The Best Little Cakes in Sicily

March 7, 2010


Run, don’t walk, amici, as fast as your little legs can carry you, to Caffè Sicilia. It’s in the magical town of Noto in southeast Sicily, home to Captain Mimo.

Caffè Sicilia is a humble place, old-fashioned and perfect. (Please, dear owners, resist the urge to Tuscanize.) It’s basically a sweet shop, blooming with cakes and puddings and ices.

Cakes at Caffe Sicilia, Noto, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Cakes and pastries at Caffe Sicilia, Noto, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Live with abandon. One, two, three cakes—who’s counting?

Marian Burros, in a 2005 New York Times article, called Caffè Sicilia’s Corrado Assenza a “mad genius” and the “most daring experimenter with the strong sweet and savory elements in Sicilian cooking.”  His ingredients are—among other things—bergamot, basil, saffron, fennel, honey, orange, jasmine, wild berries, citron, all of which he harmonizes in ways that delight and surprise.

We were a group of four. Among us, we’d ordered twelve cakes. After cramming our mouths, we sat back stunned and red-faced.

The next thing we know our server, a woman with a thick braid snakimg down her back like an old honeysuckle vine, trots out with a tray bearing 16 spoonfuls of marmalade.

“Guess the ingredients,” she says, “and you win a gelato.”

Marmalade at Caffe Sicilia, Noto, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

We lick the pure dabs of goodness from each spoon, carrying on a hot debate. Bergamot? Citron-tobacco? Pistachio -fennel? Turns out we all fail miserably at this game. But we’re rewarded with ice cream anyway, “for playing with passion.”

After an experience like this, Sicily will take hold of you and never let you go.

Chocolate cake at Caffe Sicilia, Noto, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Leave a comment.


8 comments to The Best Little Cakes in Sicily

  • Jann, I enjoy your blog so much. I have awarded you a sunshine award and linked to your blog.

  • catherine Billups

    Wonderful blog and good to see that Beatrice Ughi is also here. Unfortunately, Caffe Sicilia will not be the same without Rosmarie Ferlito, the lovely girl with the long braid and my neighbor in Noto as she has moved to Hamburg where she is managing a restaurant. What a loss for Corrado.

    • Jann

      Hi Catherine–thanks for your comments! Oh, I’m sorry to hear that Rosmarie has moved. She IS lovely.

  • Jann, thank you! lovely blog and post. we are Gustiamo, Inc. and we are proud to import in America the jams you tasted in Noto did you try the nougats, too? Corrado makes a pistacho nougat that is out of this world: soft, with pistachos from Bronte and honey from Etna. whenever i am in Sicilia, i always go to visit Corrado. in addition to you and me, Corrado has many fans among the people who know: did you see what Faith Willinger and Piero Selvaggio said recently about Corrado? here . ciao e grazie!
    beatrice @

  • Josephine Lissandrello

    What was the goodness on the spoons? Was it quince by any chance?

    • Jann

      Jo, I wish I could tell you for sure, but I was in such a sugar-rush stupor, that I forgot to write things down. There were four different jams. One was, I think, quince, but it had something else in it, too. Quince-grapefruit? Quince-citron?

  • Anthony J. Zangara

    Deliziosi!! Sono stato a Caffe’ Sicilia di Noto e sono completamente d’accordo con te.

Site Meter - La directory italiana dei blog