One of my favorite cheeses? Ricotta. I used to eat it plain, spread on a crusty piece of Italian bread when I was a kid. Or right out of the container. Yet in all my years of baking, I’d never made ricotta cake! I know, I know. So this week I changed that.
What’s that? Oh nothin’, just lemon ricotta cupcakes with powdered sugar.
Did you just fall off your chair? I know, ’cause I almost did myself. Ricotta is fuckin’ amazeballs. Pardon my French- er, Italian. But it seriously is. It can be sweet or savory, used as a condiment or a filling, mixed with sugar… never-ending possibilities.
Ricotta (Italian pronunciation: [riˈkɔtta]) is an Italian dairy product made from sheep (or cow, goat, buffalo) milk whey left over from the production of cheese. Although typically referred to as ricotta cheese, ricotta is not properly a cheese because it is not produced by coagulation of casein. Rather it is made by coagulating other milk proteins, notably albumin and globulin, left over in the whey that separates from the milk during the production of cheese. In fact, ricotta is safely eaten by individuals with casein intolerance.
Ricotta (literally meaning “recooked”) uses the whey, a limpid, low-fat, nutritious liquid that is a by-product of cheese production. Most of the milk protein (especially casein) is removed when cheese is made, but some protein remains in the whey, mostly albumin. This remaining protein can be harvested if the whey is first allowed to become more acidic by additional fermentation (by letting it sit for 12–24 hours at room temperature). Then the acidified whey is heated to near boiling. The combination of low pH and high temperature denatures the protein and causes it to precipitate out, forming a fine curd. Once cooled, the curd is separated by passing through a fine cloth.
Ricotta curds are creamy white in appearance, slightly sweet in taste, and contain around 13% fat. In this form, it is somewhat similar in texture to some cottage cheese variants, though considerably lighter. It is highly perishable. Ricotta comes in other forms as well.
- 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 cup fresh ricotta
- Zest of 1 (organic) lemon
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 tablespoons good quality Extra Virgin olive oil
- Heat the oven to 400˚ and line a muffin tin with liners. Cream the butter and sugar in a standing mixer until light and fluffy.
- On the lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time. Then add the olive oil & beat. Slowly add the flour, salt, ricotta, lemon zest, & baking powder.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared liners about halfway and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn cupcakes out and cool completely on the rack. Use a sifter to coat in powdered sugar.
I made the full recipe and got 12 cupcakes and one round 8″ cake. You can make two 8″ cakes & layer them with the cannoli filling (keep reading) or some fresh whipped cream & berries, or you make a full 2-dozen cupcakes, or you can fill a 9/10″ springform pan. I guess you could use a 10″ bundt pan too if you really wanted.
Now, if you really want to be daring… or if you just want to make it totally over the top, you can add a cannoli cream filling. I chose not to, mainly because I had limited fridge space and also because I was bringing these somewhere and didn’t want to risk the filling getting gross. But I am giving you the recipe, ’cause I’m cool like that. I’d recommend making the filling on the same day you’ll be using it, and also the same day you’re serving it.
CANNOLI CREAM FILLING
- 3 cups ricotta cheese, drained as “dry” as possible
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- teaspoon lemon or orange zest, optional
- Put the drained cheese in a food processor until smooth.
- Mix ingredients together with a hand mixer until smooth & thick. Chill for about 20 minutes.
- Fill cooled cupcakes. Finito!
You’ll definitely need to store these in the fridge. The frosting is not stable at all and has a high cheese content. Ricotta is very delicate and must be chilled or else all kinds of nasties can grow. If you need help figuring out how to drain the ricotta, this website explains it pretty well. It’s very similar to the “jelly bag” concept in canning. I should stress here that the fresher the ricotta, the better. Artisan ricotta is the best to use, especially for the filling. For the cupcake itself you can get away with using a good quality supermarket brand.
But they’re pretty freakin’ awesome just with some powdered sugar! The cake is light & fluffy, with a super delicate lemon flavor. Not overpowering or heavy. I ate two in a row without blinking. It would make a great base for a strawberry shortcake too, given that it’s so light. You can even serve the cupcakes with fresh berries on top, or maybe a spoonful of lemon curd & some whipped cream. Or, some candied lemon peel. It’s the best spring or summer cupcake ever.