I’m always ready to sink my fork into a good slice of cheesecake. The contrast between the creamy filling and crisp crust is irresistible, is it not? Italian Cheesecake is a particular favorite, though I sometimes wonder if the dessert has been misnamed. It is, after all, made with ricotta – and only ricotta – which isn’t a cheese but a creamy curd. Ricotta is made when the hot, leftover whey of milk used for cheese making is reheated, at which point the solid parts are skimmed off and presto! Ricotta. For precisely this reason “ricotta” means “re-cooked.”These are the things I think about on the subway.
This Honey Ricotta Cheesecake is 1/2 ricotta and 1/2 cream cheese, which makes for a dense, luxurious filling that practically melts in your mouth. I made two of these babies for our Passover seder last night and, as you can see from the note below the main photo, went to great lengths to snag a shot before the cheesecakes were completely consumed. Priorities. I got em.
Cheesecake is the perfect Passover dessert, not only because it’s scrumptious but because it’s easily adaptable to the food restrictions that apply throughout the 8 days of Passover – namely, nothing from the five major grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt) is allowed. (Beans and rice are also off limits.) So instead of using a graham cracker or gingersnap crust – the two most common cheesecake crusts – I used ground almonds mixed with a bit of a sugar, butter and almond extract. The result is a crisp, flavorful crust that complements the smooth ricotta-cream cheese filling. Orange blossom honey and orange zest give the filling an extra kick, and if you look closely you’ll be able to see flecks of orange zest throughout the filling – an effect, I think is lovely.
Although this cheesecake takes a while to make – 10 hours from start to finish, most of that time inactive – the process is pretty straightforward. Instead of dry baking it like the Pumpkin Cheesecake I published in October ’08, this cheesecake is baked in a water bath. The water helps it bake slowly and evenly, which prevents the cheesecake from cracking on the top. Cracks happen when the outer edge of the filling bakes faster than the center, causing the filling to rise, then sink, and crack. Here are some more helpful cheesecake tips:
- 1. Make sure your crust is firmly shaped before you bake it. The best way to do this is by tapping the ground almonds into the pan with the bottom of a round glass, then gently rolling the glass against the crust along the sides of the pan.
- 2. Waterproof your pan. Wrap the bottom of your springform pan with 2-3 layers of aluminum foil that is at least 15-inches wide (for a 9-inch pan). Do not under any circumstances attempt to use foil that is thinner than this. No matter how many layers you make, the water will find a way into the foil and will soak the bottom of your crust. I speak from experience.
- 3. Don’t overbake your cheesecake. Cheesecakes are easy to overbake because people want them to be firm to the touch straight out of the oven. However, a cheesecake is actually done when the center is still wobbly. It firms up during the cooling period.
- 4. Don’t skimp on the fat. Reduced fat cheese will prevent the cheesecake from setting properly.
- 5. If a recipe calls for cream cheese, make sure it’s at room temperature before you begin mixing. Cold cream cheese doesn’t blend as well, which will lead to lumpy batter and a batter with too much air in it. This air will cause bubbles to form on the top of your cheesecake while it’s baking – not sexy.
- 6. Allow your cheesecake to chill for several hours before cutting it. I know it’s tempting to dive in after only a few hours have passed, but chilling thoroughly makes a huge difference.
- 7. Use a long, sharp knife with smooth edges to cut your cheesecake. Run it under very hot water first, then dry it off and use a downward motion to cut straight into the cheesecake. When the knife hits the bottom of the pan pull it back towards you, rather than pulling it up and out of the cake. This method all but guarantees picture perfect slices. Run the knife under hot water and dry it off again before each cut.
To those among you celebrating Passover this week, chag sameach! (Hebrew for “Happy Holiday!”) And to everyone else, have an awesome rest of the week.
Honey Ricotta Cheesecake with Almond Crust
Adapted from this Giada DeLaurentis recipe
Ingredients: Makes 1 cheesecake
* Special equipment: aluminum foil that is at least 15 inches wide.
- For the almond crust:
- 2 cups whole unblanched almonds
- 5 tablespoons of sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta, drained
- 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup orange blossom or clover honey
- 1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
- 4 large eggs
For the filling:
Make the crust:
Wrap the outside of your springform pan with 2 heavy duty layers of aluminum foil that are 15 to 18 inches wide. Each layer should be wide and long enough to cover the bottom of the pan without leaving any gaps. You need to create a water-tight seal so that when you bake the cheesecake in hot water none of the liquid seeps into the pan. Test the seal before you proceed with making the crust. You can test it by putting the pan in a large roasting pan filled with water.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a food processor, blend the almonds, sugar and almond extract until the almonds are coarsely chopped. Add unsalted butter and process until almonds are finely chopped. With your hands, press the almond mixture firmly onto the bottom and 2 inches up the side of a 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Fill a small glass (no handle) with coins and use it to gently press the crust onto the bottom and sides, allowing the weight from the coins to do the work for you.
Bake crust until light brown, about 15-20 minutes. Allow the crust to cool in the pan on a rack. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
Make the filling:
In a clean food processor, blend the ricotta until smooth. Add the cream cheese and sugar and blend well, stopping the machine occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Blend in the honey and orange zest. Add the eggs and pulse until just blended.
Pour the mixture into the crust, leaving a bit of room between the top of the filling and the top of the crust. Transfer the springform pan to a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the aluminum foil covered pan. Bake until the cheesecake is golden and the center of the cake moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour and 5 minutes (the cake will become firm when it is cold).
Transfer the cheesecake to a rack to cool for 1 hour. Refrigerate until the cheesecake is cold, at least 8 hours and up to 2 days. Cut the cake into wedges and serve, with whipped cream if desired.
Note: Wrapped first in plastic film then foil, cheesecakes freeze well for up to a month.
// Edit: A couple people have had trouble removing the sides of the springform pan after the cheesecake has chilled overnight. I did not have this problem, but if you do try going around the edges with a thin butter knife before removing the sides. //