brunch, desserts

monday bites: baci di ricotta (ricotta doughnuts)

It’s unclear where ricotta doughnuts have been all my life; certainly I would have never stayed away this long had I known how amazing they were. Mom, seemingly out of nowhere, began talking about them last Christmas; this is the first time I had ever heard of them. “I have to find Aunt Dottie’s recipe for ricotta doughnuts,”  she said, like it was just some food we were all familiar with. “Mom: what are you talking about?” To which she answered, “Ricotta doughnuts! When Aunt Dottie lived in New York, she used to make them for me when I was visiting and it was cold out. She would fry some up and we’d eat them with hot chocolate. They were so good, Shannon!”

 Yeah, mom; I bet they were. Now, if only my mom had thought to make me ricotta doughnuts and hot chocolate when it was cold out when I was little, instead of holding out on me for over 3 decades. Lesson = learned. I guess I just needed to get moving and make them for myself.

And so I did. Mom’s massive cookbook search last year to find the ricotta doughnut recipe my Aunt Dottie used to make was fruitless, save for one entry: Baci de Ricotta, in my beloved Feast cookbook by Nigella Lawson. We should have known it all along; of course Nigella loves ricotta doughnuts. We never got around to making them, because I was still afraid of frying and mom was probably afraid of me finding out how delicious these were. This year, I’m not as afraid of frying things. I fried up those tortilla strips for that chicken tortilla soup a few months back, so I’m slightly more confident.

Side note: now that I’m thinking about it, chalk that chicken tortilla soup up to “things I could do with my turkey leftovers this Thanksgiving.” It would totally work, and would be a lovely alternative to the usual turkey soup, if you’re into something a little spicy.


Thanksgiving seems to be a time for intermittent snacking. It’s why these doughnuts could be brilliant at your feast this year. More of a dessert doughnut than a breakfast doughnut, they’re pillowy soft and easy to throw in your mouth. They taste deceptively light and floofy, but they are satisfying for even the most epic sweet tooth. In the book, my dear Nigella seems to say that the only drawback to these is taking time out in your kitchen, away from the epicenter of your festivities, to stir together the batter and then fry them up a few at a time. I say hiding out in one’s kitchen for a few minutes of peace during the holidays frying up doughnut balls is like my version of making sand patterns in a zen garden. Relaxing, and a welcome change of pace, if only for a few minutes.

Now, I’m a total frying novice, and still have a healthy dose of fear, so I set up everything and really think it through before I begin. I don’t need to be searching for something while I’m working with flaming hot oil, and neither do you; we need to focus on the task at hand.  The doughnuts fry fast, and there’s not a ton of wiggle room, so here’s how I set up, from left to right:

  • large Dutch oven (on the front right burner)
  • bowl with batter, 2 regular spoons (one for scooping batter, the other for pushing it off into the oil)
  • large dinner plate with several layers of paper towels over top (to drain the finished doughnuts)
  • regular-size fork for flipping doughnuts mid-fry
  • spatula to ease batter in the bowl down together every so often
  • Chinese strainer (the kind that looks like a spiderweb with a long handle)

My setup worked perfectly; once I had established a rhythm with things, it was easy. I think four at a time is the perfect number; once you get the fourth one in, you really should start flipping them around so they don’t darken too much on one side. The book says to let them cook, then flip once, but some actually flip on their own, so I scoop-and-dropped four batter balls, set the two spoons down, grabbed the fork, and began flipping them around and around like little cartoon blowfish. It kept their coloring even and took the guesswork out of it. When they looked finished, I grabbed the strainer and lifted them out, setting them on the paper towel plate to dry off a bit. They were perfect, and no mess was made.

Make no mistake; these are not just fried doughballs. The ricotta cheese really makes them special, so don’t skimp out. Use a good, whole milk ricotta that you like the flavor of, and you’ll be really happy with the results. I loved the powdered sugar on these, for the flavor and that you could do it after all the donuts were done versus trying to powder them as they’re coming out of the fryer. I may try a more beignet-ish application next time and shake them up with a little cinnamon sugar, but I’d reduce the cinnamon a bit inside the doughnut batter first to balance it out a bit.

And there will be a next time, believe me.

If you like to hide in your kitchen during the holidays like I do, even for a few minutes, these are for you. And no one will see you sneak a few off the plate before you stack them up like a tree and take them out to everyone else, either.

Adapted from Feast: Food to Celebrate Life by Nigella Lawson. It’s like the cookbook equivalent of a snuggly blanket.

Ricotta Donuts

  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch or two sea salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

In a medium bowl, add your ricotta and eggs and beat with a whisk until smooth and incorporated. Stir in vanilla.

In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, granulated sugar, and nutmeg.

Add dry ingredients to wet, whisking until a smooth batter is formed and everything looks evenly distributed.

Use this time to set out your frying things. See above for a list and some tips on how to arrange things, or do it the way it seems most comfortable to you.

Fill a large, deep skillet or a Dutch oven (I sometimes prefer the latter because it seems safer) with about 3/4 inch high of vegetable oil. Heat the pan of oil until it’s hot enough to allow a drop of batter to immediately sizzle on contact.

Scoop the batter with a teaspoon, then scoot off into the oil using another teaspoon, working quickly, four at a time. Begin flipping them around from top to bottom as soon as your fourth one is down, being sure to give even exposure to all sides of your doughnut puffs. Wen they turn a deep golden brown, remove them from the pan with your long-handled strainer and set on the paper-toweled plate to cool.

Serve the minute these are done, as they really are best eaten right away. You can pile them up like a weird pyramid like I did, or you can serve them flat on a platter, or jumbled together any which way. If you’re piling them, make sure you sift powdered sugar on each layer so all the little doughnuts are evenly coated. Be generous with your sugar, as these aren’t a super-sweet doughnut.

Makes around 30 doughnuts, but I can’t say how many it would serve. I suppose it depends on who’s got the fastest hands in your gathering.

There’s no “good until” time on these; I observed these like a science experiment, and they really begin to go after a few hours or so. It’s not that they’re not delicious at that point, but rather it’s like eating real doughnuts after they’ve been out for a while – not as wonderful, and a small bit sad because you know what they used to taste like when they were fresh.

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  • Reply Brianne November 12, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Ohhhh, girl. If my momma had kept these a secret from me, I would be so upset. I hate frying things, but the guy is definitely into it. He fried homemade chicken nuggets once! I had to leave the room–the noise and the smells and the OIL ALL OVER EVERYTHING was going to send me over the edge. They were some delicious chicken nuggets, though. The setup you describe makes the idea of me deep frying much more feasible.

    Floof is my new favorite word.

    • Reply shannon November 12, 2012 at 8:09 pm

      can you believe she did that? She’s funny like that; she has this stuff that will just “come up” in conversation that to her is no big deal, but we’re all like “hey! mom! really?”
      homemade chicken nuggets?!?!?! i bet those were crazy good. and yes, also a crazy mess…i HATE cleaning up grease. it’s why i use my big, tall dutch oven for even things that only require an inch of frying oil…way less messy.

      long life “floof.” 🙂

  • Reply Amy @ Elephant Eats November 12, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Oh boy do I need a deep fryer…these look amazing! And I totally love your diagram. Very scientific! 🙂

    • Reply shannon November 12, 2012 at 8:07 pm

      thanks amy! you don’t even need a deep fryer for these! just a dutch oven or a heavy, deep skillet and a few quick prayers to the fryer gods that you won’t sizzle your fingers. So if you get brave, go for it!

  • Reply Jennie @themessybakerblog November 12, 2012 at 11:53 am

    I’ll take a handful of these, oh pretty please! I love how your mom was totally rubbing it in. “Yeah, Shannon, I had these and the’re delicious.” Nah nah boo boo! Glad you found a recipe so you could experience the same blissful ricotta moment.

    • Reply shannon November 12, 2012 at 8:06 pm

      Jennie, she just talks and talks about them like it’s no big deal that she used to eat ricotta doughnuts, like all the time, every day, when it was cold. and i’m sure that dang hot chocolate was homemade and not powder, either. *GRRR* the NERVE.

      she’ll be in town in a few days; i plan to withhold making the ricotta bubbles from her, at least for a little bit.

  • Reply Ashley November 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Ohhhh ricotta donuts! (Yes, I spell donuts the lazy way, oops) I didn’t discover them until a few years ago. Thankfully my mother wasn’t holding out on me; that sounds rotten! I had them in an Italian restaurant where they were flecked with orange zest and served with a melted chocolate/pudding hybrid, like the dipping chocolate that comes with the really good churros in Spain (meaning it is NOT chocolate pudding, but like a ganache that remains melted). Adding spice sounds incredible for making them into holiday snacks! Orange zest and ground clove and cardamom? And hooray for frying! You give me courage to try again, hopefully without the little skitter/dance of fear I did last time.

    • Reply shannon November 12, 2012 at 7:55 pm

      i always feel like the spelling is whatever you’re used to; i always spelled them “doughnuts,” then i tried “donuts” for a while but i switched back. no judgement.
      SHUT UP: i didn’t even think about adding orange zest and dipping them in chocolate! you just blew my mind a little bit with your spice and zest suggestion. i won’t say i’m “stealing” it, but may i borrow that idea if i make these again? pleeeeeeease? 🙂
      and may the confidence fairy visit you in your frying time of need. i wish that for you.

      • Reply Ashley November 13, 2012 at 12:20 pm

        Steal/borrow away, please! You’ll love them!
        And thank you for the frying well-wishes. I’ll report…only if I succeed! ha!

  • Reply mellissa@ibreatheimhungry November 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    First, Yum! Secondly, and this is embarrassing, I was staring at the photo of the unpowdered donuts totally mesmerized! They looked like really fat animals with tiny, legs and tails. I was like “hey I found a cow” and “ooooh look, a llama!” Thanks for the hours of fun, I’ll be back next time I need a break. I know there is a rhino in there somewhere….

    • Reply shannon November 12, 2012 at 7:52 pm

      mellissa, they TOTALLY look like fat animals with tiny appendages! When i was making them, i tried my best to make them round-y, but i couldn’t help but think they reminded me of a really stylized cartoon farm. 🙂 Maybe i should make more and photograph them so we can play a few rounds of “name that doughnut animal.” i think i saw a few penguins in there also…

  • Reply natalie November 12, 2012 at 4:28 pm


    • Reply shannon November 12, 2012 at 7:52 pm

      i love it when you pass out on my comments. 🙂 it’s like my favorite thing.

  • Reply Emma November 15, 2012 at 7:39 am

    This is the only style of doughnut I’ve ever made, albeit without the ricotta, and with the addition of orange zest (like the commenter up above me). The recipe I made also calls for rolling the doughnuts in orange zest-infused sugar. o. m. yum.

    These are the perfect Thanksgiving kitchen hideaway interlude!

    • Reply shannon November 16, 2012 at 6:24 am

      ok, so like with Ashley, i’m stealing these orange-zesty ideas from both of you and making them again. i LOVE orange things. Mom’s here now (in town for the holiday) and she’s demanded i make these for all of us, so the orange suggestions will be included in that batch.

  • Reply movita beaucoup November 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Have I told you that when I open my bakery, I want a huge selection of homemade donuts?

    These will be featured – totes for sure.

    • Reply shannon November 16, 2012 at 6:04 am

      have i told you i would enjoy some sort of “baker at large” position in the bakery? I would. i’ll just fly in from time to time and new doughnuts and other things will just appear. I don’t require a salary as long as you feed me with homemade doughnuts.

  • Reply Kim Bee November 15, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    I always eat the floof first.

    You are a genius.

    An evil, donut genius.

    Just the kind I like!!!

    • Reply shannon November 16, 2012 at 6:01 am

      the floof is the best part.

      love, the evil doughnut genius. 🙂

  • Reply Jen @JuanitasCocina November 16, 2012 at 6:00 am

    I made these last night. Because once I saw them, I was all, “I have to make these.”

    It’s bonded me to you, in a way. Since I have no time for an actual life right now.

    By the way, I totally added the orange zest. But, no chocolate sauce….because, well, you know. But WOW!

    • Reply shannon November 16, 2012 at 4:19 pm

      did you really? you made my thing! YOU MADE MY THING! i am honored…did the fam love them? i hope so.

      i hope you’re getting some sort of break for thanksgiving: i know your fall break has to be now/soonish, and i hope you get a chance to breathe. at least a little bit. sit around in PJ’s. things like that.

      that’s it: i’m making them again, like, today or something, with orange zest. not joking. i can’t keep hearing how awesome it is without doing it. i MUST.

      • Reply Jen @JuanitasCocina November 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm

        I’ve had a request to make them again. And again. And today, there will be chocolate sauce.

        • Reply shannon November 19, 2012 at 5:45 am

          I just made them the other night. No chocolate sauce, but i tried the orange zest thing. WHOA.

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