Louisa's Cake

By • March 15, 2011 • 134 Comments


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Author Notes: Louisa is a family friend, gardener and chef from Castellina in Chianti, Italy where we gather several times a year. She cooks everything from memory and threw this together one night last Spring. When we pressed her for the recipe she hastily rattled some ingredients off and we scrambled to write it all down on a napkin. Along with my husband and children we've tested this cake about 6 times and friends are constantly asking for the recipe. -SML OfficeSML Office

Food52 Review: Only a true Italian nonna could produce something this ethereal with such a simple list of ingredients. SML Office got the recipe for this cake from a family friend in Chianti (Louisa), and to us it's the epitome of a classic Italian dessert. It's airy and light, but not without integrity: ricotta, eggs and plenty of butter give it richness, grated apple lends heft, and lemon zest rescues it from being at all bland. The cake is gently sweetened, and thus equally suited to breakfast and dessert. We think it would be great with something tangy and fresh, like a fruit compote -- and rhubarb season is coming up! - A&MA&M

Serves 6

  • 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 apple, peeled and grated (should yield about 1 cup)
  • Confectioners' sugar for serving
  1. Heat the oven to 400˚. Butter and flour a 9 or 10-inch spring form pan.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar in a standing mixer until light and fluffy.
  3. On the lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time.
  4. Slowly add the flour, salt, ricotta, lemon zest, baking powder and apple.
  5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and the sides start to pull away from the pan.
  6. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn the cake out of the pan and cool completely on the rack. Sift powder sugar over top or serve with your favorite seasonal fruit.

Tags: simple, Tuscan

Comments (134) Questions (14)

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about 13 hours ago ChantalMSalomonLee

Love this cake. I follow the recipe to a T and it turns out wonderfully each time. When I ask my Italian boyfriend what sweet I should make he usually replies, "The Nonna Cake!" Thank you, SML Office!

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5 days ago Ivet

I think that this cake' beauty is it's simplicity - I would not add anything. All I do is light dusting with powdered sugar. But everyone's taste buds are different. The fun of baking is in experimentation, right? What is the worst that is going to happen? I am sure that in any case this will be really really good and there is always the chance that your experimentation will render something fantastic.

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7 days ago charity

Could this recipe be used to make petits fours, or do you think the addition of petits fours icing would overwhelm the flavor?

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17 days ago Marla

I absolutely love this recipe. I just finished make this wonderful cake and it is delicious. I only added 3/4 of a cup of sugar instead of the whole cup the recipe asked for. The cake is so moist it almost feels like a cheesecake only better:) Thanks for this recipe.

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about 1 month ago Janet

It was only a couple of months old, but I did buy an off brand... I'll buy the good stuff and try it!

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about 1 month ago gm

It sounds like your baking powder wasn't fresh http://www.thekitchn.com...

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about 1 month ago Janet

Renee B... It was tasty, but it was really flat. I am going to try it again.... I must have done something wrong. Is it really one Tablespoon of baking powder?? I did use that amount...

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about 1 month ago gm

I meant to respond directly... see above!

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about 1 month ago Renee B

We (my husband usually makes it) followed the recipe exactly as written. I think that gm's link to info about testing old baking soda and baking powder could provide the answer. Good luck.

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about 1 month ago Janet

I just made this....it came out flat as a pancake.....:(

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about 1 month ago Renee B

It isn't a tall fluffy cake. Did you check yours against the photo here? Have you tasted it? It's somewhat dense (not leaden) and... delicious. Hope you are pleasantly surprised.

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about 1 month ago gm

I meant to respond directly..m see above

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about 1 month ago cherry khine

any substitute for ricotta cheese? Ricotta not available in my country.

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about 1 month ago Renee B

There are recipes online to make ricotta cheese easily. Maybe even here on Food52. I just did a quick search and found this:
http://www.chow.com/recipes...

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about 1 month ago Renee B

Should have checked food52. Here's another ricotta cheese recipe. I hope that you will try it since this cake is absolutely amazing. We've made it multiple times to rave reviews.
http://food52.com/recipes...

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3 months ago lemons

I used a 10" springform pan, and I, too, found it wildly underdone at the given time, quivering in the middle like a custard. I ended up with around 40 minutes and while it pulled from the edges and a toothpick came out clean, it was still a tad underdone. Nevertheless, I, too, love it and will make it again. And I'll cut parchment or waxed paper to cover the bottom of the pan so it comes out more cleanly.

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3 months ago Debra Weiner

I just made this after reading all of the comments, and it was wonderful! I set the oven to 350 and left it in for another 10-15 minutes. When I took it out of the spring form pan, it felt warm and soggy on the bottom, and a bit sugary. However, when it cooled, it was moist and delicious. I did cut the sugar down to one-cup and I grated some fresh nutmeg into the flour mixture. All and all, a simple, lovely dessert.

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3 months ago Renee B

I sure wish that SML Office would post more recipes. This a favorite of ours—and friends and family too. It's modest appearance belies the wonderful texture and flavor. Thanks for sharing, please share more!

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3 months ago Andrea K

Pure Heaven.

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4 months ago Willena Potts

Again I ask - is there something special about unsalted butter?
Could you not use salted butter & omit the pinch of salt?

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4 months ago kasia S.

You don't know how salty the baked product can be if you use salted, so to control the salt you start with unsalted, plus you can tell it's freshness, salted butter covers rancidness better.

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4 months ago TheWimpyVegetarian

Exactly, and the amount of salt added varies from product to product. This allows you to control the amount of salt added. For a lot of recipes it doesn't matter, but in baking it can make a difference.

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5 months ago Ivet

Absolute perfection in its simplicity! I made it exactly as instructed and loved it and, what's more, my husband who usually does not eat sweets, ate a big piece while still warm. Planning to make it tomorrow for brunch while lazying about the house.

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5 months ago Amy

Brilliant. I made it as directed. Excellent. Used less sugar - probably 1/4 cup less. followed a previous post with grating the lemon and apple into the ricotta to prep ahead. Will make again.

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5 months ago AnnabelMelrose

This is probably the best cake I have ever made, we devoured it at the kitchen table right out of the oven and it was gone by evening. This time round I subbed half of the butter for unsweetened home made apple sauce, used 2 tbs less sugar and added 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut in place of 1/4 cup of the flour. Love love love this cake, in all of its mild variations. Thanks so much for posting this recipe.

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6 months ago kasia S.

I made this on tuesday and it was so soft and light, like an angel ( as my boyfriends grandmother said as she tasted it and swooned) well I beaned, thank you for such a tasty and easy recipe! Next day it was denser but sweet and delicious in a great way, can't wait to make this again.

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7 months ago gm

Sorry- I meant mix the lemon zest, ricotta and apple together (right away, during prep) and sift flour, salt and baking powder (also right away, during prep) then alternate adding in Step 5.

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7 months ago gm

I also had to drop the temperature down to 350 after it browned too quickly. Next time I make it (because I will, it was excellent) I might try just baking it on 350 the whole time. Also, Step 5 is a little oddly phrased (slowly mix in wet and dry ingredients together). So I mixed in the apple first, then alternated ricotta and flour. Not sure if it makes a difference- maybe next time I will just mix the apple into the ricotta right away (during prep) so less chance of it browning.