Minni di Virgini, or St. Agatha’s Breasts

“Can I help you?” asked the young girl behind the counter. I had just stepped down into the sugary warmth of De Robertis in the East Village, one of hardly a handful of old Italian pastry shops left in Manhattan.

“Yeah, do you have a pastry called minni di virgini?” I replied, pulling off my wool hat covered in beads of ice.

“Uh—what?” She looked at me like I was a total moron. I feared this would happen.

“Um, they’re called minni. They are a round spongy cake covered in ricotta custard and marzipan. Usually a cherry on top.”

She stared at me blankly. Encouraged by the prayer cards taped to the walls behind the register, I took a deep breath and finally said, “They look like breasts.”

minni di virgini, st. agatha pastries

“Hold on a second, a’right?” she backed away from the register while keeping her eyes on me and called out to her co-worker, “Can you get over here?”

Another woman appeared from the seating area, slightly older and definitely more Italian looking. OK, maybe she will know. “Hi, can I help you,” she said as though it were a statement instead of a question.

Shifting my weight nervously, I began again. “I’m looking for these Sicilian pastries called minni that are made for the feast of Saint Agatha which is actually this Friday and…”

“We do Saint Joseph cream puffs, but I don’t know anything about Agatha,” she said with authority, though her flickering eyes seemed to indicate she was still scanning her memory.

The counter girl could no longer contain herself and blurted out, “She said they look like breasts!”


Sheepishly, I started to retreat. “Oh, ok. You had them last year so I thought I’d try again. But, thanks—”

“Wait, are you talking about the caza-teeny?” The counter girl directed me toward a tray just underneath the fluorescent lights of the glass counter. Squatting down, my heart leaped when I spotted a tray of sugar-glazed breasts with aroused cherry nipples. The handwritten sign read “Cassatini Siciliane.”

“Yes, that’s them!” I said, straightening myself back up.

“We sell these year-round. But I didn’t know anything about them being breasts.” The counter girl was now over her skepticism of me and seemed intrigued. And that’s all I needed to geek out with my knowledge of Italian pastry .

I explained how in Sicily these cakes are made in honor of Saint Agatha, who, like her neighbor Saint Lucy, was a Christian girl in a pagan world and was thus tortured by having her breasts torn off with pincers. (Believe it or not, that didn’t kill her. Ultimately, she was cooked on coals.) Paintings and sculptures of Saint Agatha often depict her displaying her breasts on a plate.

Gory and weird as it sounds, the feast of Saint Agatha is a gorgeous and haunting spectacle that consumes the city of Catania for two days and two nights, lighting the bleakness of February. The nearly manic celebration begins at dawn on February 4 when Agatha’s life-sized effigy, dripping in jewels collected since the 12th century, is pulled through the streets on a 40,000-pound silver carriage by a cast of 5,000 men. The soundtrack of the procession is grunting, crying, and the grinding wheels of the carriage or fercolo pushing through molten candle wax. All the while thousands scream, “Viva Sant’ Agata.”

feast of st. agatha, catania, italy
The celebration’s roots reach back to when Catania belonged to the fertility goddess Isis and the devotion given to Saint Agatha helps ensure another year safe from an explosion of nearby Mount Etna. The breasts, known as minni di virgini, were first baked by Sicilian nuns (those naughty nuns!) and can be found abundantly around Catania in honor of their dear sister, daughter and girlfriend, sweet, beloved Agatha.

(For an exquisite account of the Feast of Saint Agatha in Catania, read The Stone Boudoir: Travels Through the Hidden Villages of Sicily by Theresa Maggio.)

Here in New York City, De Robertis seems to be the only shop making the minni, even if they are unaware of why they continue to do so. It’s both interesting and sad that they continue to make the cake, even if its genesis is long forgotten.

The ladies behind the counter ultimately thanked me for sharing with them the story of the mysterious cassatini, though they still looked a bit spooked. I took home just one and found it to be—disgusting. The sponge cake was stale, the ricotta too sweet, and the marzipan shot pains through my molars straight into my head.

minni di virgini, st. agatha
No, this would not do. Not for Sant’ Agata. It inspired even this non-baker to bake. After hours of searching, I ultimately created my own recipe for minni, greatly aided by that ancient reliquary of Italian recipes, The Talisman. The major difference is that I have eliminated marzipan, because 1) it makes the minni far too sweet and 2) there’s no way I’m making my own marzipan.

FTC Disclosure: Good. Food. Stories. is an Amazon.com affiliate and receives a minuscule commission on all purchases made through Amazon links in our posts. If you'd like to support the site further, please use this link or click the Amazon links in the sidebar to make your purchases.

Get it While it’s Hot!

Sign up to receive the latest Good. Food. Stories. while they are still piping hot, directly to your inbox.


  1. says

    Love the story – and photo of the guys carrying the saints. But this doesn’t seem like my kind of dessert. Not enough chocolate! Your recipe sounds like a huge improvement over the bakery’s!

  2. says

    This post exemplifies what I love so much about this blog: you take a food, provide some backstory, not always outrageous but sometimes, add a related recipe and tie the whole thing up with a dainty bow. Well done!

  3. sarah t says

    woah, NSFW! 😉 i love your posts on the foods of the italian saints–such a great way to relay a rich history. a rich and and delicious history…

  4. says

    @Melanie, yes, Salieri is eating cappezoli di venere, Venus nipples which are roman chestnuts covered in brandied sugar. I love how throughout the movie, he continuosly steals sweets and and quickly stuffs them in his mouth. I actually watched Amadeus in prep for this post as I thought he may in fact be eating Agatha’s nipples.

  5. sheryl says

    I so enjoyed reading your tale. Being a person with a big sweet tooth, your version sounds delish. Anything with ricotta cheese gets my vote.

  6. Charles G Thompson says

    Fantastic story! I love hearing stories like this. I’ve never heard of Saint Agatha or the Sicilian celebration but it sounds amazing. I know De Robertis from when I lived in the East Village in the mid-80s. Nice to know it’s still around.

  7. Bethsabe says

    I would like to make these for my dinner, but I still have some questions about the “glaze-look” over them (?).

  8. Marcee says

    Hi Casey ….

    The photo doesn’t jive w/your recipe. So, I take it they are both different.

    What is the green stuff on top of the ricotta cream? It looks really good! Ha. Just confused how it got inside the ::breast:: (bun) ….. or not.

    Cannot see any c-chips. The 10-X sugar drip is awesome. I love that stuff.

    Ohwell. Let’s just dream about having a bite of this ….. bun. There’s no way I would attempt to bake em. Ha. Nope.

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      Marcee, the photo is of the storebought version, but as author Danielle noted, she created her own recipe that eliminated marzipan and added chocolate chips, among other things.

  9. Dillon says

    Hi Danielle , did you take a pic of your Minni ? I’ll be attempting your recipe and would love to see your version of the cake.
    thanks for the recipe.

  10. Ed says

    I’ve just read two books by (the character actor) Vincent Schiavelli. You probably won’t know his name, but you’ll know his face. Absolutely wonderful books. Neat, neat person and a gifted writer.

    His first book, a cookbook, recounts the recipes he learned from his Sicilian grandfather. His recipe is a bit different than yours. If you like Sicily you definitely should look into his books.

    In any event, here are the ingredients from his grandfather’s version (12 breasts):
    2-1/2 C milk, 1/2C sugar, 6T cornstarch, piece of lemon peel, 1/2 C chocolate chips, 8 green candied cherries (chopped fine), 2 C flour, 1 C almond meal, 1/3 C confectioner’s sugar, 3/4 C shortening, 2 eggs, 1 t cognac, 1T milk, 6 red candied cherries (cut in half).

    This was from his first book “Papa Andrea’s Sicilian Table: Recipes from a Sicilian Chef as remembered by his grandson”

  11. says

    Thanks for this, Ed! I just googled him and yes, I absolutely know that face! His books look fantastic. Seems like he was a master of the memoir/cookbook long before it had its day. Ordering Bruculinu, America right now. :)

  12. Domenic says

    My wife and I are 1st generation Canadian, each of our parents being Italian immigrants of over 55 years past. My parents are from Calabria and her’s are from Frosinone. We like to make fun of each other’s dialect. When I told her that the word for breasts was “minni”, she challenged me to prove it…well, I couldn’t find it in any official dictionary, so your story is my “evidence”…thanks!

  13. Scott Johnstone says

    This article is a total load. I’ve been to De Robertis before this was written, and they educated me on this pastry as soon as I pointed it out. Not to mention, last time I bought some was at 930 at night on a Tuesday, ate one put the rest I the fridge and we snacked on them for days, and the cake was super moist. Sorry I know you want to sound super cool with your little story and recipe but get over yourself. It’s a Sicilian bakery, they know exactly who Saint Agatha is.

  14. Dillon says

    What a sad little man you are, with your need to write such ugliness Scott.
    Keep informing us Danielle and keep up the good work.