I’m hoping this Lemon Ricotta Crumb Cake sticks out from the myriad of back to school snacks, pumpkin and apple treats that are so popular this time of year.
Is there a season for lemons? I get the taste for citrus in the winter months…hmmm…and I guess in the spring and definitely in the summer too. Probably not in the fall so much? Nah…Who am I kidding? I’d never turn down a lemon treat (especially a good lemon square :) I suppose I’m always in the mood for lemons.
I mean, is there anything better than a spoonful of buttery lemon curd? How about swirling it up with some whipped cream and topping some gingerbread pancakes with it? Or, how about Lemon Souffle Pudding Cakes or Lemon Lime Cream Slab Pie? (Answer key: no, yes, yes, YES!)
This Lemon Ricotta Crumb Cake was inspired by some Lemony Sunshine Cupcakes that I made from @mixandmeasure. The cupcakes had a shortbread cookie crumb topping that was just delicious. After eating those cupcakes, I wanted to make a lemon crumb cake. I had already been thinking about posting something with lemon and ricotta. I thought about scones or pancakes, but settled on this crumb cake.
I’ve been testing this cake throughout the summer. I went through three or four trials. First I needed to get the cake texture just right. I played around with different ratios of butter and ricotta. I know I’m being picky when the feedback on every combination came back great. So, I picked my favorite, and moved on to figuring out the crumb topping.
I knew I wanted a light crumb, in other words, not that thick yummy kind that you get on top of a New York crumb cake or the streusel kind that has oats and nuts in it. I really wanted a crumb that is like the lemon cream crumb cakes you get in some restaurants. Then I found out that the way you achieve that crumb is not to cook it. Eating uncooked flour doesn’t fly as an option for me so I moved on.
I tried some lighter options that simply turned out too crispy for me. And then, I remembered those lemon cupcakes I made with the shortbread crumb topping! (Seriously? They were my inspiration to begin with. How could I forget?) Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! You can’t beat the taste of a buttery shortbread cookie. I used Walker’s shortbread cookies. They are slightly more expensive than other brands, but their ingredient list is simple: just butter, flour, sugar and salt. Interestingly enough, some other brands don’t even have butter listed as an ingredient! What’s the point of shortbread without butter?
I just processed them with a bit of butter and sugar and we were on our way to a heavenly crumb topping! Then, I let the cake bake for a bit, removed it from the oven and added the crumbs to the top; I wanted their baking time to be less than the cake time so that they wouldn’t get too crispy. Then the now crumb topped cake went back into the oven to finish baking.
The cake is just lightly flavored with lemon. I mixed up the zest and sugar first, which helped release more of that wonderful lemon flavor. It smells so fresh and delicious as you’re mixing it up. For an extra boost of lemon flavor, I would add a tablespoon of lemon juice powder, but I realize that it’s not a staple in most people’s pantries so I shied away from it. (It’s on my list of King Arthur Flour Favorites too!)
This Lemon Ricotta Crumb Cake has a velvety texture and the flavor is rich and smooth. The buttery crumb topping is so delicious that you’ll be chasing the ones that got away. (My kids were fighting over the crumbs that fell off in the pan while serving.) It’s a perfect cake to serve as a breakfast treat, lovely with afternoon tea and delicious as a simple dessert after dinner. It’s a cake you can make any time of year, because for me?
Lemons are always in season :)
Lemon Ricotta Crumb Cake
- 3/4 cup sugar
- zest from 1 large lemon about 1 loose Tablespoon
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- juice from one large lemon
- skim milk or your milk of choice
- 3/4 cup part skim ricotta cheese
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup 1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
For the crumb topping:
- 1 5.3 ounce box Walker's Shortbread Cookies
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter cut into cubes
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease or spray a 9" square baking pan. Set aside. Adjust oven rack to one step down from the middle of the oven.
In a large mixing bowl use an electric mixer to combine sugar and lemon zest for about 30 seconds. You should smell the lemon fragrance release as you're mixing.
Add the rest of the dry ingredients, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix for another 30 seconds.
Juice the lemon over a strainer into a glass measuring cup. Add enough milk to make 1/2 cup. (I had just a little less than 1/4 cup of lemon juice from my lemon.)
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the ricotta, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Add the lemon/milk mixture and the melted butter. Whisk until well combined.
Add the ricotta mixture to the dry ingredients and stir just until combined. (I switch to a spatula for this part.)
Spread evenly in prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes.
While cake is baking, break up shortbread cookies and place in the bowl of a food processor. Add butter and sugar. Process until fully combined and you have finely ground crumbs.
Remove the cake from the oven after 15 minutes and sprinkle crumbs evenly over top.
Return cake to oven and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with just a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool on a baking rack. Cut and serve.
*You don't have to use a mixer for this recipe. You can rub the lemon zest into your sugar with your finger tips, then whisk the rest of the dry ingredients into the sugar.
*If you like to experiment, you can try these options. For a slightly fluffier cake, reduce butter to 6 Tablespoons. Richer and denser cake? Increase ricotta to 1 cup.
*I'm also going to try putting the crumbs on before baking to find out if they can hold up to the full baking time. I want to see if I can eliminate that intermediate step. If I do try that, I'll report back.
*I love lemon juice powder. It adds such a burst of lemon flavor. If you have it, I would add a tablespoon to the dry ingredients.
*Store cake at room temperature, lightly covered.
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