This moist and flavorful Italian ricotta cake with pears is a simple, classic Italian cake recipe that's all dressed up for fall. This traditional Italian cake combines the richness of ricotta cheese, tender, juicy pears, along with a hint of bright, citrusy orange zest and just a touch of rosemary for a subtle, yet unique, flavor. This easy cake recipe is a beautiful fall dessert that's perfect for any occasion, from holidays and special celebrations to casual days at home.
You'll never find me making an elaborate, multi-layer cake, but I love throwing together a simple, un-fussy fruit-studded cake, like a lemon blueberry pound cake, a rhubarb almond cake or the famous New York Times plum torte.
This fun take on a traditional Italian dessert is easily one of my favorite cakes to bake when the weather outside gets crisp. It's the perfect cake for making on a lazy fall afternoon to snack on throughout the day, but it's elegant enough to serve to company.
Italian ricotta cake is a classic, typically flavored with lemon or almond extract, but it's a great base recipe to play around with. I added sliced pears, orange zest and pinch of fresh rosemary to give it a really nice seasonal fall vibe, but you can easily switch up the fruit and flavorings to match whatever season you're in.
The addition of ricotta cheese creates a moist crumb with a delightful chew, while the pears add a light, juicy freshness. I love using ricotta in desserts, like a simple cannoli filling to a traditional ricotta pie or ricotta based Italian cheesecake.
The holidays are synonymous with pies in my family, but if your family consists of more cake people than pie people, consider baking up this Italian ricotta pear cake for Thanksgiving or Christmas this year. After all the pomp of the turkey or holiday roast, this cake is the perfect treat to end the night right.
It's simple, seasonal, not-too-sweet and has the best texture with a slightly chewy, yet tender crumb thanks to the richness of the ricotta.
Why this recipe works
- Ricotta adds richness and moisture for a fluffy cake with a satisfying bite.
- Orange zest and rosemary give it a warm, cozy, fall flavor.
- Adaptable and versatile - adjust the fruit and flavorings however you like!
- Rustic and forgiving - easy to prepare with simple ingredients.
- Not too sweet for those who dislike cloying desserts.
- Butter - Always use unsalted butter when baking so you can control the salt. If you only have salted butter, just nix the added salt in the recipe. Make sure you take your butter out a few hours before baking so it can soften to room temperature.
- Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese - It's important to use full fat ricotta cheese in this recipe, as it needs the fat for structure, since the ricotta is essentially replacing some of the flour in the recipe. Do not substitute fat free or part skim ricotta, or it will affect the final texture of the cake.
- Eggs - You'll need 3 large eggs and one yolk for this recipe. Use good quality fresh, pasture raised eggs whenever possible. Don't waste the extra egg white - use it to make a batch of Pignoli cookies!
- Pears - You'll need two medium-large pears or three smaller pears for this cake. You can use Bartlett, Bosc or Anjou pears, which are all great for baking.
- Sour Cream - This adds a little tang and even more moisture to the cake - don't skip it! And be sure to use full fat - don't skimp with low fat here.
- Orange Zest - A little bit of grated orange zest gives the cake a warm and mild citrus flavor. You can substitute ¼ teaspoon of orange extract in a pinch.
- Fresh Rosemary - Finely chopped fresh rosemary imparts a subtle, aromatic, herbal flavor that really complements the orange and pear. If you don't like rosemary, you can leave it out, or try substituting with fresh thyme instead.
- Flour - I use all purpose flour in this recipe, but you can also use cake flour to achieve a lighter, more fluffy texture.
- Baking Powder - Make sure you're using baking powder, NOT baking soda, and be sure it's fresh to help your cake rise. Old baking powder will lose some of its leavening power over time, so make sure you've purchases it within the last year or two.
- Demerara Sugar or Raw Sugar - This coarse sugar gets sprinkled over the top of the cake before baking to give it a delightful crunch. You can substitute regular granulated sugar if you don't have any.
*Full ingredient list with quantities is in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
- Electric Mixer - While you can totally mix this recipe by hand, a hand-held electric mixer or stand mixer will make your life a whole lot easier.
- Cake Pan - You will need a 9-inch round cake pan to bake this cake. I use a springform pan to make it easy to remove, but any cake pan will work.
- Rubber Spatula - This is essential for scraping down the sides of the bowl to help the batter mix better.
- Parchment Paper - You'll want to line your cake pan with parchment before adding the cake batter so that it removes easily and doesn't stick to the pan.
- Wire Rack - This is helpful for cooling the cake down, but is not essential.
Step by step instructions
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease the inside of a 9 inch cake pan and line it with parchment paper for easy removal.
- In a large mixing bowl, use a hand mixer or stand mixer with the paddle attachment to cream together room temperature butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on medium speed.
- Add the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, mixing well between each addition.
Tip: and scraping down the sides of the bowl every so often to ensure the ingredients are incorporated evenly.
- Next, mix in the ricotta, sour cream, vanilla extract, orange zest, rosemary and salt. It's normal for the mixture to be a bit lumpy due to the ricotta.
- Gradually incorporate the flour and baking powder into the cake batter on low speed until just combined. Be careful not to over mix.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth out the top.
- Arrange the pears over top of the batter however you like, then sprinkle with Demerara sugar.
- Bake in the center of the oven for about 50 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Allow the cake to cool for at least 30 minutes in the pan, then use the parchment paper to lift it out of the pan and transfer to a cooling rack to let the cake cool completely.
- Serve while it's still a bit warm or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream if desired.
Tips for success
- You can arrange the sliced pears in an artful pattern or just scatter them around to fit - it will be delicious either way!
- Avoid over mixing the batter after adding the dry ingredients, otherwise it could take the cake tough.
- You may need to adjust the baking time and temperature depending on your oven. Be sure to check on your cake around 40 minutes and keep an eye on it until it's done. If it's getting too brown around the edges but is still not done inside, cover the edges with foil and lower the temperature to 350° until done.
The beauty of this ricotta cake is in its versatility. You can easily swap out the pears for another fruit of your choice. It's great with apples, peaches, plums, or fresh berries.
You can also change up the flavor by using lemon zest instead of orange for an easy lemon ricotta cake. If you love lemon flavor, consider adding a little bit of lemon juice or lemon extract for an even more intensely flavored lemon cake.
If you love almond flavor, try swapping out the vanilla extract for almond extract to make an almond ricotta cake instead.
This Italian ricotta cake is delicious on its own, but you can drizzle with a simple glaze or icing for more sweetness. You can also serve it with additional fruit on the side, like more sliced pears, apples, orange slices or these sparkly sugared cranberries for a dazzling holiday presentation!
I like serving this cake with a dollop of whipped cream, but if you have extra sour cream or ricotta leftover from the recipe, you can use that instead. I like to sweeten mine with a little bit of sugar and vanilla, but you can add some additional orange zest or orange liquor to enhance the cake's subtle flavor.
The best way to serve this Italian ricotta cake with pears is slightly warm or at room temperature, If you make it advance and refrigerate for later, make sure you let it sit out for a few hours before serving.
This is the perfect Italian dessert to serve after a big Italian dinner, and is lovely enjoyed as a simple afternoon treat with coffee or tea.
Absolutely! This recipe adds pears, orange and rosemary for a beautiful fall flavor, but you can easily swap those out for just about any other type of fresh fruit or and flavoring.
Yes! This cake keeps very well thanks to the addition of ricotta cheese. Let it cool down completely, then wrap tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days ahead. Bring to room temperature before serving. You can also freeze the cake for longer storage! I recommend freezing for no longer than a month to maintain freshness. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.
Tightly wrap any leftover cake in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
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