This is my grandmother’s cheesecake. It has always brought me near-religious ecstasy, so I thought it only appropriate to make it to help my friend James celebrate finishing his PhD in Religion.
Weirdly, I didn’t have this cake in my crazy over-flowing binder of handwritten heirloom recipes, so I called my mom up for the ingredient measurements (good thing too – I thought I remembered it all but it turned out I’d forgotten cornstarch). Here are my notes:
Yes, I have abominable handwriting. Maybe I’ll just leave you with this and keep this cheesecake a family secret…OK, don’t worry, I’m not that mean: I’ll type it up below. Also, my grandma wrote the recipe out for my mom as calling for “Philadelphia cream cheeese”: my mom is convinced that this recipe is actually from the back of a cream cheese box from the 1950s. I haven’t found it online, though, and it’s so good that I can’t imagine it wouldn’t have been shared – by Kraft or someone else. It’s also a kind of odd cheesecake recipe in that it’s crustless. Crustless cheesecake = only one of many ways in which my family is weird.
Regardless of its original origin, this is firmly set in my mind as my Grandma Mo’s recipe (both my cousin and I call her “Mo” because neither of us could pronounce “Maureen” when we were little). I’ve made tweaks and adjustments to get the batter really, really right, and I decorated the top with with candied fruit where my grandma usually used fresh strawberries. This cake still calls back fond memories of trips to Florida, though…
This isn’t a straight cream cheese cake: it uses ricotta, so it comes out nice and fluffy. Actually, it’s pretty simple: you basically mix up a pound each of ricotta, sour cream, and cream cheese. Like this:
Happy to introduce my buttercup yellow baby, by the way. I got her this summer on sale: so worth it. I think she needs a name. Any suggestions?
Back to cake, though. In addition to being fluffy from ricotta, it’s brightened up by a healthy squirt of fresh lemon juice. Don’t let this fool you: it goes down easy but packs a punch like any cheesecake (you saw those 3 pounds of dairy products above, right?) The lemon I used was weirdly seedless and I could not resist taking a picture:
Final cake thought before I let you have that recipe: I’m Jewish and Italian and have been called a “pizza bagel” on a few occasions. Maybe I should start bringing “Ricotta Cheesecake” into the lexicon – this ricotta-cream cheese hybrid cake does combine two foods pretty significant in both cultures. Fun fact: my American Jewish Cookbook actually has 4 pages of cheesecake recipes. Chew on that…and then chew on this:
Grandma’s Ricotta Cheesecake (Makes one 9-inch cake)
1 15-oz. container ricotta, room temperature
2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 pint sour cream, room temperature
4 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla or brandy
1. Grease a 9-inch springform pan. Cream the cheeses and sour cream together in a mixer, then add the eggs one at a time, beating about 15 seconds after each addition. Mix in the lemon juice and vanilla.
2. Whisk the flour, sugar, and cornstarch together in a medium bowl and add gradually to the wet ingredients, with the mixer on low. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
3. Place the pan on a rack in the middle of a cold oven, and set the oven to 325 degrees. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, then turn the oven off and leave the cake inside for 2 more hours. Do NOT open the oven door at any point during these 3 hours or your cake will fall and you will be sad (though I know from personal experience that fallen cake does still taste good).
4. Remove from the oven and put the cake directly into the fridge.
5. Decoration: Can be done anytime before serving. Fresh fruit works nicely. For the cake above I made a glaze of melted seedless raspberry jam and placed candied lemon slices on top.