Spring is on it's way and among the many joys this time of year holds I have one that is dear to my heart. Every spring, well Easter really, my mother would make ricotta cheesecake. As a child this was my least favorite of all the desserts she made. It was unapologetically plain, rustic and not all that sweet. I ate it anyway because dessert is dessert and it can't always be banana cream pie.
But as I got older I began to appreciate the humble ricotta cheesecake, plus how really luscious ricotta is in desserts. It's light, full of texture and flavor. It has that continental pedigree that sets it apart from Philly cream cheese. Suddenly ricotta cheese was so au courant and little Anna Rita had been using it all along.
Obviously mom's recipe was my starting point but she wouldn't have a hard time recognizing where I've taken it. It has a crust of Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies, I've added some of that good ole Philly too, tweaked it with a bit of orange rind and separated the eggs so as to whip up the whites. But like her's it's super moist, not too sweet and radiant with nutmeg.
1 cup finely crushed shortbread cookies
2 tablespoons butter
1 15 ounce container of whole milk ricotta cheese
4 ounces cream cheese
2/3 cup sugar, divided
rind of 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3 eggs, separated
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl combine melted butter and cookie crumbs until moist. Press into the bottom and part way up the side of a 6 inch cheesecake or spring-form pan.
Bake or 10 minutes or until lightly browned.
Lower the oven to 300 degrees. In a stand mixer fitted with a wire whisk whip egg whites and 1/3 cup of sugar until soft peaks form. Transfer to another bowl.
Change out the whisk for a paddle attachment and cream the cream cheese. Add ricotta cheese and 1/3 cup sugar. Beat on low to combine, scraping the bowl as necessary. Add orange rind, nutmeg and egg yolks; beat just long enough to combine. Gently fold in whites with a rubber spatula.
Pour batter into crust. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until cake is firm but still bouncy. (For best results wrap pan in tin foil and bake in a water bath.) Turn off the oven and crack the door to let the cheesecake cool down slowly for about an hour of so. Chill completely before serving.