Ricotta al forno, a simple baked ricotta cake

I’ve been craving a really good baked ricotta cheesecake lately, but after having a disappointingly bouncy and ‘squeaky’ one recently, I was feeling a bit picky about it. I wanted it above all to be simple — no water baths, or covering your cake tin in foil, and not even a crust, none of this having to crush biscuits with a rolling pin and press the crumbs into a tin! I just wanted a creamy, lemony, fluffy cheesecake that I could stir with a fork in one bowl and bake. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to do it without any flour, so it can be suitable for gluten free or flour intolerant needs (there are just a few spoonfuls of cornstarch but you could do away with that too if you don’t have it).

In case you’re looking for that too, here she is. I’m calling her “ricotta al forno,” simply, “baked ricotta”.

The key, I should warn you, in such a simple recipe that showcases the ricotta, is that you really do need to get proper ricotta – something very fresh, possibly made that same day, thick, creamy curds stable enough to hold up in a mound, weeping with whey. There is nothing like the fresh creamy ricotta that I am lucky enough to have access to every day in Italy and I know it may not be as easy in other places to get the good stuff, but if you can, look for it in an Italian grocer or delicatessen where the sight of a large, wobbly mound of ricotta in the glass counter will tell you you’re in the right place — or even better, get it from your local artisan cheesemaker. Another option is to “make your own” ricotta-like fresh curd (made with milk rather than whey), which is a little more work but certainly worthwhile for a delicious outcome in this very simple recipe.

An aside about industrial ricotta. Don’t use it. There is no point in cooking with ricotta out of a tub from the supermarket that has a suspiciously far away use by date (the real thing should be eaten quite quickly, a matter of a few days). Industrially produced ricotta has a different texture, the curds don’t separate from the whey, in fact there may be no visible curds at all and it often is too runny, with a consistency of yoghurt. Often these tubs also have thickeners or gums (that dubious additive carrageenan, for example, which serves to hold in the liquid rather than have it drain out like real ricotta naturally does). When these are cooked, these additives give the dish, whatever it may be, an unpleasantly grainy texture. Real freshly made ricotta is incredibly creamy, and is never grainy. I can guarantee you that absolutely a decent ricotta will make or break this very simple recipe — and any recipe you use that calls for ricotta.

Now that we have that straight, this baked ricotta is so delicious on its own but if you do want to dress her up, one suggestion is some gently simmered, lightly sweetened berries (or fresh ones) and a blob of unsweetened cream (heavy cream is lovely but in Florence it’s near impossible to come across, so I use single pouring cream, shaken in a jar until thickened). Even a simple dusting of powdered sugar could be nice.

Ricotta al forno (Baked ricotta cake)

150 grams sugar
2 eggs, beaten
4 level tablespoons (30 grams) of potato starch (fecola di patate) or cornstarch, sifted
500 grams fresh ricotta
60 ml (1/4 cup) single cream
zest and juice of 2 organic/not treated lemons

Heat oven to 165C (330 F). In a bowl, combine the sugar, eggs and starch (potato starch or cornstarch give a tender crumb to cakes and happen to be gluten free, but if you don’t have either handy, try it without). Whisk together until smooth and lump-free. Add the ricotta, stirring through (break it up with a fork first if it is very firm) until well combined, then stir through the cream then lemon zest and juice until smooth. Pour the batter into a 20-22cm cake tin, buttered and lined with parchment paper and bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown on top and with the slightest wobble.

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Comments

  1. Elliebu says:

    Hi-

    This looks delicious. However, we do not have Single Cream available to us. What would be an acceptable replacement?

    • Emiko Davies says:

      Where do you live? Single cream is also called pouring cream or light cream, it is an unthickened cream usually at least 18% fat, so use whatever you have that is similar but if you can’t find this, try whipping cream (not whipped though!) It’s a little more thick, like double cream but it shouldn’t adversely affect the cake!

      • Elliebu says:

        Thank you! I live in NC. I was looking and it looks like we have something called Light Cream, and it only has the serving size info which says it’s only 4% fat per serving. I am thinking the whipping cream, because I would rather have more fat than not enough! 🙂 We definitely have Heavy Cream though, but it sounds like that is too much fat.

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