Moon cakes. It’s either love or hate in my experience. Traditionally, a brown, shiny, sugar and lard based pastry wrapped around a hunk of lotus seed paste concealing the pièce de résistance, a couple of whole salted duck egg yolks – Are we having fun yet? No I didn’t think so and as you might have guessed I’m not really a enthusiast. As a result, over the years, I’ve taken to producing alternative ‘moon cakes’ for us to enjoy while moon gazing at Mid-Autumn Festival. I once created my own ridiculously symbolic interpretation of the mOOn cake (don’t you just hate it when an idea runs away with itself) but generally the criteria is simply, yellow-ish and ‘round like the moon’ – not really too hard for a cake is it? There have been numerous lemon tarts and a few dragées but this year I wanted something different. To be honest I wanted something simple, it was just a small family dinner and as I was serving food that was quite rich and a bit spicy I thought something modest and unassuming would be a nice compliment to that. How I got to ricotta pound cake, I’m not really so sure but, it was yellow-ish, round like the moon and as it turned out, a perfect accompaniment to moon gazing!
What came from this friendly and straightforward recipe was an elegant cake that was both delicious and lovely looking. I tend to associate pound cakes with being solid and firm but this was quite different. It had a dark buttery exterior; almost like a crust and what lay inside was a tender, soft and buttery crumb. It was a wonderful balance of rich butter, tangy ricotta and sweet vanilla.
The beauty of this cake is it is perfect served, as is but pairs nicely with fruit, ice cream or crème fraîche. I actually offered all of those but ended up liking it with Greek yogurt the best, a lower fat more healthful option I had also served. The cake is on the sweet side and so for me I really enjoyed the contrast of the unsweetened Greek yogurt. Another plus point is I can imagine it being easily added to in terms of a couple of teaspoons of lemon, lime or orange zest!
Ricotta Pound Cake
adapted from ‘Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen’ by Gina DePalma
The original recipe called for a 9” loaf pan, but a rectangle is hardly ‘round like the moon’, so I opted to 1 ½ the recipe and use 2 8” round pans.
- 2 1/4 cups cake flour*
- 1 tablespoon + 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 1/4 cups ricotta**
- 2 1/4 cups sugar
- 5 medium eggs
- 2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla (I used Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste)
*I can’t buy cake flour here so I invariably make my own. There are lots of ‘recipes’ out there but I find Joy the Baker’s explanation the most straightforward.
** The original recipe calls for full fat but I used 1/3 full fat and 2/3 skim and it turned out fine.
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F – Grease and Line 2 8-inch cake tins.
Sift the dry ingredients, cake flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside.
Using a stand mixer, begin to cream the butter. Add the sugar steadily and finally the ricotta. Mix on medium speed until all fully incorporated, smooth and airy.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, making sure to scrape down the bowl a few times. Finally add the vanilla bean paste.
Stir in the dry ingredients, on lowest speed, to combine them then beat on medium speed for 30 seconds.
Divide batter evenly (I use scales) into prepared pans and smooth flat. Tap pans gently on work surface to release any air bubbles.
Bake cakes for 15 minutes side by side. Swap sides (to ensure even browning) then lower the temperature to 160°C/325°F.
Continue cooking until cakes have cooked ie. Sides of cake have started to come away from pan; the cake springs back when pressed and when a skewer inserted comes out clean. Mine took another 50 minutes. Cool in pans for 10 minutes and then carefully transfer to a cooling rack.
I served my cakes upside down because I thought they looked more attractive that way and then dusted them with icing sugar. Again, I would strongly suggest trying it with Greek Yogurt. Should keep in an airtight container for 3 days.
Oh and if any of you observant eagle eyes were wondering… OH YES I DID!!