lemon ricotta cake with mascarpone

lemon ricotta cake with mascarpone

I’ve been in my basement sorting through boxes of books; hundreds of them.

Which ones are keepers and which go bye-bye? My mission is to downsize and it’s no time to get sentimental…

I’m approaching the task as if purging a closet – keeping the classics and moving on from the rest: if a cookbook hasn’t been cracked open in more than 3 years, out it goes. It gets tricky though, when the temptation to browse strikes. There was a reason a book made it into the pile in the first place; all it takes is a little reminder — hold on, don’t I need this recipe for Double Chocolate Angel Food Cake…that food memoir of the British Raj, those well-researched words on the world history of wine??

lemon ricotta cake with mascarpone

It seems easier to resist volumes that speak loudly of culinary moments in time, the ones that turned into passing trends. Like a pair of high-waisted jeans, books that call for blackening Cajun-spiced fish Must Get Donated.

The Julia Childs, Marcella Hazans, Elizabeth Davids — stay. They’re the equal of a vintage Chanel handbag you hand down, timeless and essential. I don’t have a Chanel bag, but I have a pair of faded Levi’s jeans I wore in high school — high-waisted and all —  that my teenage daughter now wears. She thinks they’re the coolest thing ever. 

I like cake recipes that have the same quality of classic simplicity and elegance — here’s one that you can dress up or down, enriched with ricotta, olive oil and a creamy mascarpone icing.

lemon ricotta cake with mascarpone

lemon ricotta cake with mascarpone

Yield: one 8-inch cake

lemon ricotta cake with mascarpone

Drying the lemon zest intensifies the flavor and takes only a few minutes in a microwave, but you could substitute fresh lemon zest from 2 lemons if you'd rather. If not serving immediately, wrap the cake in plastic for a day. Top with the mascarpone just before serving.


  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • For cake:
  • 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 lemons
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • For topping:
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • ¾ cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Pinch salt


  1. Adjust oven rack to center and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Smear the butter over the bottom and up the sides of an 8 x 3 inch cake pan or springform pan – be thorough and make sure there are no bare spots. Put the flour into the pan and rotate to coat sides and bottom; tap out excess.
  3. For the cake: Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.
  4. Remove the zest from the lemons with a coarse Microplane-style grater, or on the medium side of a box grater; distribute zest on a papertowel lined plate (save the zested lemons in the refrigerator for another use). Microwave on high for 45 seconds; separate any clumps of zest that might have formed and microwave for another 45 seconds. If the zest isn't completely dry, microwave for 30 more seconds. Let stand for a minute or two to cool, then crumble to a coarse powder with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder.
  5. In a heavy duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs briefly. Pour in the olive oil and sugar; mix on medium - high speed until emulsified. With the mixer on low, add ricotta cheese, vanilla and ½ teaspoon of the ground lemon zest. Stir in the flour mixture in two parts.
  6. Scrape batter into prepared cake pan and level the top. Bake 50 minutes, or until puffed, golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle emerges clean.
  7. Cool cake in the pan 10 minutes before inverting onto a rack to cool completely.
  8. While the cake cools, whip the butter, mascarpone, powdered sugar, cream and salt in a heavy duty mixer until smooth.
  9. Spread mascarpone over cooled cake and sprinkle the remaining lemon zest over the top.


  1. Hooray for cake! I haven’t heard of drying out lemon zest before using it before–super intriguing. And that mascarpone topping looks SO GOOD.

    • Thanks, Eileen. I love the dried lemon – I’ve been wanted to try it and it’s a great trick to do it in the microwave. Next up are tangerine and orange 🙂

  2. karen, this cake just *screams* easter to me! am bookmarking so i can make this for our easter table. doubly-hard to wait since i gave up sweets for lent and am salivating just looking at your gorgeous photography 🙂

  3. Taina, the cake would be just perfect for Easter. Hope you can hold out until then!

  4. I am going to make this! It looks wonderful!

    • I hope you like it. I’m in a cake mood for sure. I encourage fat slices for the kids so that it disappears before I end up eating the rest.

      • I’ll need to make it when we have people over, or I will eat it all! I am almost always in a cake mood!

  5. this looks wonderful!

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  7. This cake sounds perfect for Easter. Lemon and ricotta go together beautifully. And about those cookbooks. I have been looking through mine, and it is terribly difficult to part with them. If one can avoid browsing, however, the job gets easier. But then, remorse sets in. I found myself opening boxes that I had earmarked for charity donation and removing some books… I mean there was a reason I bought them in the first pace, right?

  8. This looks like one of those cakes that would be dangerous to have a round at midnight. Incredible!

  9. I would have such a hard time going through those old books, like you said it’s too easy to get caught up looking through them all again to see what hidden gems might have been forgotten.

  10. I am curious what brand of olive oil you used for the cake? This looks delicious.
    Mascarpone cheese looks like a cloud. Perfect for a summer afternoon.

  11. l.a. davenport says:

    Making this, this week…looking forward to trying this for the first time. I am making it in a bundt cake pan though instead of spring form. Looks delish ! 🙂


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