Summer Ricotta Cheesecake

I hesitated posting this week. Somehow it seemed so frivolous. The world watched in horror while an unarmed Black man, begging for his life, was murdered by a white police officer – on camera – with others standing by. The aftermath of anger and despair provided an excuse for looting and destruction as well as a catalyst for worldwide peaceful protests demanding change. And I watched with continuing shame our country’s president as he made matters worse, instead of helping a nation already battered by the pandemic.

But summer has started here and much of the country is beginning to open up after three months of a punishing lockdown. And we still have to eat. This Summer Ricotta Cheesecake won’t cure Covid 19 or any of the other societal problems. It will give, however, an opportunity to smile and remember that there are still small pleasures out there – even if they are transitory.

I read a LOT of recipes and many get filed away to try “some day.” This particular recipe was on hold until eggs were no longer being rationed at the grocery store. We appear to be past that stage now so I wasn’t afraid to make a dessert that called for 6 eggs. And let’s face it, dessert makes everything just a bit better.

Nothing could be simpler than this Summer Ricotta Cheesecake. There are very few ingredients, the flavorings are adaptable and there is no pastry or crust to deal with. The filling cooks in such a way that it forms a very thin crust. If you can whip eggs whites and fold them into a batter then you can make this dessert.

The result will be a light, flavorful cheesecake that is the perfect end for a summer dinner. But because there are so few ingredients, make sure that you only use a good quality whole milk ricotta and fresh eggs. If you don’t have these ingredients, then wait until you do. You can play with the flavorings but not the basics of this recipe.

This can be made ahead and refrigerated which is perfect when your time in the kitchen is limited and is best parceled out. A homey recipe that isn’t at all fussy and an end product that is a summer delight. It’s speckled with zest and needs nothing more than a few fresh berries to smarten it up. Don’t worry about cracks. Just say that it’s rustic!

For a ricotta cheesecake to make when you have more time and want to fuss a bit (but oh, so worth it!) try the Crostata di Ricotta that I recently posted.

Recipe

Yield: 8 servings (One 9-inch cake)

Ingredients

3/4 cup granulated sugar (150g) plus about 2 Tablespoons for the pan

1.5 pounds (750g) whole milk ricotta at room temperature

6 large eggs at room temperature

1/4 cup (30g) all-purpose, unbleached flour

Zest of two large oranges and one lemon (See below for other flavoring suggestions)

1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1 Tablespoon Rum (dark or light) or Marsala

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C.

Generously butter (or spray) a 9-inch springform pan and dust with the 2 Tablespoons of sugar, shaking off any excess.

Mix the ricotta and zest in a large bowl. You can beat it for a minute for a smoother texture, but frankly I didn’t bother to do that.

Add the flour and about 1/2 of the sugar to the ricotta. Mix it well (That means half of the 3/4 cup. Eyeballing is fine.)

Separate your eggs. Put the yolks in with the ricotta mixture and put the whites and 1/4 teaspoon salt into a clean, dry bowl. Either use a stand mixer or a hand mixer to whip the whites and salt until soft peaks form. Then gradually add the remaining half of sugar (a Tablespoon at a time) to the whipped whites and beat until you just have stiff peaks. Do not over beat or the whites will collapse.

Meanwhile mix the egg yolks with the ricotta mixture.

Use a spatula and mix about 1/4 of the egg whites into the ricotta mixture to make sure that it is nice and loose. Then carefully fold in the remaining whites in about 3 additions. Do not over mix. You want the lift that the egg whites give.

Carefully pour the mixture into the prepared pan using the spatula to help. (Don’t pour from a great height or it will deflate. I learned this from Mary Berry!) Gently smooth out the top. Place the springform pan on top of foil or a baking pan to catch any oozing from the butter.

Bake for about 50 to 55 minutes or until it is golden on top but the center of the cheesecake still wiggles. It will continue baking after it is removed from the oven and the center will set. (I promise.) The cake will sink some and crack as it cools. This is fine.

Allow it to cool for 10 minutes on a cooling rack and then carefully run a knife or off-set spatula around the edges to make sure that it does not stick anywhere. Do NOT open the springform, tempting though it may be! Allow the cake to cool completely. Then wrap it in foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight. Remove the ring of the springform and voila!

Now my husband and I have been watching a LOT of British Baking Master Class with Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Next time I make this, I may try to turn off the oven at 45 minutes and allow the cake to cool down in the oven as I have seen Mary do with other cheesecake. Supposedly it prevents cracking. We’ll see. Honestly, though, I don’t think the cracks really detracted from the final product. So just a thought.

Baking Note

For other possible flavorings, you could try a mix of citrus zests. Or ground spices like cinnamon, cardamom or nutmeg. Instead of rum or Marsala, you could use extracts: pure vanilla, coffee, almond or aniseed.

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