Lemon Ricotta Cake (Migliaccio)

Lemon Ricotta Cake (Migliaccio)

This wonderful Neapolitan Carnival treat gets its soft crumb from semolina flour and fresh ricotta cheese.

Carnival (Carnevale in Italian) is a festive season that ends on Fat Tuesday or Martedì grasso. The most famous Italian Carnival celebration, of course, takes place in Venice, while the coastal Tuscan town of Viareggio is known for its elaborate parade floats.

 Here’s a recipe for migliaccio: a lovely, simple treat traditionally made in Naples during Carnevale time. It’s a sort of light cheesecake, known as a ricotta cake or “ricotta pie” to some Italian Americans. It is delicately flavored with lemon zest and vanilla, like many other Carnevale desserts, but isn’t too heavy or sweet, making it well suited for an afternoon snack (merenda), tea time, or even for breakfast with your cappuccino.

  • Total: 60 mins

  • Prep: 15 mins

  • Cook: 45 mins

  • Yield: 8 to10 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk

  • 3 cups water

  • 3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 2 medium lemons (for one, use a vegetable peeler to create four to five large, wide swaths of zest, being careful to avoid the bitter white pith; for the other, use a fine grater [a microplane grater works well] to create finely shaved zest)

  • 1 1/2 cups semolina flour

  • 1 cup fresh ricotta or homemade ricotta

  • 4 large eggs

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • Optional: 1 1/2 teaspoons limoncello

  • Garnish: powdered sugar (as needed for serving)

Steps to Make It

  1. With the oven rack in the middle, preheat the oven to 390 F.

  2. In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk, water, butter, and large strips of lemon zest just to a simmer. As soon as the milk starts to bubble, remove the strips of zest with a slotted spoon or fine-mesh strainer and discard.

  3. Sprinkle the semolina into the pot gradually, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and continue to stir until the mixture thickens and becomes dense and smooth, one to two minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, granulated sugar, finely grated zest, vanilla extract, and limoncello (if using) and mix well with a wooden spoon or electric hand mixer on medium-low until well blended.

  5. Gradually add the semolina mixture to the ricotta mixture, stirring well to create a smooth, creamy mixture without any large lumps (a few small lumps are fine).

  6. Butter and flour a nine-inch round cake pan and transfer the mixture to the cake pan. Bake until the cake is firm and the top is golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes.

  7. Let cool completely, then sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar before serving.