Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ricotta Cake (Italian-style cheesecake)

My husband David’s birthday is this month.  I always look forward to making him a special dessert to celebrate the occasion.  Like my Dad, he’s a hard guy to buy a gift for, but he will gladly accept a homemade dessert in lieu of a gift!

Last summer, we visited David’s family in Thunder Bay.  Before we left, my father-in-law gave me some of his old cookbooks.  I left with several great titles but two stood out.  The first is entitled “The Modern Priscilla Cookbook”, published in 1929.  It first belonged to David’s grandmother.  As you can imagine, it’s held together with an elastic band, but that’s part of its charm – and proof of its value.  The other is “A Guide to Good Cooking with Five Roses Flour”, published in 1962.

The second cookbook, however, has an added bonus – David’s mother’s hand-written recipes, included at the back.  Many of them are written in Italian but I was pleased to see that the cheesecake recipe (“ricotta cake”) was in English.  I suppose I should say that the “ingredients” were in English, because there was actually no method listed!  It took me a few tries to get it right, but David assured me that my final creation tasted just like his Mom’s.  This is a European-style cheesecake, made with fresh ricotta cheese, so it is not nearly as sweet as North American-style cheesecakes.  To balance out the slight sweetness of the cake, David insists on drinking it with a cup of strong black coffee, no sugar.  He’ll also gladly, and without any guilt or apology, eat a big slab of it for breakfast… five days in a row!

Ricotta Cake (Italian-style cheesecake)

ingredients for crust

·         1¼ (one-and-one-quarter) cups graham cracker crumbs
·         ½ (one-half) cup brown sugar
·         1/3 (one-third) cup unsalted butter, melted
·         1 (one) teaspoon cinnamon

ingredients for filling

·         2 (two) pounds ricotta cheese (I used extra smooth)
·         2/3 (two-thirds) cup white sugar
·         1/3 (one-third) cup all-purpose flour
·         6 (six) eggs
·         ½ (one-half) teaspoon ground cinnamon
·         zest of half a lemon
·         2 (two) teaspoons pure vanilla extract
·         ¼ (one-quarter) teaspoon salt


1.       Preheat oven to 350 F.
2.       Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F.  Wrap double layer of heavy-duty foil around outside of 10” spring form pan.  Combine graham crackers, sugar, and cinnamon in large bowl, stir well. Drizzle melted butter over and stir to combine until ingredients are moistened.  Press crumbs onto bottom (not sides) of springform pan.  Bake until crust is slightly golden, about 15 minutes.  Transfer to rack and cool while preparing filling.  Reduce oven temperature to 300 F.  
3.       Place the ricotta in a large bowl, stir it as smooth as possible with a rubber spatula.  Add in the sugar and flour to the ricotta, stir well.  Stir in the eggs 2 at a time.  Add in the cinnamon, lemon zest, vanilla and salt.  Pour the ricotta mixture into the prepared pan.
4.       Bake for 1 ¾  - 2  hours until light golden in colour, or until the point of a sharp knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Cool (it will sink slightly).  Cover, and chill until serving.  

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