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    Recipes: An Italian-style (gluten-free!) cake for Easter

    A thick, flavorful dessert that is both gluten-free and simple to make.

    Bolognese-Style Sweet Rice Cake With Lemon and Raisins (Torta di Riso).
    PHOTO BY ANTHONY TIEULI; FOOD STYLING BY SHEILA JARNES/ENNIS INC.
    Bolognese-style sweet rice cake with lemon and raisins (torta di riso).

    Picking up the plate that holds an Italian-style sweet rice cake, an Easter-season treat typical of the Emilia-Romagna region and its capital, Bologna, dispels any notion that it might be a delicate dessert. With a dense texture and satisfying chew, Torta di Risois a hearty cake without pretense, made from a sweet batter of rice — usually arborio — cooked in milk and mixed with whipped eggs. It’s easy to make, not to mention gluten-free.

    The primary recipe here relies on the common flavorings of vanilla and lemon zest. The variations, one with orange and chocolate and the other with cherries and almonds, demonstrate the cake’s versatility.

    Bolognese-Style Sweet Rice Cake With Lemon and Raisins (Torta di Riso)

    Makes 1 9-inch cake; serves 8 to 12

    If time allows, make this cake a day ahead. The gluten-free cake benefits from an overnight rest in the fridge — the flavor develops and the texture firms up, allowing for neater slices. Return the cake to room temperature to serve.

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    When the rice first starts cooking, the grains can clump; stir often and break up lumps if necessary. Milk tends to foam up if overheated, so keep an eye on the pot and adjust the heat as necessary if you sense a boil-over brewing.

    2/3cup sugar
    2tablespoons finely grated zest, plus 1 tablespoon juice, from 2 large lemons
    5cups milk (not skim)
    Salt
    cups arborio rice
    1cup golden raisins
    3tablespoons dark or amber rum
    1teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    2large eggs, at room temperature
    Confectioner’s sugar, for sprinkling
    Whipped cream, for serving, optional

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    In a small bowl, stir together cup sugar and the lemon zest until moist and fragrant, and set aside.

    In a large saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk to a steamy simmer. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the rice, adjust the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring often and adjusting heat as necessary to keep the mixture from boiling over. Cook until the mixture is creamy and has the consistency of loose rice pudding and the rice is al dente, about 25 to 30 minutes. Stir in the lemon-infused sugar and raisins and set aside, uncovered and off heat, to cool and thicken, stirring often to release steam, at least 45 minutes. When cool, add the rum, vanilla, and lemon juice and stir to incorporate.

    With the rack in the center position, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick baking spray, line the bottom with a round of parchment paper cut to fit, and spray the parchment. Place the prepared pan on a baking sheet and set aside.

    With a hand-held mixer or a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and remaining cup sugar at high speed until pale, thick, and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape the whipped eggs into the rice mixture and, using a flexible spatula, fold to combine thoroughly. Scrape the batter into the springform pan, tap the pan once or twice to help release trapped air, and smooth top if necessary. Bake until the top of the cake is browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 55 to 60 minutes, rotating pan halfway through the baking time.

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    Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Remove the sides of the pan and invert the cake onto a plate. Carefully remove the pan bottom and parchment, and transfer the cake to another plate, inverting it again so it’s now bottom side down. If time allows, cover and refrigerate overnight; return the cake to room temperature if necessary. Just before serving, blot the top dry with paper towels, dust with a thick layer of confectioner’s sugar, and transfer to a serving plate. Serve with whipped cream, if desired.

    TIP: CHILL OUT FOR CHOCOLATE

    If even a trace of heat remains in the rice mixture for the orange-chocolate cake when you add the chocolate, it could melt into the batter, giving the finished cake the look of a giant round brownie. That’s not a disaster — it’ll still taste great — but I prefer the look of distinct chocolate pieces in an otherwise light-colored cake. As a hedge against melting chocolate, refrigerate the rice mixture for 30 to 40 minutes before stirring in the chocolate.
    Anthony Tieuli
    If even a trace of heat remains in the rice mixture for the orange-chocolate cake when you add the chocolate, it could melt into the batter, giving the finished cake the look of a giant round brownie. That’s not a disaster — it’ll still taste great — but I prefer the look of distinct chocolate pieces in an otherwise light-colored cake. As a hedge against melting chocolate, refrigerate the rice mixture for 30 to 40 minutes before stirring in the chocolate.

    Variation: Orange-Chocolate Bolognese-Style Sweet Rice Cake

    Makes 1 9-inch cake; serves 8 to 12

    Follow the recipe for Bolognese-Style Sweet Rice Cake With Lemon and Raisins, making the following changes:

    1) Substitute an equal quantity of finely grated orange zest for the lemon zest.

    2) Omit the lemon juice and raisins.

    3) Substitute 3 tablespoons of thawed orange juice concentrate for the rum.

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    4) After adding the orange juice concentrate and vanilla extract, refrigerate the rice mixture until it takes on a bare chill but doesn’t become too hard, about 30 to 40 minutes (see Tip). Add 1 cup packaged semi- or bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips to the mixture and stir well to distribute them.

    5) Complete the recipe as directed.

    Variation: Almond-Cherry Bolognese-Style Sweet Rice Cake

    Makes 1 9-inch cake; serves 8 to 12

    I serve slices of this cake with both whipped cream and a spoonful of cherry preserves, to echo the flavor the dried cherries. Note that you should reserve about 3 tablespoons of the toasted slivered almonds to garnish the cake.

    Follow the recipe for Bolognese-Style Sweet Rice Cake With Lemon and Raisins, making the following changes:

    1) Omit the lemon zest; add cup unflavored sugar to the warm rice mixture when it finishes cooking.

    2) Substitute cup roughly chopped dried pitted cherries for the raisins.

    3) Decrease the quantity of vanilla extract to ½ teaspoon and replace the lemon juice with ½ teaspoon almond extract.

    4) Toast and cool cup slivered almonds. Reserve about 3 tablespoons and set aside until serving time. Add the remaining toasted almonds to the rice mixture after stirring in the rum and the vanilla and almond extracts. Complete the recipe as directed.

    5) At serving time, after dusting the cake with confectioner’s sugar, sprinkle the reserved almonds attractively on top (maybe just in the center or around the perimeter). Consider garnishing each serving with a spoonful of cherry preserves in addition to whipped cream.

    Adam Ried appears regularly on “America’s Test Kitchen.” Send comments to cooking@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.