Recipe: Ricotta Cake with Orange Flower Water and Honey
I really, really like sweetened ricotta. Give me a choice between a cannoli and a slice of chocolate cake, and I’ll take the cannoli. But give me the choice between a cannoli and a slice of ricotta cake, and, although highly tempted by both, I’ll inevitably chose the ricotta cake. I really love ricotta cakes, but I’ve never baked them much, until now.
Previously I only made them for Easter or Christmas, since the classic Southern Italian version is quite time-consuming, with its pounds and pounds of ricotta, deep pastry crust, and latticework top, not to mention the long-soaked wheat berries you need for a Pastiera, the Easter version. It’s really just as well these things show up only on holidays. They’re a 10-ton load. I now say forget about all that pastry. Just make the cake without it. It’s elegant, less dense, less fattening, and, I swear to you, this version takes 5 to 8 minutes to assemble. I thought hard about what would be the fastest, simplest way to make a ricotta cake without compromising on texture or flavor and decided that if I made use of two of my favorite electric kitchen gadgets, this cake could be a whiz to throw together. And it was.
Ricotta cakes can include a slew of flavorings, such as candied citron, nutmeg, cinnamon, chocolate chips (in my opinion an abomination that has no place in one of these things), vanilla, lemon or orange zest, and, my favorite of all, orange flower water. For my streamlined version, I left out all the chunky candied stuff and focused on the orange flower water. To me a ricotta cake is incomplete without it. And it blends beautifully with honey, which I also added.
All the ingredients except the egg whites get pulsed smooth in a food processor, which takes under a minute. The egg whites then get whipped in my standing mixer (or you can use an electric hand mixer). Then you fold the two things together and pour them into a spring-mold pan. The cake is light and fragrant, and you don’t have to wait for Easter to make it, although you can make it for Easter, if you have a group that’s flexible about tradition.
Ricotta Cake with Orange Flower Water and Honey
1 tablespoon or so of softened butter, to grease the pan
6 extra large eggs
½ cup sugar
½ cup orange blossom honey
A big pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon orange flower water
The grated zest from 1 large lemon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 large container whole milk ricotta (about 30 ounces)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees
Grease a 9-inch spring-form pan with the butter.
Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a food processor and the whites in the bowl for a mixer (either a standing or handheld one).
Add the sugar, honey, salt, vanilla, orange flower water, and lemon zest to the food processor, and give it a few good pulses. Now add the ricotta and the nutmeg, and process until the mixture is smooth. Pour it into a large bowl.
Whip the egg whites until they achieve the classic stiff peak stage.
Add half the egg whites to the bowl, and gently fold them in. Now add the rest of the egg whites, and fold until just blended.
Pour this into the greased pan, and bake until the cake is browned and puffy and feels fairly firm in the center, about 50 minutes to an hour.
Place the cake on a rack. It’ll immediately deflate a bit, but that’s normal. Let it cool, and then remove the rim of the pan.