A delicious, sturdy, afternoon tea cake with Italian roots – this divine mix-and-bake Apple Pine nut Ricotta Cake is baked from freshly made, warm ricotta. With a gorgeous crumb and toasty pine nut topping kissed with icing sugar, this ricotta cake is absolutely delicious and almost tastes like custard.
A quintessential Italian Tea Cake
Italians know a thing or two about afternoon tea cakes. The cakes always seem deceptively simple and that is because they really are. Often an after-thought, these sturdy Italian cakes are a result of the cook in the house wanting to use up that freshly pressed olive oil gifted to them or putting some warm freshly made ricotta to good use after using most of it in a cannelloni bake.
Infused with citrus that also often comes from the back garden and topped with all kinds of nuts, an Italian cake warm and fresh from the oven with a gooey center is one of life’s simple joys on any given day. And because they are so forgiving, you can substitute with fruit or nut from a similar profile to the one in the recipe and have a brand new cake to relish. This cake that I was meant to bake from Julia’s newest (and absolutely gorgeous) cookbook – A Year Of Simple Family Food was originally meant to be a Pear Ricotta Cake. I don’t do pears well in my home. They are either eaten on the first day or are a soft, mushy fruit when I invariably turn to them for baking. So, I substitute most pear recipes with apples and this has served me well.
Homegrown lemons and freshly made ricotta
For a couple of months now, I have had eleven Meyer lemons hanging from my little potted Meyer Lemon tree. Bright canary yellow, smooth-skinned fruit that gives me joy every time I step outside my front door (because that is where the pot is). Nick kept reminding me to pick the lemons or risk losing them to cockatoos but being the daredevil that I am, I left them on the tree for yet another day because they looked so beautiful there.
And then one morning in the middle of making fresh ricotta (while it was straining), I stepped out into the garden and saw a half-eaten kaffir lime lying abandoned on the grass. Further up from it, were a couple of regular lemons – also half-eaten. I sprung into action and ran to the Meyer lemon tree. It was okay. All the lemons were okay. I grabbed my secateurs and a basket from inside the house and harvested all eleven lemons before any cockatoo could get any funny ideas in their devilish heads.
And with a couple of those beautifully fragrant Meyer lemons and the warm creamy ricotta, I made this Apple Pine Nut Ricotta Cake. It was more-ish and delicious and dare I say, tasted like custard pudding with apple pieces in it. Just lovely and wholesome and homemade.
125g unsalted butter, softened
125g raw sugar
200g fresh full-fat ricotta
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or powder
pinch of salt
finely grated zest of 2 large lemons
2 tablespoons lemon juice
250g (1 2/3 cups) self-raising flour
3–4 apples (500g in total), peeled, cored and cut into 1-2 cm pieces
1–2 tablespoons milk or soy milk
3 tablespoons pine nuts
icing sugar, for dusting
Pre-heat oven to 180C (convection)/160C (fan-forced).
Grease and line a 20cm round springform cake tin with baking paper.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer (or with a wooden spoon). Add both eggs, one egg at a time and beat until pale and fluffy.
Add the ricotta, vanilla, salt, lemon zest, lemon juice and flour. Mix gently with a wooden spoon until just combined and flour is completely incorporated. Stir in the apple and a tablespoon or two of milk/soy milk if you feel the batter is very hard and not easy to mix. (I used about 2 tablespoons).
Spoon into the prepared cake tin. Scatter pine nuts on top. Bake in the pre-heated oven for approximately 40-45 minutes until golden, risen and pulling away from the edge of the tin. Turn off the oven. Allow to rest in the oven for 5 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool completely. Lift out with the baking paper and place it on a cake serving plate. Dust with icing sugar. Cut and serve.