Baked Sunday Mornings: Orange Almond Ricotta Cheesecake

There was a time in my life when the dessert I was best known for was cheesecake. During my senior year of high school, I worked part time at a sandwich shop. I was not much of a baker back then (I only started baking regularly late in college), but for some reason the owner decided to entrust me with the task of making the cheesecakes. So I made a lot of cheesecakes. And I kept making them after I left the shop, because I was so practiced at making the recipe.

The funny thing is, I don't particularly like cheesecake. I think it tends to be heavy and filling and I never order it at a restaurant, with the exception of the wonderful goat cheese cheesecake at Volt (and I don't think that counts, since it's deconstructed... and exceptionally delicious!). So I would not have tried the Orange Almond Ricotta Cheesecake recipe in Baked Elements if I wasn't baking along with Baked Sunday Mornings.

This cheesecake has an almond-graham cracker crust with a ricotta filling. I've never tried a ricotta cheesecake before; I have always associated ricotta cheese with lasagna. The crust was easy enough to make -- you mix graham cracker crumbs, chopped almonds, and dark brown sugar in the food processor, and then pour in melted butter and pulse until the mixture is uniform. You press the mixture into a pan and bake the crust until it's golden.

I started having serious doubts about this recipe the moment I dumped the graham cracker crumb mixture out of the food processor bowl and into my buttered cheesecake pan. There seemed to be a absurdly excessive amount of crumbs. It is true that I was using a 9-inch round pan that was only two inches high, even though the recipe calls for a high-sided tart pan that is two and a half or three inches tall. But the cheesecake pictured in the cookbook is not particularly tall; if anything, it looks like it's a little on the short side. Plus, my options were either a two-inch tall cheesecake pan or a taller bottomless cake ring, and I wanted to use a pan that had a removable bottom.

There were so many crumbs that I was able to make a very heavy and thick crust. Even considering the fact that I was using a shorter pan than specified, I found the thickness of my crust disconcerting. The crust of the cheesecake in the cookbook photo is delicate and lacy, and it looks very thin. My crust bore no resemblance to it whatsoever -- or, for that matter, to any cheesecake crust I have ever seen before.

Matt and Renato are emphatic that the only great ricotta cheese is fresh ricotta, and they indicate a preference for sheep's milk cheese. I popped into Cowgirl Creamery to look for fresh ricotta, and they had a fresh sheep's milk ricotta -- but they only had half a pound in stock, and the recipe requires two pounds (even if two pounds had been available in the shop, I'm not sure if I would have been able to bring myself to buy it -- it was priced at $12.50 a pound!). So I had to settle for the ricotta selection at Whole Foods, which consisted of cow's milk varieties only. I bought some ricotta from Maplebrook Farm in Vermont, which seemed to be a relative bargain at only $7 a pound.

I drained the cheese overnight using some cheesecloth. To make the cheesecake filling, all you have to do is pulse the drained ricotta in the food processor until smooth, add the other ingredients (egg yolks, sugar, flour, amaretto, almond extract, and orange zest) and process some more, and then fold in egg whites that have been beaten with salt until stiff peaks form. I think I overbeat the egg whites a bit, but I went ahead and folded them in anyway. I poured the filling into the pre-baked crust, and there was a bit of filling left over that I had to throw away (okay, so maybe I should have used a taller pan!).
The recipe says to bake the cheesecake for 55-70 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. I checked the cheesecake at 55 minutes, and the internal temperature was already 165 degrees (I checked the temperature twice just to be sure; in the photo above you can see the twin holes in top of the cheesecake from the temperature probe). In addition, the top of the cheesecake was very dark brown -- something else I found troubling because the photo in the cookbook shows a cheesecake with a barely browned top. After the cheesecake cooled, I sprinkled on some powdered sugar and just hoped for the best.
After I unmolded the cheesecake from the pan, I wondered whether I would be able to slice it easily, or if the thick crust might be difficult to cut through. I didn't have to worry; it sliced cleanly without any problems. Still, I was skeptical about this cheesecake right up until the moment that I took my first bite. Then I became a believer. The texture of the filling was so light and smooth that the first word that came into my mind was "cloud." I could taste each component of the cheesecake distinctly: the almond, the orange, the ricotta, and the graham crackers. I was even a fan of the clunky crust, because it made the cheesecake easy to handle and gave it a distinctive look.

This is certainly one of the loveliest and most elegant cheesecakes I have ever tasted, and the texture is exceptional. I may never go back to cream cheese cheesecakes again!

Recipe: "Orange Almond Ricotta Cheesecake" from Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, recipe available here at Baked Sunday Mornings.

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Great post! And your cheesecake is truly a thing of beauty. Everyone seems to love this cheesecake...guess I will have to give in and try it. Just need to find a flavour other than almond.
Great job!!!
Anonymous said…
I fell in love with the photos alone of yours!!! Convinced me that I made a huge mistake in going with supermarket ricotta! Yours looks divine. Nice work. I love the flavors in this cheesecake and will make it again. I worried about all the crumbs in the crust as well - seemed like a little too much, but it worked out fine (I do think the butter can be reduced by a 1/2 stick, however - I had puddles of melted butter on the floor of my oven. Yuck!). I'm glad this won you over.
Chelly said…
You always do such a great job! I love your photos and your cake looks divine! I made my own ricotta and it turned out creamy and delicious...this recipe is a keeper!
Glimmermama said…
I love your cheesecake! It looks so yummy and creamy!
Louise said…
This looks and sounds fantastic. Maybe, just maybe, next time you should go whole hog and spring for the sheep's milk ricotta. The cost wouldn't be any more than some chocolate desserts. : )
Anonymous said…
You cake looks absolutely stunning, and the photos are mouthwatering! Many of the other bakers' cakes look very fluffy (not that this is a bad thing), but yours looks divinely creamy and smooth. I know what you mean-- I was very skeptical too, but once I tasted it, I fell in love. That's good to know that Cowgirl Creamery makes a sheep's milk ricotta-- I'll have to get some next time.
Susan said…
Yep - I used to make cheesecakes all the time - they were my signature dessert. I still love them, but have learned SO much and really expanded my repertoire through baking with this group. Glad you enjoyed it!