I know many people who aren’t the biggest cheesecake fans, and personally, I never really fell in love with it either. They (generally New York cheesecakes) were always a little too rich, too dense for my taste. That all changed when in Italy, a waiter highly recommended their cheesecake to us. I originally wanted to go for the tiramisu (it seemed a lot more Italian to me than cheesecake), but thank god I listened to the waiter. The cheesecake was light, with a fluffy but smooth texture, unlike anything I’d had before. I immediately
demanded kindly asked our waiter what the cheesecake was made of, and he told me “ricotta”.
So that was the secret. Ricotta cheese. Here I was, thinking cream cheese was the only way to make cheesecake.
That was two years ago. Up until know, I’d never successfully made a cheesecake (nor had one) like the one in Italy. I had tried making a cheesecake with store-bought ricotta in place of cream cheese – it turned out dense, wet, and grainy. I tried beating the egg whites. Nothing worked and I was still here without my cheesecake. On a trip to New York, I made sure to pay a visit to Veniero’s, whom I heard made a killer ricotta cheesecake. On the day of, I was so excited I got cheesecake for breakfast. Yes, for breakfast. And it was a horrible let down. Like the cheesecakes I made, it was wet and grainy, and had none of the light fluffiness the Italian cheesecake had.
At this point, I thought my only option was to fly back over to Italy and demand the waiter give me the recipe. Per favore. But before such drastic action was taken, I thought back to the store-bought ricotta. The ricotta itself was grainy. Instead of using store-bought ricotta, I tried the cheesecake again using homemade ricotta (which is incredibly easy) and voila, out of the oven came this large, fluffy, cheesecake. Sure, it shrank a little coming out, and the surface was covered with cracks, but it was glorious in my eyes. And it tasted even fluffier than it looked (if you haven’t noticed, fluffy is the keyword here). Finally, after two long years, I was reunited. And that darn store-bought ricotta has been at fault all along – Veniero’s, take note.
Ricotta Cheese, adapted from the Smitten Kitchen
Makes 1 cup of ricotta
3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice or white vinegar
1. In a saucepan, mix the milk, heavy cream, and salt. While continually stirring, bring the milk up to 185 F. The milk should be almost simmering.
2. Remove the pan off the heat, and add in the lemon juice/vinegar. Stir to mix, then let the mixture sit for a couple minutes. You should be able to see the cheese curds and whey separate (and if this is your first time making cheese – I know, I felt like I belonged in the Swiss Alps, yodeling and herding cows up the mountains, too).
3. Line a colander or bowl with cheesecloth, and pour in the mixture. Strain out the whey by either letting it sit in the colander for about an hour or so (if you’re using a colander), or hang up the cheese curds by the ends of the cheesecloth and let gravity do it’s work. I made a contraption out of a fishing pole and two chairs, with a bowl underneath the cheese to catch the whey. It should be the right consistency in about 1-1.5 hours. Now, you can either eat this ricotta (I wouldn’t blame you if you did), or you can go ahead and make the cheesecake, which I highly recommend. If not using the ricotta immediately, store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.
Makes 1 8-inch cheesecake
1 package cream cheese (8 ounces), room temperature
8 ounces ricotta cheese, room temperature
4 eggs, separated and at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
Preheat oven to 350 F
1. In a mixer using the paddle attachment, cream together the ricotta and cream cheese until smooth. Add in the egg yolks, one at a time. After mixing thoroughly, add the yogurt, 1/2 cup sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Mix well.
2. In another clean bowl, beat the egg whites and vinegar until large bubbles form. Slowly add in 1/2 cup sugar, and continue beating until soft peaks form.
3. Fold in 1/3 of the meringue with the cheese mixture until fully incorporated. Add in the rest of the egg whites, folding gently without deflating the meringue but thoroughly. Pour the batter into an 8-inch springform pan. Wrap the bottom completely aluminum.
4. Place a larger baking pan (one that the 8-inch pan can fit into comfortably) that is filled halfway with water into the oven first. Then, place the 8-inch pan into the waterbath, making sure no water can get into the cheesecake. The waterbath helps minimize the cracks on the surface of the cheesecake.
5. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. If the cheesecake is browning too fast, turn the heat down to 300 F. As another measure to minimize cracking, let the cheesecake cool in the oven, with the door slightly ajar.
6. If everything fails, and the surface of your is covered in rifts and cracks, you may choose to serve your cheesecake, battle scars and all, with a fruit sauce on the side, or you can cover it up with some artfully placed fruit. I went with the former, and decided upon a raspberry coulis. (Which was secretly just raspberry preserves piped onto the plate. Shh)