This is one of the funny stories that my Italian friends will always remember me by. During my travels to Sicily, I had the opportunity to take a cooking class to learn how to make cassata. This dessert is a traditional sweet that is very much apart of the Sicilian culture in its various forms and shapes. It is huge and splendidly decorated for festive seasons and petite in bite-sized form for daily snacks. The basic form of it is a sponge cake that is layered with ricotta cheese and candied fruits and then covered with a shell of marzipan (usually in green). The original version is shaped like a small mound with a cherry on the top - made to represent a woman's breast. The reference to the female form is a little gory - suffice to say, it was related to the martyrdom of Saint Agatha (I will let you google that at your own time. eek!)
Back to the sweet stuff - so I had a great 90 minute lesson of baking and slicing sponge cakes, whipping ricotta, slicing candied fruits with a warmed sharp knife and the painstaking decorating and putting all the elements together to produce a cassata. I was pretty pleased with myself when my cake looked rather alike to the one Chef Francesco Virga had put out. After letting it sit in the fridge overnight (that's the recommended time for the cake to 'hibernate'), we cut into it and it made a very lovely dessert for our Sicilian dinner.
Fast forward a couple of months when my Italian friends decided to throw a New Year's Eve party (and quite a few of them are Sicilian!), I courageously decided to volunteer to make cassata (really trying to impress). All excited from my newly acquired knowledge, I went out shopping for the ingredients and whooped up the dessert. I took my time perfectly wrapping the sponge in a just-perfect marzipan covering. It looked amazing when I plated it at the party and needless to say, my Sicilian friends were ooh-ing and ahh-ing, that is until, they tasted the cake.
So here's where the lesson comes in on cross-cultural cooking. In Italy, there are candied fruits and there is Mostardo di Frutta - which is also candied fruits but preserved with a mustard essential oil. Mostardo di Frutta is spicy as you would expect of mustard and used in very specific savoury dishes and most definitely not in a dessert. Yours truly had bought the wrong type of candied fruit and now had a whole lot of spicy candied fruit sitting on top of the cassata.
All was not lost, my friends merrily swept aside the Mostardo di Frutta (although now I lovingly call it Mostardo di Merda) and dug into the rest of the ricotta-layered sponge cake, which got the thumbs up. But alas, the story has been set in stone - The Asian Girl who tried to make a cassata for her Sicilian friends.