Migliaccio, or Italian ricotta cake, is a classic dessert known for being served at Carnevale in the weeks leading up to Easter.
This custard-filled treat originated in Naples and got its name Migliaccio because it's originally made with miglio (millet), which is an ancient whole grain grown in various areas throughout the world. It can be expensive and hard to find, so the cake started being made with semolina instead. Technically, it's a semolaccio cake!
The flavor of migliaccio mimics pastiera napoletana, as a few of the key ingredients are lemon, orange, and vanilla. However, it's a lot less work!
Many people compare migliaccio to cheesecake, although it is lighter and has a more delicate flavor. Compared to other desserts served at Carnevale, migliaccio is not as heavy or sweet, so it makes a great snack or breakfast treat.
🎭 What is carnevale?
Carnevale, or Carnival, is a faith-based festival held by various countries to celebrate catholicism. It always takes place during the Easter season sometime in February or March, depending on when the holiday falls from year to year.
This celebration is two weeks long, often recognized as one of the biggest holidays of the year. It starts two weeks before Lent and ends on Shrove Tuesday.
At Carnevale, there are activities like games, plays, and music. Children often dress up in costumes and attend the festival with their families, which is typically held in public squares. One of the most important parts of Carnevale is the food--one of the popular dishes served being migliaccio!
🍊 Why you should make Migliaccio
Here's why you should be making the popular Carnival treat migliaccio:
- It's easy to make. Compared to other desserts, this one has no crust, making it super simple and no-fuss.
- You can make it ahead. This cake can be stored in the fridge or freezer. In fact, it tastes better the longer it sits, so you can make it well in advance.
- It's tasty. The lemon and orange zest, along with the vanilla flavors, are what makes migliaccio absolutely delicious! Not to mention the unique texture that it has from the semolina.
🧈 Ingredients list
- Whole milk and butter: Adds creaminess to the cake batter.
- Salt: helps enhance the flavor of the other ingredients in the recipe.
- Vanilla bean, lemon peel, and orange peel: The key ingredients that add a boost of flavor to Italian ricotta cake.
- Semolina: a type of flour made from durum wheat; used instead of millet.
- Eggs: you'll need 6 eggs for this recipe, which provide structure for the migliaccio.
- Ricotta: another key ingredient that makes the cake extra creamy, moist, and flavorful.
- Sugar: you'll need 1 ½ cups of granulated sugar to add flavor.
- Limoncello: an Italian liquor made from the zest of lemons, sugar, water, and alcohol (usually vodka). It's optional in this recipe but can add some extra flavor.
- Powdered sugar: just a little powdered sugar is needed at the end for dusting.
📋 How to make migliaccio - step by step
Preheat oven + heat ingredients in a pan: Start by preheating your oven to 355 degrees F. In a large saucepan or medium-sized pot, over medium heat, heat the milk, lemon peel, orange peel, butter, salt, and deseeded vanilla bean. Heat the ingredients until just before they come to a boil. Remove the lemon, orange peel, and vanilla bean.
Add the semolina to the pan: Turn the heat down to low, then add in the semolina. Stir for about 4-5 minutes until thickened. It should be the consistency of creamy oatmeal. Pour into a bowl and set aside to cool.
Make the ricotta mixture: In a small bowl, with your hands, mix together the seeds from the vanilla bean and granulated sugar. In a large bowl, with a hand mixer or KitchenAid stand mixer, whisk together the eggs and vanilla sugar until light in color and creamy--this will take a few minutes. Add in the ricotta and limoncello if using. Whisk again until well incorporated.
Mix in semolina mixture: Add in the semolina mixture a bit at a time, and continue whisking until well incorporated.
Bake the cake: Butter a springform pan. Pour the mixture into the pan. Bake for approximately 1 hour. By the time you remove the cake from the oven, it will still be a bit jiggly in the center. This is normal and it will stiffen as it sits.
Serve the cake: Allow the migliaccio to come to room temperature. Remove it from the springform pan. Top with powdered sugar and enjoy!
The original ingredient used to make migliaccio is miglio, or millet, which is an ancient whole grain. This is what migliaccio was named after. However, since millet tends to be expensive, the ingredient is often replaced with semolina, a type of flour made from durum wheat. Migliaccio is sometimes called "semolina cake" for this reason.
Semolina is a type of flour made from durum wheat. It has a coarse texture with a pale-yellow color once it is milled. Common grain-based foods like pasta, couscous, and a variety of desserts and breads are made from semolina.
The durum wheat used to make semolina is coarser than regular flour, which is the main difference. Semolina also differs in color from traditional flour--it appears darker with a golden hue from the durum wheat.
No, semolina and cornmeal are not the same thing. Cornmeal is made from corn, while semolina is made from durum wheat.
♨️ How to store
If you have leftover Italian ricotta cake, it is quite easy to store. Here's how to maintain its quality in the fridge or freezer:
- In the fridge: Keep the cake in the fridge with some sort of covering like saran wrap, to prevent it from drying it. It will last for about a week in the fridge.
- In the freezer: Migliaccio can be kept in the freezer for up to 3 months. When you're ready to eat it, thaw it out in the fridge.
🍰 More italian dessert recipes
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Migliaccio - Italian Ricotta and Semolina Cake
Migliaccio, or Italian ricotta and semolina cake, is a classic dessert known for being served at Carnevale in the weeks leading up to Easter.
- 1 litre whole milk
- 3.5 tbsp (50g) unsalted butter
- pinch of salt
- 1 vanilla bean deseeded, see notes
- 1 lemon peel
- 1 orange peel
- 1 ⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon (250g) semolina
- 6 large eggs
- 1 ⅓ cup ricotta
- 1 ½ cups (310g) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoon limoncello optional
- powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 355F.
In a large saucepan or medium sized pot, over medium heat, heat the milk, lemon peel, orange peel, butter, salt and deseeded vanilla bean.
Heat the ingredients until just before they come to a boil. Remove the lemon. orange peel and vanilla bean. Turn the heat down to low, and add in the semolina.
Stir for about 4-5 minutes until thickened. It should be the consistency of creamy oatmeal.
Pour into a bowl and set aside to cool.
In a small bowl, with your hands mix together the seeds from the vanilla bean and granulated sugar.
In a large bowl, with a hand mixer or KitchenAid stand mixer, whisk together the eggs and vanilla sugar until light in color and creamy - this will take a few minutes.
Add in the ricotta and limoncello if using. Whisk again until well incorporated.
Add in the semolina mixture a bit at a time, and continue whisking until well incorporated.
Butter a spring form pan. Pour the mixture into the pan.
Bake for approximately 1 hour. By the time you remove the cake from the oven, it will still be a bit jiggly in the centre - this is normal and it will stiffen as it sits.
Let it come to room temperature. Remove from the spring form pan. Top with powdered sugar and enjoy!
- You can drain the ricotta if you'd like but it's not necessary. If you don't drain it, cake will be slightly softer (not a bad thing!)
- If you prefer to use vanilla extract as opposed to a vanilla bean, omit putting vanilla extract in the milk, and add 2tsp of extract when adding the ricotta.
- Semolina is recommended for this recipe. But if you have semola rimacinata on hand, you can use that as well. It is ground finer than semolina, so it may not be as noticeable in the final product.