Growing up in an Italian-American family I learned, probably before I could talk, that every holiday and special occasion came with its own food, to be enjoyed on that day and maybe not to be tasted again until it came around again on the calendar.
Many of those foods happen to be sweet things (or maybe that’s just what I loved best) like St. Joseph’s day zeppole (fried dough filled with creamy custard), Christmas panettone (sweet yeast bread) and my favorite, sfogilatelle, a flaky ricotta-filled pastry that sat in a brown cardboard pastry box every Sunday after dinner.
There was also the traditional Neapolitan Easter pie, filled with an orange-scented rice pudding. That pie could take days to make, chill and set and from what I recall seemed to weigh as much as the 20-pound sack of baking potatoes my mother kept by the back door.
My version of the holiday pie is lightened up and simplified to please my all-grown-up tastes. The barely sweet, orange-scented ricotta in the middle of sfogliatelle is what inspired this tart; the toasty, rustic almond cake recipe comes from In the Hands of a Chef by Boston chef Jody Adams. It’s a simple cake to expand upon and personalize according to season; most of all on those days that need a sweet remembrance.
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
- ¾ cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Freshly grated zest from 1 large naval orange
- ½ cup whole almonds
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 stick butter, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the top, bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan with the melted butter.
- Whisk together the ricotta, honey and orange zest in a small bowl until combined.
- Toast the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet 7 -10 minutes, until lightly golden and fragrant; cool. Grind the almonds in a small food processor until fine crumbs form – be careful not to over process to avoid making almond butter.
- Combine the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.
- In a standing mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one by one; lower the mixer speed and stir in the flour mixture until just combined.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Evenly top the outside edge and the middle of cake with tablespoon-sized scoops of the ricotta.
- Bake 30-35 minutes. The cake should be golden and the batter around the ricotta lightly firm to the touch.