For those of you that might have missed my last post, I made Homemade Ricotta Cheese for National Dairy Month, not that I need a reason to celebrate dairy, because pretty much every month is dairy month to me! The ricotta turned out better than I could ever have expected and was so easy to make, my only regret is not trying this sooner. I knew right away that this cheese was destined to make a ricotta cheesecake, and there was no question in my mind which cheesecake I should make.
Over the last year or so I have shared recipes and my memories of Mama Jeanette. I think one of the few gifts of old age is to remember your younger days with great clarity, sometimes seeming more recent than current events, and lately more and more of my time with Mama Jeanette has been resurfacing. Maybe it’s time to start writing it all down, before I lose those precious memories again.
I had watched Mama Jeanette make a variety of fresh cheeses during my time with her, but of course I didn’t really pay attention at the time, I was more interested in the end result that was being created with those delicious cheeses. My first experience with a ricotta cheesecake was a bit of a disappointment for me, it wasn’t what I was use to, the flavors and textures were completely different, and on top of that it wasn’t very sweet. What I would come to realize later, was the complexity of this simple dessert and the fact that sugar didn’t mask the real flavors of this glorious cake, is what made this cheesecake a staple in the Italian household. I tried to hide my disappointment that night, but as usual Mama Jeanette could read me like a book, she said “Sonny boy, sometimes you have to look past your expectations, to see clearly. Don’t let your mind dictate would should be, instead let yourself imagine what could be” That lesson has served me well over the years, even though human nature would tell you otherwise.
From that point on, I noticed that there always seemed to be a bowl of fresh ricotta in the fridge and no matter what time of day, it became a welcome addition to many of my meals, as I came to appreciate the flavor and texture of ricotta. I would devour my portion with fresh fruit, or simply drizzled with honey, and it was when Mama Jeanette noticed that I had learned to enjoy ricotta cheese for what it was, that she made this Torta di Ricotta that I’m going to share with you today.
As always there was another lesson baked inside this glorious dessert, for if this had been the first Ricotta Cheesecake I had tasted, I would never have been satisfied with the simpler versions, nor would I have learned to love that delicious cheese as it was meant to be eaten, right from the bowl. Mama Jeanette had waited to make this incredible dessert, until she knew that I would truly understand and appreciate the complexity of flavors that were combined to make this Torta di Ricotta, like a fine wine with subtle undertones and nuances….sigh This truly was a dessert to celebrate with, and that day we we’re celebrating life.
I would have never remembered the exact amounts or all of the ingredients to this wonderful cheesecake, but thankfully I had sent this recipe to a friend for safe keeping, along with a few others that time would have erased from my memory. Come to think of it, it had been Mama Jeanette’s idea for me to mail the recipes to a friend, she knew all along that it would a difficult journey for me. This recipe and others would have been lost for sure, and now I entrust this recipe to you my friends, use it in good health.
- ¼ cup (50 gm) superfine sugar*
- 3 tbsp (45 ml) water
- 5 tbsp (50 gm) pine nuts
- 4 tbsp (40 gm) golden raisins
- 2 tbsp (30 ml) rum
- 3¼ cups (390 gm) all purpose flour
- ½ cup (90 gm) brown sugar
- 1¼ cup (150 gm) ground almonds
- 1 tbsp (8 gm) baking powder
- 8 oz (240 gm) unsalted butter, very cold cut into ¼ inch pieces
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) ice water
- 1½ lb whole milk ricotta cheese*
- 1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract
- 1 tsp grated orange rind
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ¾ cup (150 gm) superfine sugar
- 2 oz (56 gm) semi sweet chocolate chips
- ¼ cup (60 ml) heavy cream (if mixture is too dry)
- toast 5 tablespoons of pine nuts in a saute pan just until they start to get color, moving them around constantly so they do not burn. Once they are toasted remove from the pan to cool
- in a small pan add sugar and water, heat over high neat until mixture begins to boil and all the sugar is dissolved
- add the pine nuts to the sugar syrup and continue to swirl the pan until the mixture turns amber.
- place finished mixture onto oiled cookie sheet to cool and harden
- mix raisins and rum together and allow them to sit until all the rum has been absorbed
- using a food processor- add the flour, brown sugar, almonds, and baking powder, pulse 2 or 3 times
- add butter pieces and pulse 4 or 5 times until mixture looks like coarse meal
- mix egg, and vanilla together and pour into the mixture while the food processor is running. Mix just enough to blend!
- If mixture looks too dry add ice water
- Dough will look loose, that's ok
- place dough onto work table and form into 2 balls, one third and two thirds of mixture. Do not work dough, even if it does not come completely together, just do your best to form balls, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.
- Mix ricotta, orange rind, vanilla, sea salt, sugar, raisins and pine nut brittle together until well blended*
- Add chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 C)
- using a 10 inch springform pan, line the inside with aluminum foil, overlapping slightly on the outside. Use two criss crossing pieces, and make sure foil is tight to the sides of the pan.
- place larger of your dough balls in the pan and flatten it out, going half way up the inside of the pan with the dough. Make this layer is as even as possible, especially the side walls.
- Spoon ricotta mixture into the prepared pan
- In between two pieces of parchment paper, roll out the remaining dough ball, just a little bit larger than your springform pan.
- Place this dough onto of the ricotta mixture, and carefully pinch the dough into dough on the sides of the pan.
- Don't worry if it cracks slightly, just try not to leave any holes in the dough.
- Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the top is a nice golden brown.
- Allow cheesecake to cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, then remove the outer pan and very gently peel back the foil and allow it to continue to cool for an additional 30 minutes.
- Refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 4 hours before serving to allow it to set up, there are no eggs in this cake to help bind it, and if you cut it too soon it will run.
- After the cheesecake has set up, remove the bottom of the springform pan and place on serving platter, allow cheesecake to come back to room temperature before serving.
I have not made this Torta in 15 years, that’s a long time between cheesecakes! The last time I made this delicious creation I was the chef at an Italian Restaurant that specialized in Regional Italian cuisine, this was at a time when there were very few celebrity chefs and Italian Cuisine was just coming into it’s own, I was cutting edge back then, and people came from all around to dine with me…..it seems so long ago now.
I was strictly culinary though, with no real interest in pastry, we had a pastry chef and that’s an entirely different set of skills. Mama Jeanette hadn’t spent too much time on baking, there was just so little time and so much to teach me. So when the restaurant was sold, and me along with it, I inherited the duties of pastry chef. I would arrive early in the morning and begin baking, when things didn’t turn out, they disappeared. My philosophy back then was “if no one saw it, it never happened” , and the first time I made this delicious dessert, I failed miserably…….let’s just say it’s a good thing when you can have a do-over. When I first made this cake, I allowed it to cool, but I just couldn’t wait to try it and cut into it without letting it set up. After all I was The Chef, why did I have to wait, just because the directions told me to…..sigh
The filling oozed out all over the plate and the cheesecake was ruined, all of this in front of the entire wait staff. I knew I would never hear the end of this until I successfully made this dessert, so after work I stayed and re-made the Torta di Ricotta, and after allowing it to cool, placed it in the refrigerator to set up overnight (like Mama Jeanette had told me). I guess you know Mama Jeanette was right, the Torta came out like a dream! My baking prowess, and status of Chef de Cuisine was redeemed, and all was right in my world, but I never made it again. Today is my do-over, just to be sure I could get it right on the first attempt, and I did…..thank goodness for do-overs!
Over the years the old chef has had a good number of do-overs, some in cooking and some in life, but that’s what life’s about now, isn’t it?
Now if I could just figure out a way to have a do-over for the last 30 years………
Thanks for stopping by today, and If you’d like to participate in the ultimate do-over, check out the link below and visit Frigidaire at their Facebook page!
This post was sponsored by Frigidaire. When you share your own do-over moment at Facebook.com/Frigidaire, Frigidaire will donate $1 to Save the Children’s U.S. programs. Plus, Frigidaire will help cover the costs for one lucky visitor to win the ultimate do-over.