Thank you for being a friend… and bringing over this cheesecake

IMG_1558BSMbanner_baked-150If the thought of ricotta cheese immediately brings ‘lasagna’ to mind, think again.  How about cheesecake?  Alert the Golden Girls and cue the theme song… this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings recipe selection is Orange Almond Ricotta Cheesecake from Baked Elements, presenting a different twist on cheesecake by using ricotta in place of typical cream cheese and blending in the harmonious flavor combination of fresh orange zest and amaretto.

Being a huge Golden Girls fanatic (I do own every season on DVD), I think I can confidentally say that this ricotta cheesecake is one that Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia would be happy to nosh on while commiserating their late night/early morning woes.  Not only does it involve oranges – which are, let’s fact it, a staple Florida fruit – but Sophia herself would be especially proud, given that cheesecake made with ricotta is truly an Italian twist on this popular dessert.

Graham cracker crumbs, speckled with ground toasted almonds, are combined with dark brown sugar and melted butter, then pressed into the bottom and sides of a springform pan for a flavorful, sturdy crust.  Good-quality ricotta provides the base for this cheesecake, mixed with sugar, egg yolks, and a touch of flour to slightly thicken and provide stability.  The cake is flavored with a combination of amaretto liqueur and almond extract, which echoes the use of ground toasted almonds in the graham cracker crust.  Orange zest, a perfect companion to almond, is also mixed into the filling to brighten up the flavor of the cheesecake.  The lighter texture of this particular cheesecake is achieved not only because of the ricotta, but also by the gentle folding/incorporation of beaten egg whites (reserved from the separated egg yolks) into the cheese filling right before baking.

IMG_1553The cake bakes up beautifully in the oven and even slightly puffs and rises in a very soufflé-like fashion.  Do not be too alarmed if it sinks after taking it out of the oven; this is pretty typical for cheesecakes and does not mean you have done anything wrong – or left an ingredient or step out.  After it has completely cooled and chilled in your refrigerator, a simple scattering of sliced, toasted almonds and dusting of confectioners’ sugar on top of the cheesecake will do to make this an instant showstopper – and as Baked promises, a recipe your friends will be clamoring for as they grab a second piece!

A couple thoughts and pointers I discovered while making this cheesecake:

I have never really used parchment paper in a springform pan, though the recipe instructs you to.  I feel that if you use it, there is no way – as with a traditional cake – that you can peel it off the crust prior to serving it, and you may end up serving wedges of parchment paper with your cake.  What a nuisance!  If you have a springform pan with a glass bottom (which I have and love), you may be able to get away with baking the cheesecake sans parchment, then – after the cake has chilled and you have removed the sides of the pan –  you can gently and carefully pry the crust from the bottom of the springform pan using a long offset metal spatula.  I was able to pop the entire cheesecake off the bottom of the pan and transfer it to a serving plate.  There is certainly enough butter in the crust to properly ‘grease’ it for easy release – which leads in to my next thought…

You may not need to use the entire 1 and 1/2 sticks butter in the crust.  The next time I make this recipe, I may attempt to use just one.  Too much butter in a graham crust risks excess melted butter seeping out of the bottom of the springform pan, causing a smoky, greasy mess on your oven floor (take it from one who has been there, done that).  To be on the safe side, slip a foil-lined cookie sheet or pan onto the oven rack below your baking cheesecake to catch potential drips.

IMG_1546Again, the recipe recommends using a good-quality sheep’s or cow’s milk ricotta.  I agree with this recommendation, but should note that I used regular Frigo whole milk ricotta (easily available in your local supermarket).  If you do the same, you probably do not need to drain the ricotta in cheesecloth as recommended, prior to making your cheesecake.  I tried it, and it yielded very little drained whey; it’s rather solid as is, right out of the container.  Good-quality ricotta – which definitely does require draining prior to making this recipe – can be rather expensive, but whether you opt to use this truly is a matter of personal preference or affordability.  I would suggest that if you intend to make this cheesecake for a fancy gathering and aim to impress, splurge and invest in the good stuff.  I’m certain the flavor will make a world of difference, as regular grocery-store ricotta doesn’t have the tangy flavor nuances prevalent in good-quality cheese.  While I agree with the Baked guys that factory-produced ricotta can taste like “old plastic”, don’t be ashamed if you need to use it in a pinch; simply try your best to find a good one.  Also bear in mind that you just may not have the “creamy, sometimes a little sweet, and rich without being heavy” taste and effect of good-quality ricotta as promised in Baked’s preface to this recipe.

This may just be my personal preference, but I wouldn’t skimp on, or remove, either the amaretto liqueur or the almond extract in this recipe.  You want that solid almond flavor in this cheesecake, acting in beautiful marriage with the orange.  If you leave it out, I just feel it won’t ‘sing’ as nicely, and you’ll miss out on a truly nice flavor combo.

Definitely wait to decorate your cheesecake with the powdered sugar and toasted almonds until just before presenting and slicing it up for your guests.  Inevitably, there will be excess condensation on the top of your cheesecake – which is natural – and this will quickly soak up any powdered sugar you dust across the surface.

As with any cheesecake, don’t rue the crack(s) across the top surface – this is one of the beautiful homemade effects of any good cheesecake!  However, should you prefer to avoid surface cracking, try baking your cheesecake in a bain marie, or water bath.  The steam from the water bath will allow for more even baking.  Make sure the sides of your cheesecake are well wrapped with heavy-duty aluminum foil, to prevent water from the surrounding pan from seeping into your cheesecake crust.

IMG_1555Overall, this recipe was a hit for us – and for the friends I shared it with.  It’s a lighter alternative to standard cheesecake (which I am all for these days), and the citrusy notes balanced off with the nutty, toasted almond flavors are just right.  The grainy texture of the ricotta on my tongue at first bite was not preferable for me, as I prefer a dense, creamy cheesecake.  Given that it’s ricotta, I fast got over this, as it was anticipated.  I will be curious to read what my fellow bloggers write about their experience with this recipe, particularly those who – unlike me – used good ricotta, which is supposed to have a creamier texture.  I curse myself that I was so fast to grab that Frigo ricotta before thoroughly reading this recipe and understanding that good-quality was essential – but again, sometimes we don’t have the ability to pay that expense!  Maybe next time… for I am certain I will revisit this recipe again.

To make your own ricotta cheesecake (perhaps for a Golden Girls viewing marathon?), follow this link:

Orange Almond Ricotta Cheesecake

When visiting the Baked Sunday Mornings website, be sure to click on “Leave Your Links” for this recipe and check out how my fellow friends fared.

The next Baked Sunday Mornings recipe coming up is Brown Butter Snickerdoodles, which I have made several times with mixed results.  I don’t have the greatest luck with baking cookies (go back a few blogs to my “Confessions of a Perfectionist Baker” blog to read some of my cookie-baking agonies), and – while they are delicious – these snickerdoodles have been no exception.  I do, however, have an ingredient substitution/experimentation I may attempt when I next make these for the blog.  I will certainly share the results with you – let’s just hope it is a success!  Happy baking, my friends!

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7 thoughts on “Thank you for being a friend… and bringing over this cheesecake

  1. Terrific-looking cheesecake, Mark! And I agree, I love the almond and orange flavors in this cheesecake, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I do have to say that the cheesecake I made with the fresh ricotta was completely smooth (I did blitz it for a while in the food processor) with no grit at all, and the smoothness was actually what set it apart for me. Wonderful post with great tips!

  2. Nice job, Mark– glad you liked this cake so much! Incidentally, I thought the parchment was an awesome idea. I’ve never used it in a springform pan either, but it made it a BREEZE to slip perfect slices off of the pan bottom.

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