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.
Italian Ricotta Cupcakes with Whipped Mascarpone Frosting
This recipe makes 24 cupcakes and ample frosting. It’s easily halved or baked into a two-layer cake. The whipped frosting will firm up in the refrigerator and hold its shape for a few hours at room temperature.
- 2 cups full-fat ricotta
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- Zest of one lemon
- Zest of one orange
- 4 large eggs
- 3 cups flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place paper liners in a 12-cup muffin tin.
Whisk the ricotta, olive oil, sugar, vanilla extract, almond extract, lemon zest, and orange zest together in a large bowl or stand mixer. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until fully incorporated. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl and mix until just combined.
Fill each muffin cup about two-thirds of the way to the top and bake for about 20 minutes, until a tester comes out with just a few crumbs. Allow the cupcakes to cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then until completely cool on a rack. Frost and serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve. The frosting will hold up for a few hours at room temperature.
Whipped Mascarpone Frosting
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 16 ounces mascarpone, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
Beat the mascarpone and powdered sugar together until smooth. Slowly add the whipping cream and beat until the frosting is thick and holds its shape. Add more sugar, if desired. The frosting will firm up in the refrigerator after you frost the cupcakes. If desired, you can refrigerate the frosting for 20 minutes before using it to make it easier to work with.