This is a recipe I whipped up for a recent Food52 competition that asked for my best “Recipe with Fresh Ricotta Cheese” . To be honest, I don’t cook with ricotta that much, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why, because I really do love the stuff. As a good Italian boy, my first exposure to ricotta was in my Mom’s fabulous lasagna, and I have used it occasionally as part of a filling for homemade raviolis, but I have to say my favorite way to enjoy ricotta is in a cheesecake.
For those of you who have never tried it this way, you’re in for a real treat. Adding ricotta to the standard cheesecake mix of eggs, sugar and cream cheese makes for a much lighter confection, it’s almost airy as compared to the dense texture of most cakes. Cheesecakes made only with cream cheese, even if they taste terrific, feel like a lead weight in my gut after I’ve finished off a slice. In fact, I’ve had some that are so dense that I’ve struggled to finish even a single serving. Not so with this one, the ricotta lightens it and allows the herbed honey and lemon flavors to really shine through.
To some, the lavender-chocolate sauce may be gilding the lily, but I think it makes a terrific accompaniment to this elegant treat. Any leftover sauce will keep well in the fridge for a few weeks, and is easily brought back to pourable form with a few seconds in the microwave.
Peyton, who is our resident cheesecake maven (so much so that her birthday cake every year is a cheesecake) has declared this one a two thumbs-up winner, and started to take on a threatening tone with anyone who looked to get in her way of the last few slices of this baby. Muppet, who normally passes on cheesecake as being entirely not chocolatey enough for her, declared this to be the best cheesecake she’s ever had (of course that may have had something to do with the copious amount of sauce she poured over hers). Why don’t you give it a try and let us know what you think.
Cheers – Steve
for the crust
- 8 ounces finely ground ginger snap cookies (I use Trader Joes’)
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1/3 cup sugar
- Pinch of kosher salt
for the filling
- 15 ounces fresh ricotta cheese
- 2- 8 ounce packages of cream cheese at room temperature
- 4 large eggs
- 1/3 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons of minced fresh thyme
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons of micro-planed lemon zest
for the chocolate sauce
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1-1/2 teaspoons lavender flowers
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60-70%)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- For the crust: Pre-heat the oven to 350℉ and place the rack in the center position. Wrap the bottom and sides of a 9” diameter springform pan with 2 layers of heavy aluminum foil. Each layer should be wide and long enough to cover the bottom of the pan without leaving any gaps. You need to create a water-tight seal so that when you bake the cheesecake in a hot water bath, none of the liquid seeps into the pan.
- In a large bowl, stir together the first 4 ingredients (crust ingredients), then with your hands, press the crust mixture firmly into the bottom of the springform pan. Be careful to make an even, well compacted layer on the bottom of the pan. Chill for 1/2 hour to set the melted butter, and then pre-bake the crust for about 15 minutes in the pre-heated oven to ensure a nice crisp crust. Let cool before filling with the ricotta - cream cheese filling.
- For the filling: In a small saucepan, combine the honey and the thyme, heat to a gentle simmer and cook/steep for 10 minutes. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl to remove the thyme leaves, pressing on the solids to extract all their flavor. Reserve.
- Blend the ricotta in a food processor until smooth. Add the cream cheese and sugar and blend well, stopping the machine if needed to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Blend in the thyme infused honey and lemon zest. With the processor running, add the eggs through the feed tube one at a time and process until completely incorporated and the mix is very smooth. Pour the cheese mix over the cooled ginger snap crust in the springform pan. Place the springform pan in a larger roasting pan, and pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake until the cheesecake is golden and the center of the cake moves only slightly when the pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour. Remove the springform pan from the water bath, remove the aluminum foil wrapper and place it on a rack to cool. Once at room temperature, refrigerate until the cheesecake is cold, at least 6 hours, but ideally overnight.
- For the sauce: Heat the cream, sugar and lavender flowers in a medium sized pan until it simmers. Keeping the heat very low, let it cook-steep for 5 minutes, then strain through a fine mesh strainer into a 2 cup measure to remove the lavender. Pour the infused cream back into the pan, and heat to simmer. Pull from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let it sit for a few minutes to melt, then stir to a sauce consistency. Add the butter, and stir to melt and incorporate. Use warm, or let cool completely. If the sauce is too thick when cooled, reheat gently in a microwave before serving with the cheesecake.
- Once fully chilled, the cheesecake should have pulled away from the side of the pan enough for you to release the springform’s side ring and remove it. If necessary, run a thin knife between the pan and the cheesecake to loosen it prior to removing the ring. Serve sliced, with a garnish of fresh fruit and a drizzle of chocolate sauce if desired.