My blog has an inordinate number of ricotta cake recipes. Last time I counted it was four….but in my defence, they are all a bit different and each one suits a different occasion. This one is a very beautiful, very festive ricotta cake which I found in a Gourmet Traveller magazine. The magazine called it a Sicilian Easter Cake – but I see no reason whatsoever to limit this beauty to just Easter. It is a festive cake, one that is all about celebration and rejoicing. And there have been lots of reasons to celebrate lately – my mother turned 88 on 16 November and I am heading back to Italy in early December. This means I will be spending a wintery Christmas there with family.
Mamma’a 88th birthday was an extra special celebration – doppi ociai – as she says (double glasses). She generally reverses her age – so last year she turned 78 (not 87), but we couldn’t reverse the numbers this year, and heaven forbid reversing them next year (98 rather than 89). Last year for her birthday, my daughter and I went over to her house and cooked lunch for her. Then we met the extended family at an Italian cafe called Brunetti for coffee and cake. This year we decided that the family could come over to her house for afternoon tea.
So Tamara and I made her lunch, we played a game of cards and then the rest of the family came over for cake and coffee. It was a lovely celebration, we shared cake and cherries that had been picked that morning in the Yarra Valley. It had been such a long time since all the children and grandchildren had been together in her house. It felt just a little like the old times when my father was still alive and we were always at her house for family celebrations and wonderful meals that went for hours!
And my trip to Italy…well it is quite unexpected and part of a little something I am working on until about April next year. I will be there about 3 weeks, travelling all around including visits to Rome, Palermo, Venice and Florence and arriving in Monfalcone just in time for Christmas. I don’t know if I will have a lot of time to do posts in December, but please follow my travels through my Instagram account. And in the meantime, here is the recipe for a gorgeous and very festive Sicilian ricotta cake (and thanks to my niece Claire for the photo of mamma and the cherries). I made the candied oranges using a blood orange, which made the cake look even more festive. And the combination of orange, chocolate and ricotta is just divine! And if you are interested in Sicily and its food, you must have a look at the brilliant documentary made by my friend Fabrizia Lanza. It has just been released about Sicily, its food and its religious festivals – it will make you fall in love with this magical place. Here is the link to it on YouTube.
Festive Sicilian ricotta cake
2 egg yolks
25g caster sugar
2 tablespoons milk
250g plain flour
175g unsalted chilled butter, chopped into small dice
60g sultanas soaked in 2 tblsp Marsala overnight
400g firm ricotta
80g caster sugar
70ml thickened cream
3 egg yolks
1 lemon, zest only
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
60g dark chocolate, chopped
60g candied orange peel, finely sliced
(if you want to make your own candied oranges as I did, you can use this recipe)
Whisk egg yolks, sugar and milk in a bowl. Pulse flour and butter in a food processor until it starts looking like coarse sand, then add the egg mixture and pulse just until it comes together. Remove from the processor, knead the soft dough a few times with the heel of your hand and shape it into a ball. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge 8 hours or overnight.
Line the base of a 28cm diameter tart tin with a removable base with baking paper. For the filling, whisk ricotta and sugar with an electric whisk for a few minutes until smooth, then whisk in the cream, eggs, yolks, lemon zest and vanilla until smooth and thick. Roll out the pastry to 2mm thick and line the tart tin, leaving 3 cm of pastry overhanging. Refrigerate for an hour then trim the overhanging pastry to about 5mm.
Preheat the oven to 150C. Blind-bake the tart case for 12 minutes, then for another 8 minutes with the weights removed. The pastry should be cooked through and golden. Allow to cool slightly. Reduce the oven to 140C.
Spoon on half the ricotta filling, then scatter on the drained sultanas, chopped candied orange peel and chocolate. Add the rest of the ricotta mixture to the tart, smoothing it with the back of a spoon. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the ricotta is golden and cooked through.
When the cake has cooled, dust with icing sugar and decorate with extra candied orange slices.