Neapolitan Easter Cake (Pastiera Napoletana) Recipe

Pastiera Napoletana - Neapolitan Easter Cake
Charlotte Tolhurst/Getty Images
  • 55 mins
  • Prep: 15 mins,
  • Cook: 40 mins
  • Yield: One 8-inch cake (8-10 Servings)

This is our version of a wonderful ricotta cake, flavored with orange-flower water, that we first learned how to make from a friend in Florence. It was the perfect "light and easy" adaptation of the traditional Easter cake from Naples—pastiera, which is heavier, includes wheat berries, has a thin pastry crust bottom and lattice top...and takes three to six days to make! (Note that the version shown in the photo has the top and bottom crust, but this one will not, and will look more like the migliaccio cake, another crustless Neapolitan ricotta, and semolina dessert).

The wheat berries of the original version were apparently used as they are symbols of fertility used to adorn Jesus's tomb in the days before Easter.

For those who are not fans of dense cakes with sickly sweet frosting, this is a perfect dessert: light, creamy, and delicately perfumed. A nice tea time snack, spring dessert, or even breakfast—with an espresso or cappuccino, of course.

If you are not a fan of raisins or candied fruit in your desserts, feel free to omit them. Or you can try Migliaccio, a similar Neapolitan cake made with ricotta, semolina flour, and lemons!

What You'll Need

  • 2 cups of water
  • Pinch of fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (90 grams) of semolina flour
  • 1 cup (180 grams) of sugar (granulated)
  • 1 cup (9 ounces/250 grams) of fresh ricotta
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) of butter (unsalted, softened)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons orange flower water (this is often sold in Middle Eastern or Italian markets)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup/50 grams raisins (softened in warm water for 10-15 minutes)
  • 1/4 cup/40 grams of candied orange peel
  • Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Garnish: powdered sugar (for dusting)

How to Make It

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C).
  2. Bring the water and salt to boil over high heat in a medium saucepan. Add the semolina, stirring well with a wooden spoon to avoid the formation of lumps.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thickened and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the semolina mixture from heat and transfer to a mixing bowl. 
  4. Add the sugar and mix well. Then add the ricotta, the butter, the egg, orange-flower water, and the vanilla, mixing well after each addition to form a homogenous batter. 
  1. Finally, add the raisins (previously soaked and drained), the candied orange peel and the lemon zest. 
  2. Transfer to a greased 8-inch round springform cake pan. Bake until top is lightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely before unmolding from the pan. Dust top lightly with powdered sugar before serving. 
  3. You can store the cake in the fridge for a day or two; remove it from the fridge at least a half hour before serving to let it come back to room temperature (if you plan to store it before serving, wait until removing it from refrigeration to dust it with the powdered sugar).