Cool, creamy blank canvas for summer desserts: Ricotta-Vanilla Cream

by Terry B on July 8, 2009

Four basic ingredients—ricotta cheese, vanilla, milk and sugar—create a simple, silky, rich base for inventing your own desserts. Recipe and suggestions for experimenting below.


I almost overlooked the recipe that inspired this post. It was tucked quietly into the table of contents pages of the July Gourmet, before you get past all the opening ads and into the big, splashy four-color editorial meat of the magazine. Somehow, that seems appropriate. The ricotta-vanilla cream itself is delicious, but in a very quiet way. It’s made to team up with a host of other flavors, elevating them and offering a creamy counterpoint. Gourmet teamed them with nectarines and pine nut brittle, for example.

We experimented with a couple of different toppings: Fresh peaches and blueberries with lime juice and flavors inspired by one of Marion’s favorite desserts at mado, buffalo ricotta with honey. The fruit worked a little better for us—its slight tartness played against the richness of the cream. But other ideas sprang to mind, even as we sampled these. A slice of pound cake topped with the cream and fresh raspberries. Orange segments [with membranes removed] and shavings of dark chocolate. Even the balsamic peaches from last week, minus the shallots and the pork chops, of course.

Besides being versatile, ricotta-vanilla cream is wonderfully sturdy. Its consistency is not as set as pudding or custard, but it’s not runny either. The recipe calls for freezing it briefly, which I did. But the bowl of extra cream left sitting on the counter was still thick and usable hours later, with no separation or runniness. Honestly, I think the freezing step could be considered optional.

Ricotta-Vanilla Cream
Serves 4 [when toppings are added]

1/2 pound ricotta [1 cup]
1/4 cup whole milk
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 teaspoons sugar

Purée ricotta, milk, vanilla and sugar in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and chill in freezer, stirring halfway through, until slightly thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve—see Kitchen Notes.


Peaches and Blueberries. I sliced up one large peach [about 1/2 pound] and mixed it with about 1 cup of blueberries, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of fresh lime juice. Then I let the fruit macerate for about 15 minutes. About halfway through, taste a peach slice—you may find you want a little more lime juice, to balance the richness of the ricotta-vanilla cream.

Pistachios and Honey. Toast some raw pistachios on a baking sheet for 5 or 6 minutes at 325ºF, stirring once halfway through to avoid burning. You’ll smell them when they’re ready to come out of the oven. Transfer pistachios to plate and cool completely before using. To serve, drizzle cream with honey and sprinkle with pistachios. I would also suggest a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over everything to brighten the taste.

Kitchen Notes

Serve as I say, not as I do. The recipe says it makes four servings. It does, but they will seem alarmingly small. Don’t worry—it’s very rich and should really be considered a base for whatever toppings you devise. In the photo, I served the ricotta-vanilla cream in small bowls. That only allowed for a small serving of fruit topping. Use larger shallow bowls and create a pool or mound of cream in the middle. Then top it with a generous helping of whatever topping you create. When we ate the dessert you see here, we ended up passing the extra peach/blueberry topping around and adding more to our bowls.

Hungry for more cheesy desserts? Mascarpone is an Italian creamy dessert cheese that lends itself beautifully to easy, elegant desserts.


{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

The Kitchenette July 8, 2009 at 3:50 pm

This sort of reminds me of strawberries and cream… except BETTER, because ricotta makes everything better!

Christina July 8, 2009 at 5:09 pm


altadenahiker July 8, 2009 at 7:44 pm

Goes to show, don’t stop reading just because you found the bacon. I didn’t see your earlier post with the publication coup in the Sun Times. Congratulations Terry!

justine July 9, 2009 at 1:53 am

Mmm! This sounds lovely!

Danielle July 9, 2009 at 2:54 am

Homemade ricotta is to die for and has a great recipe that is quick and easy ( One more way to enjoy all these great ideas is with Goat’s milk ricotta. You can also make this yourself if you are lucky enough to find goat’s milk ( or Prairie Fruits Farm sells some at the Green City Market or the Oak Park Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. You may be able to find the limited ricotta at specialty cheese shops like Pastoral too.

Terry B July 9, 2009 at 4:23 am

The Kitchenette—You’re right! If for no other reason, for the silky texture.


Thanks, altadenahiker. And I totally understand—bacon stops me in my tracks too.

Thanks for stopping by, Justine.

Danielle—Thanks for all the tips! And we’re big fans of Pastoral.

Jo Mandel-Cohen July 9, 2009 at 11:01 am

These look really delicious. I am always looking for simple, charming light desserts… I will add these to the try-out list. Thank you!

Alta July 9, 2009 at 12:27 pm

This looks really delicious! And a perfectly simple dessert for summer to boot! I’ve been trying to come up with ideas for all those wonderful peaches that are at peak right now. Yum!

Barbara July 9, 2009 at 5:14 pm

This looks wonderful…I can’t wait to try it (I might even try making my own ricotta as suggested by Danielle). This should work well my current blueberry passion (

Gemma July 9, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Ooh! This caught my eye too. Yours look exquisite.

Terry B July 10, 2009 at 1:33 am

Hope you like it, Jo Mandel-Cohn!

Alta—Peaches really are quite good this year, aren’t they?

Barbara—Looks like you’re having a great time with blueberries! Hope the homemade ricotta works out.

Hi, Gemma!

Toni July 10, 2009 at 3:31 pm

This looks like a great starting point for summer desserts. I’m thinking it would be great poured over any kind of fruit salad as well.

Kim, Ordinary Recipes Made Gourmet July 10, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Terry, you have such a classy site to go with this classy dish! I love it and the new design!!!! ;D

Laura July 12, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Oh be still my heart! God I love ricotta cheese…I’m craving this with some rhubarb compote…

Terry B July 12, 2009 at 11:37 pm

Toni, it’s not really pourable, but more something you spoon over fruit—or better still, place in the bottom of your serving dishes, then spoon the fruit salad over it. And yes, any kind of fruit salad would play nicely with this!

Thanks, Kim! You know, you’re the first to comment on the updated design. When I made the changes a few weeks ago, I was going to write a little something about it, but then just didn’t. Thanks for noticing, though. I like it too.

Welcome back to America, Laura! Do you have anything to declare—other than your love for ricotta, I mean?

Susan from Food Blogga July 14, 2009 at 12:12 am

“Alarmingly small,” huh? OK, I’ll take your word on it.

Gabrielaskitchen July 14, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Oooo! I love what you did. I’ll try it as more decedant alternative to my Whole Milk Cream-Top Yogurt with fruit. Or better yet, I’ll use your serving suggestion of toasted pistachios and honey with my yogurt. Thanks!

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