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If you’ve ever studied art history, you’ll know how to easily spot Saint Agatha in a fresco painting – she’s the one holding her breasts on a platter, a hint at the legend behind her torturous martyrdom where they were cut off with pincers by a powerful Roman suitor when his advances were rejected.

The young girl, said to be from a noble family in Catania in Sicily’s east, was buried in her home town where she still watches over the city and guards it from Mount Etna’s volcanic eruptions. Every year, her life is celebrated by the catanese in a centuries-old festival held between February 3 and 5 with an enormous procession that draws hundreds of thousands of people to the city.

Amongst fire works, markets and decorative lit-up streets, you can be sure that the pastry shops are busy proudly making and selling their famous pastries dedicated to their beloved Saint Agatha: minne, also known as cassatelle (minnuzzi or cassateddi in dialect), which you may have noticed are made in the form of, well — breasts.

Direct relatives of the cassata, Sicily’s famous dessert, minne are a smaller and simpler version, perfectly round pastries encasing a sweet ricotta mixture. A thick, white icing (symbolising the purity of the virgin saint) glazes the entire thing and a bright red candied cherry glimmers from the top.

Commonly you will also find versions made of liquor-soaked sponge and covered in marzipan (practically just like a miniature cassata), which are not baked, or with pastry cream-filled interiors rather than ricotta. But I do find this shortcrust pastry variation really very simple and very lovely and delicate, while also being nowhere near as fiddly as a cassata.

Minne di Sant’Agata

This is slightly adapted from a beautiful Sicilian cookbook by Maria Teresa di Marco called La Cucina Siciliana. I’ve used my favourite Artusi pastry recipe that I use for anything and everything including cookies. If you have any leftover, it freezes well or roll it out to make little butter cookies.

Note that you will need a 6-hole half-sphere silicon mould. I have heard that you can also make these in old fashioned rounded champagne glasses (you know those vintage coupe glasses your grandmother had), then once you have sealed them well (and I’m guessing you will also want to chill them well in the fridge too), you turn them out and onto a cookie sheet to bake. I have not tried this, however, and thoroughly recommend the silicon mould way!

Makes about 6

For the filling:

  • 300 grams sheep’s milk ricotta (or failing that, the very best, freshest ricotta you can find)
  • 35 grams powdered sugar
  • 40 grams dark chocolate, chopped finely (or chips)
  • 30 grams candied citron or orange, chopped finely

For the pastry:

  • 250 grams flour
  • 100 grams sugar
  • 125 grams cold butter, chopped
  • 1 whole egg (60 gram eggs or US large size eggs)
  • 1 egg yolk (save the white for the glaze)

For decoration:

  • 125 grams powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 egg white
  • 6 candied cherries

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