Celebrate spring with a lemony ricotta tart

I have been fiddling with this ricotta tart recipe ever since I came back from Italy a few years ago. I tasted it in a restaurant in Florence and had one of those aha moments.

Yes indeed! This is my kind of dessert! It is creamy, light, not too sweet, and imbued with the delicate aroma of lemons. In other words, it is the perfect light dessert to follow a holiday meal. Or in my case, it could be a complete holiday meal. I admit, even though I no longer eat sweets with abandon, I could gobble the whole tart up all by myself. In one sitting. It is that good

Italians seem to do a superb job when it comes to commemorating holidays, so that’s where I turn for inspiration as the seasons unfold. Let’s face it, they’ve got us beat. They’ve been at it a lot longer and they haven’t been inhibited by our Puritan inclinations. So much to choose from, so little time.

Trying to replicate something from memory is challenging (especially after a vacation.)  But on a visit to my local market this week, the sight of a very high quality fresh ricotta motivated  me to have another go at this tart. The ricotta comes in a cute little white tin with a perforated bottom to allow excess liquid to drain. It is the real McCoy: clean and sweet, good enough to eat with a spoon all by itself or drizzled with a little honey. I was not disappointed, and I offer you the results of my experiment. The crust is very buttery and difficult to roll out, so I pressed it into the pan instead. I’ve given you a blow-by-blow tutorial below.  Now you have no excuse not to make it.

After a cool and often rainy week, the grass has suddenly brightened and shed its dismal winter coat of brown. The trees show us pale, green promises on their branches. We must seize the day to celebrate them—our New England spring is as tentative as the buds and will quickly turn to summer in a blink. At last the weather is catching up with the calendar. It is time to celebrate.

Ricotta lemon tart

Makes one 9-inch tart

The crust:

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick, 85 g) cold, unsalted butter, cut in 1-inch pieces, plus a little for the pan
1 cup all-purpose flour (145 g), plus a little for the pan
3 tablespoons (38g) sugar
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon fine salt
1 egg, separated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Generously butter a 9 X 1-inch tart pan with a removable rim.  Sprinkle with flour to coat the bottom and sides of the pan  and tap out the excess. Set an oven rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.

2. Combine the flour, sugar, lemon zest, and salt and butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process for a few seconds until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk, vanilla and 1 tablespoon cool water and process until the mixture forms small clumps but has not yet gathered into a ball. (By hand, rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips. When it is well combined, work the egg yolk, vanilla and water into the dough with your fingertips.)

3. Dump the crumbly dough into the prepared pan. Press it evenly into the sides of the pan first and then spread the remainder of the crumble evenly over the bottom. Press the dough firmly and evenly into the bottom and sides of the pan with the help of a (dry) measuring cup and some patience.

4. Set the pan on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove it from the oven and brush the bottom and sides with some of the reserved egg white (you won’t use it all). Return it to the oven for 15 to 20 minutes longer, until it is golden brown. The egg white provides a barrier for the filling and keeps the crust from getting soggy. Remove the pan from the oven. While the crust is baking, make the filling.

The filling:

1 1/2 cups (340 g) fresh, whole milk ricotta
2 ounces (57g) cream cheese, at room temperature 
1/3 cup (67g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup(119 g) heavy cream
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting the tart

1. Beat the ricotta and cream cheese together on low speed with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer until smooth and creamy. Beat in the sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and salt and when it is incorporated add the eggs. Mix on low speed until smooth and mix in the cream. (By hand, beat the ricotta and cream cheese together with a wooden spoon. Add the sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and salt, and when smooth, beat in the eggs. Finally, add the cream and mix until smooth.)

2. Pour the filling into the partially baked crust.  Bake the tart (still on the cookie sheet) for 45 to 50 minutes, until set. To test, poke a toothpick into the center of the tart; it should emerge with only a few crumbs.

3. Transfer the tart to a rack to cool. Serve at room temperature or refrigerate and serve cold. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.

Tutorial :Press in crust

Generously butter and flour the pan, tapping out the excess flour.

Combine the flour, sugar, lemon zest, salt and butter in the bowl of a food processor. 

Process until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Add the egg yolk, vanilla and water.

Process until the dough looks crumbly and almost comes together.

Pour it into the prepared pan.

Use your fingers to evenly press the crumbs into the sides of the pan first;  then press them into the bottom. Firm them up evenly with the use of a measuring cup and a piece of plastic wrap to keep the cup from sticking to the dough.

Bake the dough for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove it from the oven and brush it evenly with  egg white (you may not need to use all of it.) Return the dough to the oven and bake again for about 15 minutes, or until it is golden brown.

Set the tart pan on a baking sheet. Pour the filling into the dough.

Bake at 350 degrees until the filling is set, 45 to 50 minutes.

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  1. Sally,
    These are absolutely gorgeous photos! Great job! I totally want to figure out how to renovate this. :)

  2. Love your photos! I can almost taste it. Can't wait to try it!

  3. Thanks Stephanie. I think the filling would be nice made with honey instead of sugar. I don't know about the crust: it's kind of all about the butter, but I bet you could use whole wheat or some other kind of flour with olive oil and lots more citrus (and make it sweeter.) It's not a very sweet tart to begin with, so you're at least half way there!

  4. Two of my favorite ingredients: lemons and ricotta! Sounds delicious

  5. I love ricotta tarts. This is lovely.

  6. El, I love YOUR ricotta tart! I'm like a dog with a bone, I had to finish what I started, but was so inspired by your recipe, thanks!

  7. Thank you Sally for the culinary compliments you pay to the Italian people. Somebody here use to say; Italians do it better... :P
    Jokes apart, you're perfectly right: ricotta tart is superb. I buy some at the bakery whenever I can but I hardly make it at home. To tell you the truth, I don't even have a recipe for that, so thank you for posting your version.
    P.S. I didn't know you visited Italy (or maybe you told me but I forgot all about it...): how I'd love you to come again!!
    P.P.S. I'm sorry I was about to miss this post, but I hadn't notice the subscription email. Forgive me!!

  8. Sally, this is a beautiful post, your photos are lovely and helpful! I linked to it on my own post about Argentine-style Tarta de Ricota. Great blog!

    1. Thanks Rebecca--I love your blog about Argentina--thanks for sharing.