By Cat, Jun 2014 (photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)
Most cheesecakes are made with cream cheese, but recipes using cottage cheese or ricotta are also found. This Italian version generally:
- Uses a pastry crust instead of a crumb crust (although some use a crumb crust made from amaretti, an Italian almond cookie).
- Includes some kind of fresh or preserved fruit (citrus zest, preserves, candied fruit, etc.);
- May include toasted pignoli (pine nuts) or almonds;
- Uses ricotta (an Italian whey cheese) or mascarpone (a regional Italian fresh cheese), both of which are soft, light and highly perishable cheese, in the filling.
Example recipes that illustrate use of different ingredients:
- Italian Notes recipe for Crostata di Ricotta (2) uses ricotta, fruit preserves and lemon zest;
- SBS recipe for Sicilian Torta di Ricotta (3) uses ricotta, lemon zest and lemon juice;
- SBS recipe for Torta di Ricotta e Limone (4) uses mascarpone, lemon, and candied citron or orange;
- Lidia’s Italy recipe for Torta di Ricotta (5) uses mascarpone and ricotta, lemon and orange zest, and toasted pine nuts, and also dark rum; this recipe is quite similar to the one I present here.
Italian Cheesecake (Torta di Ricotta)
I’ve adapted this recipe from The Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas. I do not make many changes to the original, as her recipes are generally quite healthful. This includes lemon zest, chopped citron and toasted pine nuts or almonds in the filling, and cognac or brandy in the crust. After baking and cooling, the torts is decorated with cherries and almonds.
Citron is a candied fruit that I usually have on hand, as it is an ingredient in my Hot Cross Buns (Fastelavnsboller) and Julekage (Christmas Bread) for holiday celebrations. The fruit is a member of the citrus family, but unlike other citrus with which we are more familiar, its interior is dry and inedible. Instead, it is the inner pith of its very thick peel that we use, either medicinally, or candied and dried to preserve it.
Serves 10 or more.
- 10″ deep dish pie pan or springform pan
- pastry cutter or pastry fork
- medium mixing bowl for pastry
- 2 large mixing bowls for filling and eggs
- hand-held or stand mixer
- wood spoon
Prep nuts for filling
- Starting at least 2 days before making the torta, soak, dry and toast almonds or pignoli (pine nuts). See Crispy Pine Nuts and Soaking Nuts & Seeds for details. You can chop them before or after soaking.
- You need 5 Tbsp of the chopped nuts, either all pine nuts, all almonds, or a mixture.
- You can also use some whole soaked and dried almonds for the decoration.
- Place remaining nuts in a jar and store in a cool place for future use.
Pastry for Crust
- 2 cups unbleached white flour (or ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour and about 1 ½ cups unbleached white flour)
- 1 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
- ¼ tsp Unrefined sea salt
- ¼ cup (half a stick) butter
- 2 Tbsp cognac or brandy
- Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Cut in butter, to a fine meal.
- Sprinkle cognac/brandy over the mixture and work dough with your hands until smooth.
- Wrap in oiled baking parchment and set in a cool place to rest while you make the filling.
- Butter the pie pan, and preheat oven to 375°F.
- When ready, roll out ⅔ of the dough and line the buttered pan.
- Roll remaining pastry and cut into very thin strips that will be used to make a lattice pattern on top of the filling.
- 5 Tbsp chopped almonds or pignoli, or a mix (preferably soaked, dried and toasted – see Prep Nuts, above)
- 2 – 3 Tbsp chopped citron
- lemon (for zest)
- 1 Tbsp unbleached white flour
- 2 cups (1 lb) ricotta cheese
- 4 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup Rapadura or white cane sugar
- 1 tsp almond extract (or ½ tsp pure vanilla extract)
- Before making pastry, remove eggs from the fridge and let them warm to room temperature in their shells.
- Chop nuts and citron; grate zest of lemon; combine in large mixing bowl. Dredge with the flour, tossing to mix, then mix in the cheese.
- In another bowl, beat the eggs until pale and fluffy, slowly adding sugar and extract.
- Stir the egg mixture into the cheese mixture; beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon.
Assemble & Bake
- Pour cheese filling into pastry-lined pie pan. Arrange the thin strips of pastry in a lattice pattern on top; press ends of each strip to the bottom crust at the edge of the pan. Trim.
- Bake in preheated oven about 40 – 45 minutes.
- Remove pan to rack to cool.
- Powdered cane sugar (preferably Rapadura brand, or make your own)
- cherries and whole almonds
- Dust top of torts with powdered sugar, using a sieve.
- Decorate with cherries and almonds.
- Cut into 10 – 12 wedges to serve.
- The Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas
- Italian Notes recipe for Crostata di Ricotta (italiannotes.com/crostata-di-ricotta-italian-cheese-cake)
- SBS recipe for Sicilian Torta di Ricotta (sbs.com.au/food/recipes/sicilian-cheesecake-torta-di-ricotta)
- SBS recipe for Torta di Ricotta (sbs.com.au/food/recipes/ricotta-and-lemon-tart-torta-di-ricotta-e-limone)
- Lidia’s Italy recipe for Torta di Ricotta (lidiasitaly.com/recipes/detail/1129)
- Keeper of the Home: Make your own unrefined powdered sugar (keeperofthehome.org/2010/12/how-to-make-your-own-unrefined-powdered-sugar.html)