Monday, April 13, 2009

Ricotta Cheesecake

I've been meaning to do some baking for a couple of weeks and finally found the perfect opportunity when I was invited to an Easter dinner with my family out on Long Island. I initially planned to do the flourless chocolate cake that I've been planning to try for a while, but after a conversation with my father I decided on a more traditional ricotta cheesecake for this rather traditional Italian Easter. Yes, I know I've made a lot of cheesecakes lately. No, I don't have gout.

The recipe I used is a variation on one found in the wonderful Dolce Italiano by Gina DePalma. Her recipe calls for candied lemon or citron and organge peel, none of which I could find after a pretty thorough search of the better groceries in our neighborhood and beyond. I tried Greene Grape Provisions and Fresh Market as well as stopping by a Whole Foods out on Long Island. No dice! I ended up using some fresh lemon and orange zest in their place and I think it came out great.

Obsessive Ricotta Cheesecake
from Dolce Italiano by Gina DePalma


For the crust:

3/4 cup sliced blanched almonds, toasted and cooled
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
large egg yolk
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick/1 ounce) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the filling:

1 8-ounce package cream cheese
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 cups (30 ounces) fresh whole-milk ricotta
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon amaretto (I didn't have any amaretto, so I used some SoCo instead)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied orange rind (I substituted orange zest)
2 tablespoons finely chopped candied lemon rind or candied citron (I substituted lemon zest)


Preheat the oven to 325°F and position a rack in the middle. Lightly grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter or nonstick cooking spray - I use Pam for baking which is quick and easy.

To make the crust:

Place the almonds, flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and process until the nuts are finely chopped. In a small bowl, lightly whisk together the egg yolk, melted butter, and vanilla extract. Add the liquids to the nut mixture and pulse several times to moisten and combine the ingredients thoroughly. The mixture should come together easily between your fingers when pinched.

To form the crust, press the mixture onto the bottom and about an inch up the sides of the springform pan. Place the pan in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes to firm up the crust, then bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the crust is light golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the crust to cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the filling:

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese with the sugar and salt on medium speed until soft and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the ricotta and beat until the mixture is smooth and light, another 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

Beat in the vanilla extract, amaretto, and cornstarch. Fold in the candied fruits, if desired, with the spatula.

Pour the filling into the cooled crust, smoothing the top with the spatula. Bake the cheesecake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the center is set; it should be jiggly but not liquid. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and allow it to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Chill the cooled cheesecake for at least 4 hours before serving; it is best served fully chilled on the following day. To serve, remove the sides of the springform pan and cut the cheesecake into wedges with a long, thin-bladed knife. Any leftover cake should be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

So that's it! It's relatively simple and exceedingly delicious. A word of warning - mine came out just a tad undercooked, and I had it in the oven a full 5-10 minutes longer than the recipe called for. I'm starting to think my oven's thermometer is a little off, as this has been a bit of a recurring problem for me, so just keep a close eye on the cheesecake as it gets close to finishing.

I can't recommend this one enough - the zest gave it a fresh, citrus flavor that complemented the ricotta perfectly, while the cream cheese makes the whole thing full and creamy.

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