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 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 39, March 2006   
Sicilian Confectionery and WineSicilian Confectionery and Wine  Contents 
Issue 38, February 2006 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 40, April 2006

Sicilian Confectionery and Wine

Cassate, cannoli, fruits of Martorana: sweets known all over the world and heritage of past dominations in Sicily. Sweets to be matched with sweet wines and muscats of the island

 After having discussed about Sicilian cooking last month, it is now the time to talk about its rich confectionery, known all over the world for its specialities, heritage of Sicilian history, of all the dominations which conquered the island. There are three sources from which Sicilian confectionery takes its origin: the first one is the peasant world, in which women had the role of making sweets for religious or familiar festivities. In the past, for example, in occasion of the birth of the first son, considered a divine providence, it used to give the family a candied pumpkin's braid, tied with a red ribbon, a clear sign against jinx. The second source is from enclosed nun's convents, they still invent and prepare rich and imaginative sweets, passed till our days, which are not however an exclusivity of convents.

 In Mazara del Vallo, city in the province of Trapani, everyone can go to the convent in the city center where the enclosed nuns are famous for the preparation of vuccunetti, almond cookies. It is necessary to ring the door, ask for the quantity of cookies and after some minutes, through a sort of wheel, vuccunetti appear, each wrapped in aluminum foil. Through this sort of wheel, the buyer gives the money and bring home the most famous cookie of Mazara del Vallo. In Erice, in the province of Trapani, the enclosed nuns invented the famous ericini, very colored almond cookies, as well as the ericino liquor, made of herbs. The third source is more recent and it is about the refined confectionery introduced by Swiss confectioners, which moved to Sicily at the beginning of 1800's. In fact, the most famous Sicilian sweets are those belonging to the Sicilian-Swiss confectionery.


The Influence of Dominations

A delicacy of the confectionery of
the Island: the famous ``cannoli siciliani''
A delicacy of the confectionery of the Island: the famous “cannoli siciliani”

 Among the dominations which followed one another on the island, there are many and important signs witnessing the influence of the Arab's tradition, in customs and in the enogastronomical culture, which can be seen till today. In particular, confectionery reveals evident signs of the middle eastern taste for colored and complicated preparations, such as cassata and marzipan, also known as pasta reale or almonds' paste. Masterpiece of Sicilian confectionery, well known all over the world, triumph for the eyes and taste, cassata takes its name from the Arab term quas'at, which means stewpan, referred to the round pan, used for its preparation. Other sweets of Arab origin are: cubbaita (from the Arab term qubbayt), a very sweet nougat made with honey, sesame seeds and almonds; nucatuli (from the Arab term nagal, dried fruits and jam); cupita or better copata: a very hard nougat, made in two big loaves, with nuts, albumen, sugar, honey and starch.

 Marzipan (from the Arab term mauthaban) came to the island after the Arab domination and became the sweet dough with which the enclosed nuns of Martorana Church's convent, in Palermo, made extraordinary little sweets having the shape and colors of fruits. This is why marzipan, in Palermo, is also called Martorana's fruits. The Arab term sharbet referred to a cold preparation, of probable Chinese origin, which from Sicily will spread all over Italy: it is the famous sherbet, the most ancient known kind of ice-cream. The Arab domination introduced ingredients such as sugar, cinnamon and pistachio, which are abundantly used for the preparation of many Sicilian sweets.


The Sweets of Holidays

 Every province in Sicily keeps its own tradition about confectionery, as well as popular, religious and familiar holidays. Easter and All Saints' Day are the most celebrated holidays of the island. The Easter week, very heart-felt in Sicily, becomes the occasion for preparing a variety of sweets and ritual breads, associated to the religious meaning of Easter, made according to the religious traditions of every place. Ritual breads, made of of flour, eggs, sugar, marzipan and ricotta cheese are real specialities, which are prepared with the shapes of many religious symbols. Cassata, made of ricotta cheese and marzipan, decorated with candied fruit, is one of the most typical Easter cakes, although today it is produced all year long. Other typical Easter sweets are the marzipan lamb, stuffed with pistachio and candied pumpkin. The Easter lamb from Favara, which consider itself as the city of the Easter lamb, in the province of Agrigento, is very famous, promoting its product all over the world.


 Cassateddi, famous in the provinces of Syracuse and Ragusa, are made during the Easter period, too. In occasion of All Saints' Day, which in Palermo is particularly considered a holiday for children, who receive toys and cookies, the famous sugar dolls are prepared with the shape of ancient paladins and knights. While many sweets are common in every part of the island, others are only in some cities: pignolata in Messina, sweet omelettes in Catania, “mantecato” rice in Enna, sweet arancine, stuffed with chocolate and gelo di mellone (melon jelly), in Palermo, a sort of jelly made of melon juice, decorated with a jasmine flower; schiumette in Syracuse and impanatiglie in Ragusa. Some sweets are exclusively prepared in some periods of the year or in occasion of specific holidays celebrating saint patrons. In Palermo, on December 13th, the devotees to Saint Lucy do not eat pasta and bread for the whole day, instead they have cuccìa, a sweet made with boiled wheat and ricotta cheese, of which people from Palermo and Syracuse both claim paternity.

 For the holiday of Saint Peter, key shaped giant cookies, and for Saint Martin, cookies with a round loaf shape, stuffed with ricotta cheese cream. For Saint Joseph, celebrated in every city of the island, typical sweets are the so-called sfinci di San Giuseppe, which are prepared in different ways in every city of the island. In Sicily, besides Easter, Christmas Eve is another heart-felt holiday. The most famous Christmas sweets are buccellato, a big ring-shaped bun, stuffed with dried and candied fruit, nucatuli in Palermo, mustazzoli in Messina, cuddureddi in Catania, petrammennula in Modica, sweets made with cooked wine in Cammarata village, in the province of Agrigento.

 Ice-creams and sherbets, available in many flavors, such as “spongati”, “schiumosi”, cassate and semifreddi, are the triumph of taste, all being part of the most famous confectionery traditions. During summertime, in the period from May to October, it is common, in the morning, at breakfast and during the day, eating “granita” with or without cream and brioche. Granita - flavored ground ice - derives from sherbet and is prepared in fruit flavors, coffee, chocolate, almond's milk and jasmines. Granita, in Palermo, has its own characteristics, different from those made in Catania, Acireale and Messina. In past centuries, granita was served during the parties of nobles, between a dish and another, in order to facilitate digestion of elaborated dishes and this habit is still common nowadays.

Fresh and with jasmine aromas: gelo di
mellone (melon jelly)
Fresh and with jasmine aromas: gelo di mellone (melon jelly)

 Cannolo (ricotta cheese rolls) is one of the most famous Sicilian sweets all over the world. Its origin seems to be Arab, probably from the period of harems. It is said women from Caltanissetta, guests of kalt el nissa harem or Women's Castle, invented the famous Sicilian sweet. Cannolo consists of a fried rolled wafer, prepared with a dough of lard, flour and wine, which is wrapped in a cane or - nowadays - in specific steel shapes. The wafer, after having being fried, is stuffed with ricotta cheese and sugar. Once candied fruit was added, today Sicilians add chocolate drops instead, and, as a decoration, candied orange skins or candied cherries. Cannolo is then sprinkled with powdered sugar. Ricotta cheese used to make it, as the traditional recipe suggest, is made of sheep's milk, a very common animal in Sicily. There are some cities in Sicily to be well known for their cannoli. Piana degli Albanesi, in the province of Palermo, also famous for costumes of Albanian origin and where many people go to taste their large sized Sicilian cannoli. The same is for Dattilo, in the province of Trapani. Also in this case, not only Sicilians, but also tourists go to this city to buy impressive big sized cannoli.


Modica and the Tradition of Chocolate

 Modica, city in the province of Ragusa, well known for its baroque churches and for fascinating landscapes, is considered the city of Sicilian chocolate, very different from all the other types. The chocolate from Modica is very special and different from the classic chocolate: the inner part appears rich in a myriads of sugar crystals and it is more raw. In Modica, the most ancient chocolate company was established in 1880; it is still in business today and it is very famous. The history of Chocolate has a common background which, by looking back in the past, unites Sicily - especially Modica - to Spain and sets its roots in the Meso-American civilization ceremonies, in particular Aztecs, the ancient inhabitants of Mexico. After the discovery of the “New World”, Spanish had the chance to know new foods, including xocoàtl, a product which local inhabitants obtained from cocoa seeds and of which they had a great respect, as it was a food capable of giving strength and vigor, as well as being a sign of richness and health.

 Aztecs obtained this preparation by grinding cocoa seeds by means of a tool called “metate”, a curved stone, put on two side elements, using a special rolling-pin, also made of stone. The cocoa paste obtained this way, was mixed with spices and the dough was rubbed on the “metate” until the dough became hard. It was during their domination in Sicily that Spanish introduced the preparation of chocolate, the way they learned from that distant people. This chocolate, as opposed to what has happened in the rest of Europe, never reached an industrial phase, remaining the same during the course of centuries and till today. Not only chocolate flavored with vanilla, cinnamon and chili-pepper, but also a liquor, also produced with chili-pepper flavors, used to top ice-creams and sweets or to drink after lunch or dinner. Modica is a city where once the suggestive figure of ciucculattaru (chocolate man) existed who, without knowing that like his Spanish colleague, he brought with him “metate” on a trolley, to make in the house of his clients what was considered a food instead of a sweet.


Many Sweets for Sweet Wines

 The richness of Sicilian confectionery finds a good companion in the richness of its sweet wines for which the island is famous worldwide. Besides the wines produced with Muscat of Alexandria or Zibibbo grapes, such as the famous Moscato di Pantelleria, Muscat Blanc, with which the homonymous wines from Syracuse and Noto are made, Malvasia delle Lipari, protagonist in the Eolian islands, Sicily also offers the historical Marsala, produced in sweet styles as well. Sicilian confectionery, most of the cases rich and robust, finds good allies in the sweet wines of the island in which are frequently found the organoleptic qualities of almond, nuts and dried figs, as well as jams. Another quality of Sicilian sweet wines - which pairs very well with the rich sweets of the island - is represented by a remarkable alcohol by volume, especially in some fortified sweet wines, a category to which Marsala and many wines produced with Muscat grapes belong to. Moreover, alcohol is useful in sweets prepared with ricotta cheese, as it helps contrasting succulence.

 With marzipan sweets, Sicilian enology can offer countless sweet wines which be matched very well, such as Marsala Superiore demisec or sweet, as well as reserve. The same consideration is true for all the other sweets made with dried fruit - such as Buccellato from Palermo - or candied fruit, which, in this latter case, will be possible to find the same flavors in wines made with Muscat and Malvasia grapes, especially the ones from Lipari island. In sweets made with ricotta cheese - in particular cassata and cannoli - it is useful to choose a wine with an adequate alcohol volume; a good choice is represented by a sweet Marsala or fortified wines made with Muscat grapes. With Marsala Fine Rubino - the only Sicilian sweet wine produced with red grapes - can be matched cakes prepared with chocolate and - in some cases - the chocolate from Modica as well.


 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 39, March 2006   
Sicilian Confectionery and WineSicilian Confectionery and Wine  Contents 
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