Naples-Style Lemon Ricotta Cake (Migliaccio)

A Slice of Lemon-Ricotta Cake (Migliaccio)
Danette St. Onge
Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 45 mins
Total: 65 mins
Servings: 8 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
333 Calories
10g Fat
51g Carbs
10g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 333
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 10g 13%
Saturated Fat 5g 27%
Cholesterol 114mg 38%
Sodium 70mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 51g 18%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Protein 10g
Calcium 114mg 9%
*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 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 isn't too heavy or sweet, making it well suited for an afternoon snack (merenda), tea time, or even for breakfast with your cappuccino.


  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 medium lemons (for one, use a vegetable peeler to create four to five large, wide swaths of zest, being careful to avoid the bitter white pith; for the other, use a fine grater [a microplane grater works well] to create finely shaved zest)
  • 1 1/2 cups (or 7 ounces) semolina flour
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta or homemade ricotta (it should be thick and not at all liquidy)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Optional: 1 1/2 teaspoons limoncello (bought or homemade limoncello)
  • Garnish: powdered sugar (as needed for serving)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. With the oven rack in the middle, preheat the oven to 375 F.

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

  4. Sprinkle the semolina into the pot gradually, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and continue to stir until the mixture thickens and becomes dense and smooth, like a paste, one to two minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

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

  6. 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).

  7. Butter and flour a nine-inch round cake pan or springform pan and transfer the mixture to the cake pan. Smooth the top. Bake until the cake is firm and the top is golden brown, about 45 to 55 minutes.

  8. Let cool completely, then sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar before serving. Refrigerate any leftovers.

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 more flavor. 
  • Be sure to use a thick, non-watery brand of ricotta for this recipe. If your ricotta is liquidy, spoon it into a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl, and refrigerate for about 8 hours. This will help the excess whey drain off.
  • 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.
  • Top this cake off with a berry coulis instead of powdered sugar.