The other day I met a woman who said she hated cheesecake. Hated. Strong words, certainly, but how is that even possible? I can only chalk it up to a complete lack of exposure to good cheesecake. This I can understand. If your whole perception is Sara Lee, then I feel your pain. My heart weeps for you. A good cheesecake, though illusive, is one of the life’s greatest joys. Nothing comforts more than a big slice or two. It’s a known fact.
There are, I think, two camps of cheesecake styles. On one end of the spectrum, you have the creamy and dense, what I would consider a classic American style cheesecake typically associated with New York and good delis. On the other end lives another kind; a drier, crumblier and not as sweet version found – if you’re lucky – in good Italian bakeries. This is not an absolute grouping by any sense, just a means to codify different types. For a creamy cheesecake, Philadelphia cream cheese is the gold standard, whereas a for the drier kind, a quality whole milk ricotta is nearly always the choice. That being said, I’ve made a lovely creamy version with goat cheese and another drier, tangier version with yogurt. The thought behind that last one was that I could make my favorite treat low fat. And the answer to that question is no. No you cannot. It’s something entirely different.
For me, the ideal is more of a NY style but with a sudden abundance of fresh, homemade ricotta on my hands I decided to try the other type. I do enjoy a well made slice and figured with a handmade ricotta – handmade by me – it could only be better.
And you know what? I was right. This was great – pleasantly dry and slightly crumbly, it wasn’t overly sweet and worked really well with the hibiscus strawberries I made the day before. The key here, and don’t skip this part, is to give the ricotta a good whirl in a food processor to work out some of those curds. This makes it a little smoother and creamier. I’ve made this with both store bought and homemade ricotta and the homemade is far superior. The process is surprisingly easy. Try it.
I had a piece for dessert, then another for breakfast the next day. While nice in the evening, it was a perfect start to the day. I don’t regularly eat breakfast but I might if this was hanging around. This could be the beginning of a major movement – Ricotta Cheesecake for Breakfast! I bet Shepard Fairey could make a helluva poster.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SOLID. This cheesecake is pretty damn good and immensely show-offy if you made the ricotta. Let’s face it. Cheesecake is comfort food for everyone, I don’t care what you say. Even for that woman I met the other day; she just doesn’t know it yet. But she will. A piece of this and she’ll learn. This is the cheesecake you want your Italian grandma to make while your Italian grandfather sprays the garden with toxic chemicals humming O Sole Mio. What? You don’t have those things? Close your eyes and pretend. But first make those berries. Not traditional in any way really, but very good just the same.
On this blog two years ago: Peterson Garden Project
On this blog one years ago: Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie + Lard Pie Crust
RICOTTA CHEESECAKE adapted from Canal House Cooking Vol. 7 – La Dolce Vita
makes one 8” cheesecake
For the crust:
¾ cup vanilla wafer crumbs (about 22 wafers)
2 Tablespoons sugar
good pinch of kosher salt
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
1 pound whole-milk ricotta, preferably homemade (about 2 cups)
½ cup heavy cream
3 large eggs, separated
¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ Tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
zest of 1 lemon
2 Tablespoons dark rum
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
- Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position.
- For the crust: in a small bowl, combine the amaretti crumbs and butter until well mixed.
- Press the crumb mixture firmly into the bottom of an 8” springform pan.
- Bake until the crust is set and the edges are golden brown, about 8-12 minutes. Let cool completely.
- Increase temperature to 375°F.
- For the filling: for the ricotta, discard any liquid that’s accumulated and place the ricotta and cream in a food processor, pulsing until smooth.
- In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks, sugar and salt until thick and pale, about 4-5 minutes.
- With the mixer on medium, beat in the ricotta, flour, rum, lemon zest and vanilla until well blended but taking care not to overbeat.
- In a separate clean bowl beat the egg whites and salt with the whisk attachment until they hold soft peaks, about 3-4 minutes.
- In three additions, gently fold the whites into the ricotta mixture until just blended.
- Pour the mixture over the crust in the springform pan.
- Bake in the middle of oven for about 1 hour, until cake is puffed and golden and a tester inserted 1” from center comes out clean.
- Run a knife around top edge of cake to loosen and cool completely in pan on rack. (If you don’t losen the top, there’s a chance the edges will stick and cause cracks as the cake cools and collapses.)
- Chill, loosely covered, at least 4 hours.
- Remove side of pan and transfer cake to a plate. Bring to room temperature before serving.