to the cake.
  • Vanilla extract: Adds flavor and complexity.
  • Citrus zest: Italian cakes are often flavored with orange or lemon zest. I like to use lemon zest in the cake and orange zest in the filling.
  • Cake flour: Cake flour is higher in starch and lower in gluten, making a light and tender cake. If you don't have cake flour, you can substitute it with ¾ cup (90g) all-purpose flour and ½ cup (60g) cornstarch or potato starch.
  • Baking powder: Traditionally, pan di Spagna gets all of its leavening from the whipped eggs, but I add a small amount of baking powder for extra lift and insurance in case of overmixing the batter.
  • Honey: This type of sponge cake can be dry on its own and is usually brushed with liqueur, juice, or syrup while assembling to add moisture. I like to make a simple syrup with both sugar and honey for a more interesting floral flavor. A high-quality, light honey is preferred, like our Greek Alfa Honey from Crete. 
  • Salt is essential–even in desserts–to enhance the flavor.
  • Butter coats the pan, ensuring the cake does not stick.

Filling and Finishing Ingredients

  • Ricotta: The base for the filling. It's creamy, and slightly sweet, and is the traditional filling for many Italian desserts, like cannoli or lemon ricotta cheesecake.
  • Powdered sugar: Sweetens the ricotta filling and helps to thicken it slightly.
  • Chocolate: I like to use finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate, but you can also use chocolate chips.
An overhead close up photo of the easy cassata cake on a platter with a slice cut and separated from it.

How to Make Cassata Cake

You can make Cassata cake recipe from start to finish in one day, but plan on two hours for the cake to chill and set before serving. I like to split the project over two days by making the cake the day before serving and assembling it the day of.

Up to 1 Day Ahead: Make the Cake

  • Get ready: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Liberally grease an 8-inch by 3-inch round cake pan or 8-inch springform pan, then add a spoonful of flour and shake to distribute across the butter. Turn the pan over your sink to discard any excess flour, then line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
  • Whip the eggs: In a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat 5 large eggs, ¾ cup granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon lemon or orange zest, and ½ teaspoon salt on medium-high speed. Beat until the mixture turns pale and thick and triples in volume, about 15 minutes in a hand mixer or 10 minutes in a stand mixer. Tahini sauce being mixed in a bowl with a whisk. Next to this is a measuring cup, a cloth napkin, and small bowls of salt, pepper and water.
  • Fold in the flour: Switch to a silicone spatula and gently fold in 1 ¼ cup sifted cake flour and ½ teaspoon baking powder, just until no dry streaks of flour remain. Work swiftly but gently to avoid deflating the beaten eggs.Flour being folded into the egg mixture in a bowl with a spatula.
  • Bake: Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  • Cool: Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edges of the cake, then turn it out onto a rack, peel off the parchment paper, and allow to cool completely.

Layer, Chill, and Serve

  • While the cake cools, make the honey simple syrup. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat ¼ cup water, 2 tablespoons honey, and 2 tablespoons sugar until the sugar and honey dissolve into a uniform syrup.The syrup for the easy cassata cake in a saucepan.
  • Make the filling: In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together 2 cups ricotta and 1 cup powdered sugar until smooth and creamy. Add ¾ cup chopped chocolate (or chocolate chips) and 1 teaspoon orange zest and stir to distribute.The ricotta filling for the easy cassata cake in a bowl.
  • Halve the cake: Once the cake has cooled completely, use a bread knife to slice the cake in half horizontally.The just baked cassata cake being cut in half horizontally with a knife.
  • Sweeten the cake: Use a pastry brush to brush the honey syrup on the cut sides of both cake layers. Keep applying the syrup with the pastry brush until you’ve used all of the syrup.An overhead photo of the syrup being brushed onto the bottom half of the cassata cake on a platter. Next to this is a cup of the syrup, and the top half of the cake on a cooling rack.
  • Layer the cake: Place the bottom cake layer on a cake stand or serving platter. Spread all of the ricotta filling over the cake layer with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. The filling for the cassata cake being spread on the bottom half of the cake with a knife. Next to this is the empty filling bowl with a spatula, and the top half of the cake on a wire rack.
  • Chill: Top with the second layer of cake. Cover and chill in your refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving, or overnight. The just baked cassata cake on a platter.
  • Serve: Dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar. Slice and serve.The easy cassata cake on a serving platter, with a stack of plates with forks and a bowl of lemons and oranges in the background.

Best Ricotta for Cassata Cake

Go for a low-moisture ricotta (or strain): The moisture content of ricotta cheese varies widely among brands, and a “wetter” ricotta will make the filling too thin. I used a thick ricotta that held its shape when I removed it from the container. If the ricotta you bought has extra moisture, you may want to strain it before making the filling.

  • Transfer the ricotta to a cheesecloth-lined fine mesh strainer set over a bowl. 
  • Set it in the fridge and leave it to drain for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
The easy cassata cake on a platter with a slice of it removed.

Getting Ahead

While you can make this cassata cake recipe all in one day, it can help to split the project into two days. I find that the extra time lets the cake set better, making it easier to slice and it absorbs the syrup better. 

  • Day one: Make the sponge cake.
  • Day two: Make the filling and assemble. 

How to Get Perfect Cake Slices

For me, taste is more important and I like to embrace a rustic appearance. But if you’re worried about achieving even layers, I have a trick for you. 

  • Set the cooled cake inside a rimmed pan, like a sheet pan or a larger-diameter cake pan.
  • Use the rim as a guide for the knife to get a level slice. Sheet pans usually have a 1-inch rim, which is too short to reach halfway up the cake, but you could make three layers and divide the filling. I have a 9-inch cake pan with a 1 ½-inch rim that was almost perfect for two even layers.
An overhead photo of two slices of easy cassata cake on two plates with forks. Surrounding this is a cup of coffee, a glass of juice, and the rest of the cake on a serving platter.

Cassata Cake Variations

You can take this cake one step closer to the original by adding Candied Orange Peel to the filling and flavoring the cake with rum. Or make it more like the American version with macerated strawberries. For something completely nontraditional but decadent, you can even make a chocolate cassata cake recipe.

  • Strawberry cassata cake: Leave out the chocolate in the ricotta filling. In a mixing bowl, stir together ½ pound hulled and sliced strawberries, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 tablespoon lemon or orange juice. Let the berries macerate for 10 minutes. When assembling, layer half of the strawberries on top of the ricotta. Reserve the other half for the top of the cake or serve on the side with each slice.
  • Chocolate cassata cake: When making the sponge cake, substitute the cake flour with ⅓ cup (30g) Dutch process cocoa powder and ⅔ cup (80g) cake flour. Bake and assemble as directed.
  • Candied orange peel: Traditional cassata cake includes candied orange peel in the filling, but I’ve left it out and flavored the filling with orange zest instead. You can add candied citrus peel if you prefer. Reduce the chopped chocolate to ½ cup and add ½ cup chopped Candied Orange Peel.
  • Add rum: Cassata cake is commonly flavored with rum. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of rum to the cooled syrup and 1 tablespoon of rum to the ricotta filling.
Powdered sugar being sprinkled on top of the easy cassata cake on a serving platter. Surrounding this is a stack of plates with forks and a bowl of citrus fruits.

How to Serve Cassata Cake

Serve cassata cake for dessert after an Italian Easter feast. Big meals usually start with pasta as a first course, like this eggplant lasagna. Lamb is an Easter tradition in Sicily, so make flavorful roasted leg of lamb or rack of lamb for the main course. Serve it with potatoes on the side and newly arrived spring vegetables, like this pea and asparagus salad.

When you’re ready for dessert, bring out the cassata cake with a fresh dusting of powdered sugar. Serve slices with fresh fruit, like strawberries or raspberries, and strong coffee.

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3 from 1 vote

Easy Cassata Cake (Italian Sponge Cake with Ricotta, Chocolate, and Honey)

photo of author mark beahm.Mark Beahm
A slice of the easy cassata cake on a plate, with the rest of the cake on a serving platter and a bowl of citrus fruit in the background.
In this easy, rustic take of Italian Cassata Cake, two sponge cake layers are soaked in honey and filled with a creamy ricotta and chocolate filling. Though this recipe is fairly simple, plan on at least 2 hours to chill in your fridge. Feel free to prepare the sponge cake the night before, and slice and soak it the next day after it's had plenty of time to set.
Prep – 45 minutes
Cook – 25 minutes
Chill time 2 hours
Total – 3 hours 10 minutes
Cuisine:
Italian
Serves – 12 to 16 slices
Course:
Dessert

Ingredients
  

For the Cake

  • Butter, for greasing
  • 5 large eggs
  • ¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon or orange zest
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¼ cup (150g) cake flour, sifted, plus more for coating the cake pan
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

For the Syrup

  • ¼ cup 60ml water
  • 2 tablespoons (42g) honey
  • 2 tablespoons (25g) granulated sugar

For the Ricotta Filling

  • 2 cups (500g) ricotta cheese (see note)
  • 1 cup (113g) powdered sugar
  • ¾ cup (130g) chopped semi-sweet chocolate or chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest

Instructions
 

  • Get ready: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Liberally grease an 8-inch by 3-inch round cake pan or 8-inch springform pan, then add a spoonful of flour and shake to distribute across the butter. Turn the pan over your sink to discard any excess flour, then line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
  • Whip the eggs: In a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla, zest, and salt on medium-high speed until the mixture turns pale and thick and triples in volume, about 15 minutes in a hand mixer or 10 minutes in a stand mixer.
  • Fold in the flour: Switch to a silicone spatula and gently fold in the flour and baking powder just until no dry streaks of flour remain. Work swiftly but carefully to avoid deflating the beaten eggs.
  • Bake: Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  • Cool: Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edges of the cake, then turn it out onto a rack, peel off the parchment paper, and allow to cool completely.
  • While the cake cools, make the honey simple syrup. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the water, honey, and sugar until the sugar and honey dissolve into a uniform syrup.
  • Make the filling: In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the ricotta and powdered sugar until smooth and creamy. Add the chocolate and orange zest and stir to distribute.
  • Sweeten the cake: Once the cake has cooled completely, use a bread knife to slice the cake in half horizontally. Use a pastry brush to brush the honey syrup on the cut sides of the cake layers. Keep applying the syrup with the pastry brush until you’ve used all of the syrup.
  • Layer the cake: Place the bottom cake layer on a cake stand or serving platter. Spread all of the ricotta filling over the cake layer with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Top with the second layer of cake.
  • Chill: Cover the cake and chill in your refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving, or overnight.
  • Serve: Dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar. Slice and serve.

Notes

  • For the ricotta: Go for a low-moisture ricotta (or strain). The moisture content of ricotta cheese varies widely among brands, and a “wetter” ricotta will make the filling too thin. I used a thick ricotta that held its shape when I removed it from the container. If the ricotta you bought has extra moisture, you may want to strain it before making the filling.
    • Transfer the ricotta to a cheesecloth-lined fine mesh strainer set over a bowl. 
    • Set it in the fridge and leave it to drain for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
  • To make the sponge cake the night before: Allow the cake to cool fully, then wrap it tightly in plastic. 
  • Visit our shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including olive oils, honey, jams, and spices.

Nutrition

Calories: 236.4kcalCarbohydrates: 33gProtein: 6.9gFat: 8.7gSaturated Fat: 4.8gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.6gMonounsaturated Fat: 2.6gTrans Fat: 0.01gCholesterol: 67.5mgSodium: 133.1mgPotassium: 110.5mgFiber: 0.9gSugar: 23.6gVitamin A: 217.5IUVitamin C: 0.4mgCalcium: 86.7mgIron: 1mg
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Mark learned to bake professionally at Two Fat Cats Bakery in Portland, Maine and was most recently the head baker at Hjem Kensington, a Danish café in London. He lived in Barcelona and Madrid for six years, before moving to London and then back to the States. He is fascinated by the intersection of food, culture, and science. He has been developing recipes for home bakers for three years and began writing for The Mediterranean Dish in 2022.

When he’s not in the kitchen, he spends his time traveling, knitting, and learning to throw pottery.
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Comments

  1. 3 stars
    I just took the cake out of the oven and it sunk in the middle. What did I do wrong? I folded in the flour gently but quickly and it looked good for a while. I am still going to use it. I'm taking it to a dinner. Hopefully the flavor will make up for the cake.

    1. Hi, Linda! I'm sorry the baking didn't go as planned. I'm Summer and I work here at The Mediterranean Dish. There are a few reasons why a cake can sink in the middle. Usually, if cakes sink in the middle it's because too much air was beaten into it. Is it possible you over whipped the eggs or added too much air when folding in the flour. Or it could be an uneven oven temperature. It's really hard to say without being in your kitchen. Pile the top of the cake with fresh strawberries and no one will be the wiser! Strawberries go beautifully with this cake.

      1. I whipped some heavy cream and put that in the middle an shaved some choclate on it. Everyone enjoyed it.

      2. Hi, Linda! I'm so glad everyone enjoyed it! Love the chocolate shavings idea. YUM!

    1. Hi, Nancy! I'm Summer and I work here at the Mediterranean Dish. Yes, you can use rum extract. It's a common flavoring in this cake and often the soaking syrup used to brush on cassata cake often has rum in it. You can swap the chocolate for strawberries. The article preceding the recipe will tell you all about how to make those swaps. Happy Baking!

  2. Hello,
    I made the cake but I must have over mixed the flour because it only came out of the oven about 1 inch tall.
    Is this the case? I had a hard time getting the sifted cake flour fully incorporated.
    My plan is to make another cake to use as the second layer.
    I’m hoping it still turns out great!

    1. Hi, Jennifer! I'm Summer and I work here at The Mediterranean Dish. My guess is you probably didn't whip the egg well enough. Most of the volume in this cake comes from air being incorporated into the eggs or when you folded in the flour you deflated the eggs. Those two steps are crucial to this cake. Make sure when folding in the flour you sprinkle it over the egg batter and scoop the spatula down the sides and up through the center. Rotate the bowl as you do this. It takes a little time, but hopefully that will help on your next attempt. Good luck!

  3. I am making for Easter for a nice crowd. Question- What is the best way to cut the cake evenly? I have never successfully cut a cake in half before. Just use my eye or make marks somehow?

    1. Hi, Deborah! I'm Summer and I work here at The Mediterranean Dish. The recipe developer suggests using a high-sided baking dish or sheet pan as a guide. You can set it next to the cake to help you keep a level eye or in the case of a sheet pan set the cake inside it, and use the edges as a guide for the knife. When I typically cut a cake in half I do it slowly and rotate the cake as I go. You can also buy leveling cake slicers. You can find them at craft stores like Michaels or on Amazon. Good luck! I hope you enjoy the cake.

  4. I just now printed out your recipe. I am new baking so this looks kinda easy. I just realized I will have to make the cake as well. I will keep you posted. I will do it this weekend. May we all have love, peace and healing.