Amalfi Pear and Ricotta Cake

October 27, 2015
8 Ratings
Photo by Emiko
  • Serves 8
Author Notes

This cake was invented by the Amalfi's famous pastry chef Sal di Riso at his pastry shop in the little costal town of Minori in 1998 and is a symbol of the area's bounty of local produce. A delicious, thin sponge made with ground hazelnuts is filled with light-as-a-cloud mixture of cow's milk ricotta and whipped cream that's studded with cubes of pear cooked in syrup. It's simple but heavenly.

As Sal di Riso himself stresses, the quality of the ingredients is key, as should be the case for any simple recipe.

The original version is made with pears that grow in Campania known as pere pennate, which are small, green, and peach-shaped, but you can substitute with any green pear. For the hazelnut meal, you'll get the best results by blending whole, peeled hazelnuts in a food processor, but you can use packaged ground hazelnut meal if you like.

Possibly the most important ingredient to pay attention to is the ricotta. Try to get ricotta that can stand up on its own—the sort that you can buy at the deli in a large, almost pyramid-like mound, where pieces are cut off and sold by the weight. Avoid, if you can help it, industrially-produced ricotta that comes in a tub. (In fact, the same is true for any Italian recipe that calls for ricotta.)

The reason for this is simply that the texture and the structure of the two types of ricotta is completely different. The ricotta that you buy from a deli by the weight is likely to be real ricotta—that is, fluffy white flecks of curd that are born out of whey during the cheese-making process. It's thick, even crumbly, and firm enough that it can stand up on its own.

The stuff in the tubs has to go through a process that makes the resulting product "squirtable," for want of a better word; it's therefore runny and somewhat grainy. For this filling, it's ideal—for flavor as well as consistency and practicality—to have a firmer ricotta.

This recipe is ever so slightly adapted from Sal di Riso's recipe found here in Italian (as interviewed by Italian journalist Luciano Pignataro):

In the original, a separate syrup was called for for brushing onto the cake. I left this out but I drizzled the extra syrup from the pears onto the sponge. He also uses the vanilla pod seeds directly in the ricotta filling, but I added them to the pears to infuse the fruit with some of the vanilla too. The original recipe calls for pouring this mixture evenly into two cake tins to a height of 1 centimeter (about 1/3 inch), but as I don't own two cake tins that same size, I poured it into one and sliced the cake in half horizontally.

You can easily make this a gluten-free dessert by using potato starch or cornstarch in place of the flour in the sponge.

You can prepare the sponge ahead of time and you can also assemble the entire cake the day before you need it; in fact, much like tiramisu, it's better when it's had an entire day to rest in the fridge. The ricotta mixture will firm up slightly, the cake will absorb the moisture and flavors of the pear syrup, and the whole dessert will slice more neatly.

If you absolutely need to serve it on the day that you have made it, try chilling it in the fridge at least a couple of hours before serving. It will make slicing it a little bit easier. —Emiko

What You'll Need
  • For the hazelnut sponge:
  • 2/3 cup (130 grams) sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 6 1/2 ounces (180 grams) whole, peeled hazelnuts (or hazelnut meal)
  • 1/2 cup flour (or potato starch or cornstarch to make it gluten-free)
  • 3 1/2 ounces (just under 1/2 cup or 100 grams) butter, melted and cooled
  • For the pear and ricotta filling:
  • Drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 small pears, peeled, cored, and cubed
  • 1/3 cup (70 grams) sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, cut in half and seeds scraped
  • juice of half a lemon
  • a splash of pear liqueur (or Kirsch or brandy), optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 pound (500 grams) cow's milk ricotta
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • 1 cup (250 milliliters) cream, whipped to firm peaks
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
  1. For the hazelnut sponge:
  2. To make the hazelnut sponge, prepare a 9-inch (23-centimeter) cake tin by greasing with butter and dusting with flour. (If you're making this gluten-free, you can dust with potato starch.) Whip the sugar and eggs together until the mixture becomes very pale and fluffy and doubles or even triples in size. Fold in the hazelnut meal, flour, and butter until just incorporated.
  3. Pour into the prepared tin and bake at 350° F (180° C) for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until browned and springy on top (or you can do as in di Riso's original recipe, and divide the batter into 2 cake tins, each with a layer about 1/3-inch thick, and bake 10 minutes). Remove from the oven and let cool.
  1. For the pear and ricotta filling:
  2. Drizzle enough olive oil to thinly cover the base of a small saucepan. Heat gently and add the diced pear, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and liqueur, if using. Stir occasionally until the pears begin to cook and release liquid. Continue stirring so that the pears don't burn and so that the sugar dissolves and the pears soften, about 5 minutes. Add the cornstarch and continue stirring for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to another bowl to help them cool down. Let cool completely.
  3. Whip the ricotta and sugar together until very smooth and creamy. Fold in the whipped cream and then the cooled pears, along with some of their syrup. Save a couple of tablespoons of syrup to drizzle on the top and bottom layers of cake.
  4. To assemble the cake, it helps to have a cake ring handy, or if not, spring form cake tin (possibly the same one you used to make the sponge so that it is the exact size). Line with parchment paper.
  5. Slice the hazelnut sponge evenly and horizontally so you have two discs. Be gentle: It is a bit of crumbly cake. Place the bottom disc on a serving plate, cut side up. Place the springform cake tin (minus the base), greased and lined with parchment paper around the cake. Drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons of pear syrup evenly over the sponge. Then pour over the ricotta mixture and smooth over with a spatula. Drizzle the rest of the reserved pear syrup over the cut side of the top layer of sponge and carefully place it on top of the ricotta filling, cut side down. Chill for several hours, or better, overnight.
  6. To serve, remove the cake ring or springform tin and cut carefully into slices with a sharp knife. If you like, you can dust the top of the cake with confectioners' sugar for decoration or place a few slices of poached pear on top.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • dedododo
  • Elisa
  • David Winton
    David Winton
  • Rebecca Burnham
    Rebecca Burnham
  • Kylie Thompson
    Kylie Thompson

28 Reviews

dedododo March 30, 2024
Tasty, though the cake did not rise at all during baking, so the finished cake was no more than 1 cm thick, therefore too thin to slice horizontally. The cake was dense and rubbery, so the texture wasn’t a thrill.
Emiko March 31, 2024
It sounds like you didn't whip the eggs for long enough. Because this cake has no other rising agents, this is the most important step that will give the sponge its "lift" - you have to beat the eggs (in a mixer or with electric beaters) until doubled or even tripled in size; they will be very, very pale and very fluffy -- with beaters I do this for about 10 minutes to get to this stage, in a powerful mixer it is a lot quicker, maybe 5.
Virginia December 21, 2022
Hello! I'm assuming the 1/3 cup sugar goes in the pear filling, and the 1 cup sugar goes in the cake? Both are listed under the ingredients for the filling. Planning to make this for Christmas - Thank you!
PhageCanada January 28, 2022
We live in Ontario, Canada and recently hosted an Amalfi Coast themed dinner. My wife chose to make this for dessert. I bought two tubs of ricotta - Saputo Ricotta di Campagna and Tre Stelle traditional Ricotta. Unfortunately, these products had a granular texture and the ricotta-pear-cream filling was runny. The first problem was addressed by pushing the cheese through a fine mesh sieve. We added some gelatin to deal with the runny issue. Great success. Delicious.
Monmon April 13, 2020
Hi there,

Would you be able to tell me why the middle of my sponge is raw? I mixed and cooked the sponge as per recipe but the middle was completely raw although very delicious.

Elisa July 31, 2017
This is my new favorite! A huge hit. I will make this many more times. It was elegant, not too sweet, ethereal, surprising. Omg. Make it for someone you love! Wish I could post my picture of it. Please follow the advice and get only top quality ingredients. So worth it!
David W. May 30, 2017
What other nut meal would you suggest? Hazelnuts are almost universally disliked in our household.
Emiko May 30, 2017
You could also use almonds but this would work so nicely with walnuts. In either case, it's best texture-wise if you can get whole kernels/nuts and blend them yourself.
Rebecca B. December 23, 2016
This was one of those rare times when I have overwhelming success with a first go at a recipe. I made the hazelnut meal in November for thanksgiving and had enough left over so I'm making it again. Does hazelnut meal keep ok? It's stored in a glass jar in my cubbie. Thank you so much. Rebecca
Emiko December 23, 2016
Wonderful to hear. Nut meals tend to deteriorate quickly though simply have a smell and a taste of them, if they don't seem stale or rancid (that would be from the natural oils) I would still use it!
Tammy R. July 24, 2016
Hi would homemade ricotta be an acceptable sub for the store bought? No Italian deli where I live! Thanks
Emiko December 23, 2016
Kylie T. July 3, 2016
This was delicious and easy to make for a new baker (me). I had half a tin of tiny, sweet strawberries so I decided to cook them with the pears and my filling turned a lovely light pink color and we loved it.
Laurelb March 21, 2016
We enjoyed this but the flavour of the pears didn't really come through. Is there a particular type of pear you recommend using?
Emiko March 23, 2016
Hi Laurel! This is traditionally made with pears from Campania known as pere pennate. It's a small, sweet pear that's in season in late summer. It's probably difficult to find outside of Campania so I would use any local pear you can easily find but definitely the quality of the pears will affect the flavour. If you can find heirloom pears near you, which will no doubt be picked during the right season (usually fall), they may have more flavour?
AniaSweets January 4, 2016
Am excited, the cake is chilling in fridge till tomorrow....I did have issues with the cake, I should have blended the flour and hazelnuts together before folding them in, my nut crumb was kind of clumpy and it was too late when I realized I had done wrong by trying to fold them in that way. I cut the sugar a bit in the filling am crossing my fingers it won't be too sweet.
AniaSweets January 8, 2016
By far the sexiest cake I have ever made! Super good.
Emily |. November 28, 2015
Made this for a Thanksgiving dessert and it was festive and enjoyed by everyone. We even forgot Pumpkin Pie and no one complained! I did rest this in the fridge overnight, and also had a piece as a leftover the Friday after Thanksgiving and the flavor improves over time. It set up well with just overnight though - when I was adding the filling initially it was quite soft so I had doubts about adding it all but I am happy I did.
AM November 23, 2015
Thank you for confirming the whole eggs. I made it and really enjoyed it. I have to say I doubted the amount of filling until I looked at the pictures of other finished products and went ahead and piled it on.
Allison Y. November 23, 2015
Looks amazing! Would you suggest using AP or cake flour?
Charlotte I. November 12, 2015
Thank you so much for this recipe. I had this dessert at an italian restaurant and loved it so much !! I tried to recreate it for Christmas last year with no success, it really wasn't the same. I will try again with your recipe !!
Emiko November 8, 2015
No mistake! Whole eggs -- and this is according to the original recipe of the inventor of this cake. You could also separate the eggs and beat them individually but the result of this moist, light sponge is so good I don't think it needs to be complicated or changed much! I just realised I've left out some of those instructions though; will amend!
Allison Y. January 5, 2017
Hi Emiko, I had a question about the eggs in the recipe. I looked at the original one in Italian that you posted and it calls for 300g of eggs which is about 6 whole eggs instead of 3 (all the other quantities are the same). I recently made this cake following the original and it turned out great, but I was wondering what the difference in the texture would be if I used three instead of six eggs?
Emiko January 5, 2017
Hi, you are right, Sal di Riso's originale sponge recipe calls for 300 grams of eggs (more like 5 eggs rather than 6, if you are using large eggs, which are about 60 grams each, this is the average egg size in Italy). It would be a bit denser with the 2 extra eggs and probably a bit taller-- also he uses a syrup to brush onto the sponge to make it moist. I left this syrup out and I think the 3 eggs works because outside of Italy the ricotta most people have access to is much wetter than true, fresh Italian ricotta and I think these adjustments help the cake get the right balance of moisture. Does that make sense? I think you should definitely try it with 300 grams eggs if you are curious though! I'd love to know what you think of the results!
AM November 7, 2015
Thank you. We just had a spinoff of this in Positano and were very happy to discover the recipe here. Working on making it right now. Wondering, should this read egg whites? All the other recipes for this cake limit it to beaten egg whites only.
AM November 7, 2015
Have to say I do see one with whole eggs.
luigi November 4, 2015
Just found this years Christmas dessert!
ChefJune November 2, 2015
Wow! This sounds incredibly wonderful. Can't wait to try it. Having a Paella Party this Sunday and thinking it would make a great dessert.