Not every dessert need to be elaborate. I grew up in a world where my mother, of the Rosie-the-Riveter generation, and her friends, all teachers, valued things like a one-bowl cake and the much-vaunted wacky cake. Pies and layer cakes were for special occasions or left to grandmothers who didn't work five days a week. These days, there's more expectation of A Production when it comes to dessert - but that's just another reason to admire Nigella Lawson who somewhere in one of her books has a photo of a platter of brownies piled in a mound, showered with powdered sugar and studded with long, slender candles for a different take on a birthday cake.
This cake isn't quite that dramatic, but it could be. It's a little more work than a pan of brownies, but not much. I found it on Food 52, one of my favorite food-obsessed websites, where it's very popular. Named for an Italian woman from Chianti who showed a reader how to make it, it's a simple one-layer cake that needs nothing, although a drift of powdered sugar or some fruit alongside are lily-gilding possibilities. It's moist, interestingly flavored and textured, and quite craveable. Not terribly sweet, it's a good breakfast cake, too.
The recipe calls for a 9- or 10- inch springform pan. Don't use a 9-inch layer cake pan for this - it almost certainly won't be deep enough if you use all the batter. I used a 10-inch springform, which was fine. Next time, I will line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper so I can slide the cake onto a covered cake plate. The recipe calls for one apple - I used part of a Granny Smith and part of a Fuji because that's what I had on hand. You can grate them in the processor using light pressure or on a box grater's largest holes. If you worry about them browning, and I did, stir them into the ricotta - and by the way, supermarket ricotta worked fine here. If you do that, it's easiest to toss the grated lemon zest into that as well. I also whisked together the dry ingredients, even though the recipe didn't call for it, just because that's my habit.
The recipe originally called for 25 to 30 minutes of baking. Like a great many of the readers who wrote in, mine took longer even though the 10-inch pan makes for a shallower cake, which theoretically should bake faster than a 9-inch pan's contents. I went 38 minutes and it perhaps could have gone a little longer. To my eye, it looks like a cheesecake, that same golden-ness and shape. But it's its own beast and a lovely one at that.
9 Tbs. unsalted butter (1 stick plus 1 Tbs.) , room temperature
1 c. plus 2 Tbs. sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 c. flour
1 Tbs baking powder
1 pinch salt
1 c. ricotta cheese
zest of 1 lemon
1 apple, peeled and grated to give about 1 cup
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 or 10-inch springform pan. Optional: Line the base of the pan with parchment or waxed paper. Put the flour, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl and whisk to mix. In another bowl, stir together the ricotta, apple and lemon zest.
Cream the butter and sugar in a standing mixer until light and fluffy. Drop the beater speed to the lowest possible and add the eggs, one at a time. Scrape the bowl as needed throughout this. Add a third of the flour mixture (you can be casual about this and eyeball it). When it's fairly thoroughly mixed in, add half the ricotta mixture. Add another third of the flour, mix in, add the rest of the ricotta, and then the last of the flour.
Scrape into the prepared pan, smooth the top (moistened fingers may be the preferred tool for this) and bake for 35-40 minutes. The cake should be golden and the sides pulling away from the pan.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes , loosen the sides with a knife and remove the sides. Leave on the bottom if you want to keep it that way, or slide onto the rack if you've used the wax paper, or even invert it, although I think that top's too handsome to have wire marks on.
Serves 6, but as usual, who knows?