Naples-Style Lemon Ricotta Cake (Migliaccio)

Naples-Style Lemon Ricotta Cake (Migliaccio)

The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 55 mins
Total: 75 mins
Servings: 8 servings
Yield: 1 9-inch cake
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
509 Calories
12g Fat
91g Carbs
13g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 509
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 12g 16%
Saturated Fat 7g 33%
Cholesterol 121mg 40%
Sodium 87mg 4%
Total Carbohydrate 91g 33%
Dietary Fiber 4g 16%
Total Sugars 59g
Protein 13g
Vitamin C 63mg 313%
Calcium 171mg 13%
Iron 3mg 15%
Potassium 382mg 8%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Carnival (Carnevale in Italian) is a festive season that ends on Fat Tuesday or Martedì grasso. The most famous Italian Carnival celebration, of course, takes place in Venice, while the coastal Tuscan town of Viareggio is known for its elaborate parade floats. 

Each region also has its own special treats for celebrating the holiday, though those most closely associated with Carnevale are often various forms of fried dough (such as cenci), fritters (such as frittelle di riso), or doughnuts (such as bomboloni). Now you can enjoy hot fried dough sprinkled with sugar without deep-frying them in your kitchen.

For others who don't like cleaning up grease spatters and are wondering what to do with a potful of used oil, here's a recipe for migliaccio: a lovely, simple treat traditionally made in Naples during Carnevale time. It's a sort of light cheesecake, known as a ricotta cake or ricotta pie to some Italian Americans. It is delicately flavored with lemon zest and vanilla, like many other Carnevale desserts, but it isn't too heavy or sweet, making it well suited for an afternoon snack (merenda), teatime, or even for breakfast with your cappuccino.

You will need two lemons for this recipe. For one lemon, use a vegetable peeler to create four to five large, wide swaths of zest, being careful to avoid the bitter white pith. With the other lemon, use a fine grater (a Microplane grater works well) to create finely shaved zest.


  • 1 cup whole milk

  • 3 cups water

  • 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter

  • 2 medium lemons, divided and zested (1 lemon into large strips of peel and the other finely grated)

  • 1 1/2 cups (7 ounces) semolina flour

  • 1 cup fresh or homemade ricotta (it should be thick and not at all liquidy)

  • 4 large eggs

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons store-bought or homemade limoncello, optional

  • Confectioners' sugar, as needed for garnish

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Naples-Style Lemon Ricotta Cake (Migliaccio) ingredients

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  2. Butter and flour a 9-inch-round springform pan. Place oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 F.

    Butter and flour a round springform pan

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  3. In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk, water, butter, and large strips of lemon zest just to a simmer.

    Milk, water, butter, and large strips of lemon zest in a saucepan

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  4. As soon as the milk starts to bubble, remove the strips of zest with a slotted spoon or fine-mesh strainer and discard. 

    remove the strips of zest with a fine-mesh strainer in a saucepan

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  5. Sprinkle the semolina flour into the pot gradually, stirring constantly.

    Sprinkle the semolina flour into the mixture in the saucepan

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  6. Reduce the heat to low and continue to stir until the mixture thickens and becomes dense and smooth, like a paste, for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

    Semolina mixture in the saucepan

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  7. In a large mixing bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer), combine the ricotta, eggs, granulated sugar, finely grated lemon zest, vanilla extract, and limoncello (if using). Mix well with a wooden spoon or mixer on medium-low until well blended.

    Combine the ricotta, eggs, granulated sugar, finely grated zest, vanilla extract, and limoncello in a bowl

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  8. Gradually add the semolina mixture to the ricotta mixture, stirring well to create a smooth, creamy mixture without any large lumps (a few small lumps are fine).

    Semolina mixture and ricotta mixture combined in a bowl

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  9. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Smooth the top.

    Ricotta mixture in a prepared pan

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  10. Bake until the cake is firm and the top is golden brown, about 45 to 55 minutes.

    Cheesecake in a pan

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

  11. Let cool completely, then sprinkle lightly with confectioners' sugar before serving. Refrigerate any leftovers.

    Naples-Style Lemon Ricotta Cake (Migliaccio)

    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

Recipe Variations

  • In addition to the optional—but highly recommended—limoncello, you can add chopped candied lemon or orange peel, or raisins.
  • Try using Meyer lemons for a more delicate citrus flavor. 
  • Top this cake off with a berry coulis instead of confectioners' sugar.


  • Semolina flour is made from durum wheat, and the texture is more coarse than all-purpose flour. It's essential to the success of this recipe and should not be substituted with other flours.
  • Be sure to use a thick, non-watery brand of ricotta for this recipe. If your ricotta is watery, spoon it into a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl, and refrigerate for about eight hours. This will help the excess whey drain off.

How to Store and Freeze

Migliaccio can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days. It can also be frozen for up to three months. Slice into individual slices and put in freezer bags for a quick and easy grab-and-thaw dessert.