Italian ricotta cookies are a classic cookie favorite! This soft and moist ricotta cookie recipe is flavored with almond extract and lemon juice and zest for a bright flavor, and topped with a simple almond-flavored glaze.
These Italian ricotta cookies have been a long time in the making!
Like so many Italian cookies, they’re a delicacy I happily ate throughout my childhood. However each time I made them as an adult I felt that they weren’t quite as I remembered them.
Too flat and moist, too lemon-y, not lemon-y enough…let’s just say the number of ricotta cookie batches I’ve made this year falls between five and ten.
These, though? Ricotta cookie perfection.
What are Ricotta Cookies?
If you’re not too familiar with baking with ricotta, don’t be hesitant. It’s a staple in savory pasta dishes like lasagna and baked ziti with meatballs, but is just as versatile in sweet recipes.
Ricotta adds moisture and a slightly spongy and cake-like quality to cookies. Frequently paired in recipes with citrus flavors (like lemon ricotta muffins), it does not make baked goods taste like cheese at all.
Traditionally glazed and topped with nonpareil sprinkles, Italian ricotta cookies are often made around holidays such as Christmas and Easter.
Why This Recipe Works
- Some ricotta cookies feature lemon flavoring, while others go with almond. This recipe doesn’t make you choose and instead uses a delicious balance of lemon juice, zest, and almond extract. All these flavors mesh REALLY well.
- Worried about ricotta cookies that fall flat? This recipe builds in plenty of chill time and features tips and tricks to ensure they rise up nicely, every time. No flat, pancake-like cookies here.
- Ricotta cheese: I prefer whole milk ricotta for these lemon ricotta cookies. While you could use part-skim and the recipe would work, the extra fat from the whole milk variety adds a more rich feel to these cookies that is extra enjoyable in a dessert.
- Butter: Butter is properly softened when you can press the stick with gentle pressure and your finger leaves a small indent. Take the butter out of the fridge an hour or two before you plan to begin baking, placing it near a running appliance like a dishwasher, oven, or coffee pot to speed the process up.
- Flour: Be sure to measure flour using the “spoon-and-level” method, detailed in the recipe card. This prevents excess flour from inadvertently making its way into the recipe, which can lead to drier baked goods.
- Lemon juice/zest: It’s easier to zest the lemon first (so you have something solid to hold onto), and then juice it.
- Almond extract: The almond flavoring is not overwhelming, but if you know you’re not a fan of it you can replace the almond extract in the dough and glaze with equal amounts of vanilla extract.
- Cream together the softened butter and sugar. This means using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer (or just the regular beaters on a hand mixer) and mixing it on medium to medium-high speed for two minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. Look for the mixture to have lightened in color a bit and become creamy and fluffed up.
- Mix in the egg until combined.
- Add the ricotta, lemon juice and zest, and almond and vanilla extracts and mix well until everything is evenly combined.
- Add your dry ingredients to a separate mixing bowl: flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Add the dry ingredients to the bowl of wet ingredients in three increments, mixing each in until just combined.
- Once the dough is all mixed together, you’ll notice that the consistency is thick. Very thick! Look for it to be moist but not too wet or too sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least 8 hours, but longer (like overnight) works, too.
- Once thoroughly chilled, form about one-and-a-half tablespoons of dough into a ball and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Bake at 350°F/177°C for around 15 minutes, or until the tops have set and the bottoms are just turning golden- brown. Let them cool for 15 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely before glazing.
Ricotta Cookie Glaze
- Whisk together the glaze ingredients in a bowl until smooth: confectioners’ sugar, milk, and almond extract. Spoon glaze over top of the cookies and decorate with nonpareils.
While some ricotta cookie varieties carry on the citrus theme with a lemon-flavored glaze, I prefer adding a simple almond glaze to these lemon ricotta cookies. Reason being that lemon and almond flavors complement one another in a nice balance, and while I love lemon-flavored desserts, I’ve found there is such a thing as overdoing it with the lemon.
Though you can always add more or less milk to get a thicker or thinner glaze, as written three tablespoons of milk result in a glaze that can be spooned over top of the cookies and will drip down the sides with just a little nudge from the spoon.
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Since chilled dough is best, keep the remaining dough in the refrigerator if you’re baking ricotta cookies in multiple batches. Don’t scoop out cookies and leave them out at room temperature while another batch or batches bake as you’ll risk them warming up too much.
- On that note, use a fresh cookie sheet to bake each batch. Used ones will be too warm and can risk spreading.
- This Italian ricotta cookie recipe can be doubled to use a full 15-ounce container of ricotta cheese. However as written with half of a container this recipe yields about thirty-four cookies, which I find to be more than enough for many occasions.
- I like to repurpose the used parchment paper by placing it underneath the wire racks while glazing the cookies. Easier clean up that way!
- Rainbow nonpareils are a classic decoration fit for any time of year, but the mix of red/green/white nonpareils are a fun way to switch it up at Christmastime.
Yes. All of the added moisture from the ricotta cheese, which delivers a soft and tender cookie at the end, can lead to cookies that flatten out like pancakes during their short stint in the oven if the dough isn’t chilled enough. I’ve experimented with chill times and recommend refrigerating the dough for at least eight hours, or even overnight.
Yes, but with conditions. If you’re looking to save time, you can bake the Italian ricotta cookies and freeze them without the icing. Then once thawed completely, you can ice and decorate them as you like.
The issue comes from using rainbow nonpareils. After a day or two, the color begins to bleed from the nonpareils and melts into the glaze. While these cookies wouldn’t be the most photogenic if that happens, they’d still obviously taste delicious and be perfectly edible.
Even if you’re not freezing them, my suggestion is to ice and add the sprinkles shortly before you intend to serve them. Or, of course, you can simply ice them and not add sprinkles, or use white nonpareils instead of rainbow. Many options to make these ricotta cookies work for you.
Store cookies in an air-tight container for several days with a sheet of parchment or wax paper between layers to prevent the glaze from sticking to other cookies.
Unfortunately ricotta cookies aren’t good cookies for mailing around the holidays. While they’re not delicate, they stay moist and by the time they reach your recipient the glaze will likely be crinkled with streaks of rainbow coloring from the nonpareils.
P.S. If you’re thinking that these cookies look familiar…well, you’re not wrong. These look very, very similar to Italian anise cookies, a beloved family recipe of mine and a reader favorite, as well. With how often I make both of these cookies, I think I’ll forever be finding tiny nonpareils in all the little crevices in my kitchen.
If you’ve enjoyed this recipe, I’d love for you to leave a star rating in the recipe card and/or a comment review below!
Italian Ricotta Cookies
For the Cookies:
- ½ cup (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 7.5 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest (from about one lemon)
- ¾ teaspoon almond extract
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
For the Glaze:
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 3 Tablespoons milk, any variety (I used 2%)
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- Rainbow nonpareils
- Using an electric mixer on medium to medium-high speed, cream together softened butter and sugar in a mixing bowl for around 2 minutes, or until slightly fluffy and smooth. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Add the egg and beat in until combined. Add the ricotta cheese (drained of excess moisture if your ricotta is on the watery side, see note), lemon juice and zest, vanilla extract, and almond extract and mix well until all of the ingredients are evenly combined.
- To a separate bowl, add the flour, baking powder, and salt and whisk thoroughly. Add the flour mixture to the bowl with the wet ingredients in 3 increments, beating until just mixed in each time. Take care not to overmix.
- Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least 8 hours, ideally overnight.
- Once the cookie dough has chilled, preheat oven to 350°F. Line large baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Using a 1-1/2 Tablespoon capacity cookie scoop, scoop cookies and very briefly roll them between your palms to form a sphere. Place cookies about 2 inches apart on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Keep the remaining cookie dough in the refrigerator if you're baking them in multiple batches.
- Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until the bottoms are just browning and the tops are fairly firm and spring back when lightly pressed. Let cookies cool on the baking sheets for 15-20 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Once the cookies are completely cooled, add confectioners' sugar, milk, and almond extract to a bowl and whisk until smooth. Spoon glaze over each cookie, then top with nonpareils.
- Let the glaze harden completely before serving/storing in an air-tight container with parchment or wax paper between layers to prevent sticking.
- Use a fresh (room temperature) cookie sheet to bake each batch of cookies. The residual warmth from used sheets can cause excess spreading and flatter cookies.
- Swapping in a red/white/green nonpareil mix for the rainbows is extra festive around the holidays.
- After a few days, the rainbow nonpareils will bleed into the icing. If you want these cookies to be photogenic until the last one is eaten, 1) ice and decorate the cookies within a day or so of serving, 2) ice the cookies but use white nonpareils, or 3) ice the cookies and don’t add sprinkles.
- Glaze inactive time: The glaze should harden within about an hour.
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate. As it can vary due to many factors (brands used, quantities, etc.), we cannot guarantee its accuracy.Food Safety and Nutrition Disclaimer