On a recent night after dinner out, my husband and I were looking for a little dessert before seeing a movie. We ended up getting a cheesecake to go from a restaurant nearby, and wow, was that cheesecake sweet. For most of the movie I felt like I was fighting to stay awake from the overdose of sugar. A couple nights later we had dinner at a friend's house, and one of the desserts served was a cheesecake made from tofu and Neufchatel cheese. This cheesecake had the perfect amount of sweetness, unlike the restaurant version we'd had, and the texture reminded me of a classic Italian cheesecake that uses ricotta cheese instead of cream cheese for the filling.
As far as cheesecakes go, I really prefer the ricotta cheese version-it's lighter but still creamy, and if you make it at home, you can adjust the sweetness to your liking. Since I've made homemade ricotta cheese before with this easy and sublime recipe, I thought I'd take a go at making my own ricotta cheesecake. As a starting point for flavoring, I decided to incorporate a little bit of the homemade triple sec I had into the filling. If you don't want to make your own, which of course would delay making the cheesecake a bit, a store-bought triple sec works really well too. For the crust I made breadcrumbs from the leftover end pieces of this whole wheat cast iron bread. I think the lighter white whole wheat crumbs worked really well; if you don't have those, then use a lighter whole wheat bread, one that's a mix of white and whole wheat, to make the bread crumbs. To complement the triple sec flavor in the filling, I used the zest from one lime in the crust, and used the juice from the lime to mix into the yogurt topping.
As a base for this recipe, I referred to the "Ricotta Cheesecake" in Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. For making some adjustments I used tips from Shirley Corriher's Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking. I also used a 7-inch springform to give the cheesecake more height, an idea I got from the tofu/Neufchatel cheesecake recipe our friends gave me a copy of. Whenever I try something new, I like to consult several sources; I think it definitely helps me avoid an epic fail when I experiment. Getting a recipe where I want it still requires several tests though, and luckily I can send my test batches with my husband to his school where they always seem to be devoured. No doubt dealing with all those kids and parents must make for some hungry people in desperate need of cheesecake.
When you make this cheesecake, here's a little bit of advice. When you bake a cheesecake, the trickiest part is knowing when its done. If you cook it until there isn't any jiggle left in the filling when you shake it, it will most likely be overcooked. In fact, for a perfectly cooked cheesecake, there will still be some jiggle or looseness to the filling when it's baked enough, because the remainder of the setting up will happen as the cheesecake cools down in the turned off oven, and also as it chills overnight in the refrigerator. All the better for the flavors to meld together, I think. In all honesty, I think my final cheesecake could have stood a little extra baking time, as the very center was just a tiny bit on the soft side when we ate it. Nonetheless, the flavor rocked. So judge your jiggle appropriately. Just be sure to share this cheesecake with others to avoid having too much jiggle of your own.
Triple Sec Ricotta Cheesecake
(adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman and Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking by Shirley Corriher)
3/4 cup white whole wheat bread crumbs (from dried and ground bread)
zest of one medium lime
3 tablespoons raw cane sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 lb. whole-milk ricotta cheese (homemade if possible, and well-drained if so)
3/4 cup raw cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup triple sec
3 tablespoons white whole wheat flour
1 cup thick Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon raw cane sugar, finely ground in a coffee mill
pinch of sea salt
7-inch springform pan
(Note: Whenever you mix a small amount of citrus juice or alcohol into a dairy product, the order you add one to the other is important. To avoid causing the dairy product to curdle, add the citrus juice or alcohol to the dairy product in a bowl, and not the other way around. In other words, the dairy goes into the mixing bowl first, and then you add the citrus or alcohol).
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Combine bread crumbs, lime zest, sugar and melted butter. Press onto bottom of a 7-inch springform pan. Bake in oven 7 minutes, remove and let cool.
Lower oven temperature to 325ºF. Combine ricotta cheese, sugar, and triple sec in mixer. Add eggs, one at a time, until smooth. To create a silkier texture, pour the ricotta cheese mixture into a blender and blend for several seconds on high. Then pour the mixture into a springform pan with the bread crumb crust. Place springform pan on the middle rack in the oven, and place an empty pie plate on a lower rack directly underneath the cheesecake in case the springform pan leaks. Bake for 60 minutes, and then check for doneness. Cheesecake should have begun to separate from the sides of the springform pan but will still be fairly jiggly in the center. If the cheesecake is still very jiggly and loose, keep baking and check every 5 minutes for signs of doneness, as previously described. When done, turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake in the closed oven for another two hours, or until the oven has cooled down.
Remove the cheesecake from the oven and place the pan on a cooling rack, and let it cool for another hour. While the cheesecake is resting, stir together the yogurt, lime juice, sea salt, and finely ground sugar. Chill the yogurt mixture in the refrigerator until the cheesecake is ready to be topped. Once the cheesecake has cooled for an hour, remove the topping from the refrigerator and spread evenly on the cheesecake. Chill the cheesecake in the refrigerator with the cooling rack still underneath for at least 8 hours or overnight.
The next day, remove the cheesecake from refrigerator one hour before serving, and also remove the springform. Cut into slices and serve.
Makes one 7-inch cheesecake, about 6 to 8 servings