Don’t be fooled by the vanilla — so to speak — appearance of these cupcakes. Your first hint that something else is going on is right there in the title. Ricotta cupcakes and mascarpone frosting. What could be bad about cheese on cheese in cupcake form? Ricotta and olive oil make the cake rich but light, with a delicate crumb. Mascarpone is whipped with heavy cream into thick clouds. It’s like a slightly richer, sturdier whipped cream.
But it’s not just the combination of decadent dairy products that really gets me. I’ve been experimenting with the amazing combination of vanilla extract, almond extract, lemon zest, and orange zest. It’s my own approximation of Fiori di Sicilia — literally, Flowers of Sicily — an extract I came across a few months ago. I’d never heard of it and the internet seems a bit confused about whether Italians actually use it, but the combination of flavors and scents sounds similar to that in Italian baked goods like panettone and sfogliatelle.
I immediately thought it would be perfect in simple, soft ricotta cookies. I was right and I became obsessed with the combination. I decided to use it in this batch of cupcakes for my birthday a few weeks ago. There was a backyard barbeque that went a little late and spilled into a house party, complete with a second round of grilling and fantastic grilled steak tacos. (Tip: When a friend says he’s always wanted to have a late-night taco stand at a party, be as encouraging as possible.)
In all the excitement, only some of the cupcakes ended up getting frosted and there was no formal dessert presentation. I wasn’t even sure anyone had eaten them until I found the mostly-empty pan in the kitchen. Luckily, I had made a special mini-layer cake that my co-birthday girl, Danielle, and I ate while lounging in the backyard, waiting for our friends to come back from shopping for ingredients for dinner….