Dining With the Saints

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A Simple Ricotta Cake to Celebrate Easter

When I was a kid, Easter, culinarily speaking, meant Italian ricotta cake. We never made them at home, but purchased a Pastiera, the only-made-at-Easter time version of this cake from Rocco’s bakery on Long Island. The Pastiera contains whole wheat berries, candied fruit, and a beautiful lattice top. Rocco’s version was flavored with  orange flower water and vanilla, aromas that made the shop smell exotic.

This is a fabulous cake and a great Southern Italian tradition. It’s also, as I discovered when I finally decided to bake one myself, quite time consuming. This Easter I’ve decided to play around with the classic recipe, streamlining it, but without losing any of its alluring flavor. It wasn’t as hard as I thought. I did away with the crust and lightened the filling with beaten egg whites. I keep the vanilla and orange flower water flavoring which, for me, really makes this cake special. The resulting recipe, to my amazement, baked up elegant, incredibly fragrant, and almost as light as a soufflé, and this version, I kid you not, takes only 5 to 8 minutes to assemble. You think you don’t have the time or patience to bake a beautiful ricotta cake this Easter? Think again.

Ricotta Cake With Orange Flower Water and Honey

About a 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 of whole milk ricotta (about 30 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees

Grease a nine inch spring form pan with the butter.

Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a food processor and the whites in the bowl of the 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 this 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.

Dining With the Saints is written by writer and chef Erica De Mane. Visit her at ericademane.com.

Image: “Morning of the Resurrection” by Edward Burne-Jones  1882

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