For soft Italian ricotta cookies, this classic recipe is just what you are looking for. They have a hint of citrus and a sweet frosting glaze with sprinkles just like the traditional Italian cookies I grew up on. This soft-baked cookie recipe makes the best little two-bite ricotta cookies. They are also sometimes called Italian Easter or Christmas cookies and are a part of many family meals.
The ricotta in the cookie recipe makes the most tender dough. They are fluffy, moist, and pillowy. The vanilla and almond extracts add subtle flavor. And like many of the best Italian dessert recipes, the combination of lemon and ricotta is delicious. While they bake the scent of lemon zest and vanilla will fill the kitchen and it will be hard to wait for a bite.
I must admit as a kid I didn't eat a lot of them. Ricotta cookies sometimes had anise in them. Which has a licorice flavor that I am not a fan of. So when they are all on a cookie platter I couldn't tell which had the yummy lemon or which was licorice. So I stayed away and later I learned to make my own. Now they are just the way I like them.
For the best soft-batch Italian cookies, this ricotta cheese recipe is irresistible. Just look how amazingly soft these little guys look on the inside. With lemon, vanilla, and almond extracts, these cookies are the perfect small little bite. A pillowy cookie center with a sweet glaze and topping of round rainbow sprinkles for all things sweet, sticky, and crunchy.
This easy Italian cookie recipe of course calls for ricotta. The soft cheese with a slightly tangy taste is what makes them soft, tender, and tasty. There is no substitute for it so make sure you get a good quality ricotta cheese. You need to use whole milk ricotta, not part skim. The rest of the ingredients you likely already have in your pantry or kitchen.
This is a great recipe to make when you want a cookie without chocolate. It is also the ideal cookie to make ahead of time for parties since they store and remain soft for days. See below for all the best storage, freezing, and make-ahead information for these Italian cookies.
- Salted butter
- Granulated sugar
- Whole milk ricotta cheese
- Lemon - zest & juice
- Vanilla extract
- Almond extract
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Confectioner's sugar
- optional - nonpareils
See the recipe card for quantities. These ingredients include those for the cookie dough & the frosting.
This is a simple one-bowl cookie recipe that whips up in minutes. It does have a short chill time which helps the dough set and ensures you get the classic round ball cookie shape these are famous for. So plan ahead and make sure you start the dough about 2 hours before you want to enjoy fresh-baked frosted ricotta cookies.
It is also best to use room-temperature ingredients. So plan ahead so that the butter is softened and at room temperature. Eggs also mix in easier when they are at room temperature.
Combine the Wet Ingredients
Once you have all your ingredients gathered, it is time to mix up the cookie dough. You will need a large mixing bowl so that all ingredients will fit into it. Add the softened butter and sugar to the bowl. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter with sugar until combined. Do this at low speed and gradually move up to medium speed over a total of 2 minutes.
Next, add the ricotta, lemon zest, and both of the extracts. Beat on low to medium speed with the hand mixer for 30 seconds.
Now it is time to add the egg and beat again for 1 minute. Scrape the sides of the bowl down with a rubber spatula, to be sure all the wet ingredients are blended and smooth.
Add in the Dry Ingredients
Once all the wet ingredients are incorporated, it is time to add the dry ingredients. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Beat to combine for 2 minutes.
Chill the Dough
Cover dough and chill for 1 hour. Once the hour is up it will be a bit firm and easier to scoop. It should also hold its shape so that when it bakes, the round shape retains for the most part.
Scooping & Shaping Round Italian Cookies
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While it is preheating, it is time to prepare the baking sheet and get the cookies scooped.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or spray it with cooking spray. Shape dough into 2 teaspoon size balls. I suggest using a cookie scoop so they are ball-shaped.
If you do not have a cookie scoop, roll 2 teaspoons of dough in your clean hands. You may need to dust them with a VERY tiny bit of flour so they do not stick. DO NOT add too much flour to your hands or it will dry out the cookies. Place them 2 inches apart on baking sheets.
How Long to Bake Ricotta Cookies
Once the ricotta cookies are in the preheated oven, these small balls of dough do not take long to make. Bake them until they are pale golden on the bottom and the tops are set. This takes only 10 minutes.
Once done, use an oven mitt and carefully remove the cookie sheets from the oven. With a spatula, remove cookies from the cooking sheet and onto a wire rack. Let cool completely before dipping into the frosting.
Make the Lemon Icing
While the cookies are cooling, it is time to mix up the frosting. It is more of icing or glaze. The thin consistency perfectly coats the little cookies.
Using a sift, fork, or whisk, break up confectioners’ sugar so there are no big lumps. Add to a small mixing bowl. Then whisk in melted butter, lemon juice, vanilla, and milk to make a thin icing. This will be like a thick sticky glaze and not fluffy like cupcake icing.
How to Frost Ricotta Cookies
Take a cooled cookie one at a time and dip the tops into the icing glaze. Swirl it around to coat most of the top. Let excess drip off back into the bowl. While the glaze frosting is still wet, sprinkle on the nonpareils.
There will be plenty of icing. I had about ⅓ of it left over. It can be stored in an air-tight container in your refrigerator for up to a week to use later. Bring it to room temperature and use it on homemade doughnuts or other recipes.
And save those little sprinkles too. They are the star of my homemade Chocolate Nonpareils Candy.
Once each cookie is glazed and has the sprinkles on, place it back on the wire rack. Let them set up for 5 minutes so the frosting hardens and the nonpareils adhere to it.
Once the lemon icing is set, the cookies are ready to enjoy. These cookies are fantastic as is but even better with coffee, tea, or a glass of dessert wine. Since ricotta cookies are light and fluffy with a lovely frosting, they are almost cake-like. They are a great dessert to go with Pasta al Forno, a wonderful baked rigatoni casserole.
Italian Cookies for Holidays & Parties
These lemon ricotta cookies are traditionally served at Easter. The colorful sprinkles on top are a great pop of color for the Spring holiday. But I love these Italian cookies any time of year. You can change up the color of the sprinkles or glaze. Here are some great ideas for all the time to bake ricotta cookies and make them a holiday or party treat.
- Christmas - use green & red sugar or sprinkles.
- Baby Showers - use pink, blue, or yellow sprinkles
- Wedding Showers - color the glaze to match the colors of the special day
- Tea Parties - use pastel sprinkles for a dainty look
- Kid Parties - have the cookies, frosting, and sprinkles ready on a table and let kids decorate their own ricotta cookies - Messy but FUN & TASTY!
Hint: To color the glaze, add 2 drops of gel food coloring to the frosting ingredients. Stir them together and see if it meets your desired color. Add more gel coloring if you want it darker.
Variations & Substitutions
There are not many substitutions you can make for this soft Italian ricotta cookie recipe. Like most baked goods, the recipe is a bit of a science and all the ingredients need one another to make the recipe work out. However, if you do have some allergies to take into account, here are a few things you can do.
Though there is not much room to make substitutions, you can make variations of these cookies. You can change a bit of the flavoring if you wish.
- Anise - for licorice flavor, omit the almond extract & lemon zest, replace with 1 teaspoon of anise extract
- Citrus - for more citrus flavor, add 2 teaspoons of orange zest
This recipe does not require any fancy equipment. However, basic baking kitchen items like a hand mixer and baking sheets will be needed. I also suggest as noted earlier, to sue a cookie scoop.
Here are the pieces of kitchen equipment I recommend for this recipe. Along with some ingredients as well to make the best soft Italian ricotta cookies.
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Storing & Freezing Ricotta Cookies
Frosted ricotta cookies can be stored in an air-tight container. If stored in a cool dry place such as the pantry or kitchen counter, they will last for up to 5 days.
Ricotta cookies freeze well. I do not suggest freezing the dough like you can for most other cookie recipes. This is because the ricotta in the dough tends to separate a bit and add too much moisture. Therefore, the cookies do not hold their round shape or bake evenly.
To freeze ricotta cookies that have already been baked, do so in a single layer. Once they are solid, after 2-3 hours, place them in a Ziploc bag. Squeeze the air out of the bag and seal it tightly. The cookies will last for up to 3 months.
If you plan to make these ahead of time, do not frost the cookies right away. To keep the cookies looking pretty and the sprinkles not bleeding, frost, and enjoy immediately. You can make the frosting and frost some cookies. Both the frosting and cookies store well separately.
If the frosting becomes too thick after refrigerating, place it on the counter for an hour for it to come to room temperature. Stir often and if needed add a few drops of milk if needed.
Soft Italian Ricotta Cookies
- hand mixer
- Baking Sheets
- cookie scoop
- ½ cup softened salted butter (1 stick)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 8 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
- 2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 egg room temperature
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
Frosting / Lemon Glaze Ingredients
- 2 cup confectioner's sugar
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
- ½ tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup milk
- Nonpareils - rainbow sprinkles
- In a large mixing bowl add the softened butter and sugar. Using an electric hand mixer, cream the butter with sugar until combined, about 2 minutes.
- Add ricotta, lemon zest, and both extracts and beat well. Add the egg and beat again for 1 minute.Scrape the sides of the bowl down with a rubber spatula, to be sure all the wet ingredients are blended and smooth.
- Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Beat to combine for 2 minutes. Cover dough and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray.
- Shape 2 teaspoon size balls of dough into balls. Place 2 inches apart on baking sheets. You can get 12 - 15 cookies on a cookie sheet.
- Place cookies in the preheated oven. Bake until pale golden on the bottom, 10 minutes.
- Once done, use an oven mitt and carefully remove the cookie sheets from the oven. With a spatula, remove cookies from the cooking sheet and onto a wire rack. Let cool completely before dipping into the frosting.
- Make the frosting - Using a sift, fork, or whisk, break up confectioners’ sugar so there are no lumps. Add to a small mixing bowl. Then whisk in melted butter, lemon juice, vanilla, and milk to make a thin icing. This will be like a thick sticky glaze and not fluffy like cupcake icing.
- Take a cooled cookie one at a time and dip the tops into the icing glaze. Swirl it around to coat most of the top. Let excess drip off back into the bowl. While the glaze frosting is still wet, sprinkle on the nonpareils.
- Once each cookie is glazed and has the sprinkles on, place it back on the wire rack. Let them set up for 5 minutes so the frosting hardens and the nonpareils adhere to it.
- Enjoy immediately!
- For storage and freezing instructions - see above. These store well on the counter for up to 5 days. they can also be frozen.
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 2.4g||3%|
|Saturated Fat 1.5g||7%|
|Total Carbohydrate 11g||4%|
|Dietary Fiber 0.2g||1%|
|Total Sugars 6.7g|
|Vitamin D 2mcg||8%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calorie a day is used for general nutrition advice.|