Ricotta-Almond Cake: Make it. Eat it. Die happy.

Ricotta-Almond Cakes (1280x721)I was Googling around looking for Italian food post ideas, and saw this Ricotta-Almond Cake picture on a website called Italian Food Forever. I love almonds, but it sounded like it might be a complicated pastry thing, and maybe more than I wanted to try making.

However, in its favor, I was recently given a container of almond meal/flour, which was one of the (rather short list of) ingredients in the recipe, and I had been looking for a way to use it. Sometimes I find foods and recipes online that look good, and I blog about them without making them myself. But this time, I decided, I’ll make it and report the results.

The only ingredient I didn’t have on hand was ricotta, which was easily solved at the grocery store. I also used low-fat ricotta rather than the full-fat called for in the recipe, and instead of sliced almonds, I took some whole almonds and whirled them in my mini food chopper for a chopped up texture.

I cannot be trusted with full recipes of dessert lying around the house, so I halved the recipe, and then baked the cake in two small pie tins–the kind that frozen pot pies come in. (I confess I don’t own a springform pan, but I could borrow my mom’s.) Fortunately for me, a fellow Italophile stopped by while the cakes were in the oven, so I gave one of them to her. I was left with one small cake to share with my hubby. I cut it in half and took a photo of it on a favorite plate I brought back from Italy… and then before I even started making dinner I took a bite of the dessert. With all the self-control I could muster, I took the plate to my husband and offered him a bite. I did manage to save half of it for us to eat after dinner! It was moist and rich, yet not heavy as I had expected. Ricotta-Almond Cake (678x1280)

I will be making this again. You should too!

Here’s the recipe just as it appears on Italian Food Forever:

Ricotta Almond Cake

Yield: Serves 8 – 10     Prep Time: 10 mins    Cook Time: 45 mins

Ingredients:

1 Cup Full Fat Ricotta Cheese
4 Large Eggs, Separated
1 Teaspoon Almond Extract
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 1/2 Cups Almond Meal
1 Teaspoon Finely Chopped Lemon Rind
1/3 Cup Sliced Almonds
Powdered Sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Use baking spray or lightly grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan.
Use an electric hand mixer to beat together the ricotta cheese, egg yolks, extract, and sugar until smooth.
Stir in the lemon zest and almond meal.
In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
Fold half the egg whites into the almond mixture, then fold in the rest.
Spread the batter into your prepared pan and sprinkle the top with the sliced almonds.
Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Cool the cake for 10 minutes then remove the sides.
Cool completely, then lightly dust the top with powdered sugar and serve.

I didn’t get the prep time down to ten minutes, but I found it wonderfully easy to put together, and definitely something I’d serve for special occasions or for dinner guests.

The Italian Food Forever website contains a trove of recipes, and lots of other Italian resources besides. The recipes are well indexed making it easy to find what you want, and the photos are delicious to look at. It inspired me, and might just inspire you as well!

English Soup? Save it for dessert!

As Vern and I walked from our lodging to the language school in Sorrento, we passed a small bakery, often succumbing to temptation and buying a treat. The owner bantered with us, switching between our limited Italian and his limited English as he described the various pastries on display. One day a large rounded cake caught our eye, a little like the one pictured here which we bought later for Vern’s birthday.

“Zuppa Inglese,” he said when we pointed. He offered us a taste, and we fell in love.

Zuppa Inglese is described this way in the glossary of www.lacucinaitalianamagazine.com:

“TZOO-pah een-GLAY-zay

As the name suggests, zuppa inglese (“English soup”) is of English origin, and is derived from the trifle, a popular British dessert. To make zuppa inglese, wedges of sponge cake or delicate cookies such as ladyfingers are dipped in sweet wine or light liqueur, then layered with whipped cream, diced candied fruit, and chopped bittersweet chocolate.”

There are several stories about the origin of this dessert. The first we heard was that Admiral Nelson’s fleet made an unexpected call at Naples, and the king’s cooks were rushed to prepare something suitable for him. Zuppa Inglese was the result—a kind of hybrid between English trifle and tiramisu.

The internet abounds with recipes for Zuppa Inglese, from complicated (sponge cake
and custard made from scratch, hand shaved bittersweet chocolate, and so forth) to very simple (store-bought ladyfingers, instant pudding, chocolate chips). Find one you like the looks of, and adjust it to your cooking style. The basics are: a light cake of some kind in the bottom of the serving dish (clear glass looks pretty) sprinkled with a liquor such as rum or marsala; a custard or pudding with fruit of your choice mixed in, some form of chocolate as a highlight (not so much it overwhelms), and whipped cream. It can also be formed in a bowl or pan, layered and chilled, then inverted onto a platter and decorated with meringue or  whipped cream, the way we first encountered it in Sorrento.

Here’s a video demonstration featuring chef Jeff Michaud from Osteria Restaurant in
Philadelphia with a professional’s version of Zuppa Inglese.

And here is another video, definitely the home style version, with two sisters describing mamma’s shortcut recipe.

Whichever recipe you choose, this is a delicious dessert, and fun for a special occasion. Like, tonight!