Before making my mother’s lemon-ricotta cheesecake earlier this month, I hadn’t made a cheesecake in years. And I’m not sure why — it is the easiest dessert to make; it can be made a day in advance; it feeds many people; and people generally love it, especially this one, made with both ricotta and mascarpone, both lemon juice and zest.
A simple cookie crumb dusting of the pan allows this cheesecake to come together in no time, and its silky texture somehow tastes both rich and light at the same time. A small slice will suffice though it’s nearly impossible to resist seconds.
I hope all of your holiday preparations are going well, Everyone.
These are the cookies my mother always uses for her cookie crusts — they are so good and made with seven ingredients all of which you can pronounce: flour, butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, baking soda:
The lemon zest is key in this cheesecake — it complements the ricotta so nicely and just adds a lovely bright flavor.
Ready for its water bath:
Source: My mother via an old New York Times Magazine recipe — can’t find an online source for the original recipe.
Plan ahead! This takes time to make and bake and chill — it must chill for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, before serving.
Ricotta: You must use whole milk ricotta here. Low-fat will leave the cheesecake with a gritty texture. Calabro brand, sold at Whole Foods, is nice. If you are serving this the same day you are making it, bake it first thing in the morning. Of course, this can be made a day in advance. Bring to room temperature briefly before serving.
The cookie crust is more of a cookie dusting than a crust — it melts into the cheesecake making it almost undetectable. It’s a subtle touch, but still really nice. Use whatever cookie you like, but I highly recommend the Jules Detrooper butter waffles if you can find them. This is what my mother always uses and what I use now, too. They are made of all good things — flour, butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, baking soda — and they are delicious to boot. You also could skip the cookie coating all together for simplicity.
Fresh ricotta versus not: Fresh is best. My mother always uses fresh, but keep in mind you will need three pounds, which can get pricey. Most recently I made two using standard grocery store ricotta, and I still thought it was completely delicious, but several commenters have not had success with non-fresh ricotta, so I am advising to use fresh ricotta only here. Cooking times will vary dramatically depending on your oven, the pan you are using for the water bath and what type of fresh ricotta you are using. Start checking at 1 hour and 15 minutes.
If you have a Thermapen (highly recommend!), use it to test the temp of the cheesecake, and remove it when it reads 150-155ºF.
I have never done this, but the next time I make this, I’m tempted to skip the water bath, and bake the cake on a rimmed sheet pan at 350ºF for about an hour — I’ve seen a number of recipes that skip the water bath without issue.
- 3 lbs. whole milk fresh ricotta, (low-fat won’t work here; Calabro brand, sold at Whole Foods, is nice)
- 1 tablespoon butter, softened
- ¼ cup grated or smashed cookie of choice, Jules Detrooper butter waffles are so good
- 1 teaspoon plus 1½ cups sugar
- 1 cup mascarpone
- 6 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- Place ricotta in a sieve over a bowl and let drain for 1 hour.
- Triple wrap the bottom and sides of 3×10-inch springform pan with aluminum foil. Butter the sides, bottom and rim of pan. Mix the smashed or grated cookie crumbs with 1 teaspoon sugar and coat the pan.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Fill a teapot with water and bring to a boil. Place the mascarpone in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until light. Transfer to a small bowl; then add ricotta and lemon zest to bowl of electric mixer. Beat at low speed until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time until smooth. Beat in the remaining 1½ cups sugar. Continue to beat until mixture is very smooth. Beat in the mascarpone, vanilla and lemon juice. Pour into the pan and smooth the top.
- Place the pan inside a roasting pan whose sides are not higher than the cake pan. Open oven and pull rack out halfway — make sure it’s stable. Place pan on rack, then pour in the boiling water from the teapot into the larger pan to within 1 inch of the top of the smaller pan. Bake for one hour and 15 minutes. Test with finger — the top should spring back a bit. Give the pan a shake — if the batter ripples under the surface too much, it probably needs more time. It should be slightly golden on top. Note: Cooking times will vary dramatically depending on your oven, the pan you are using for the water bath and what type of fresh ricotta you are using. Start checking at 1 hour and 15 minutes. If you have a Thermapen (highly recommend!), use it to test the temp of the cheesecake, and remove the cheesecake when the thermometer reads 150-155ºF.
- Remove and let cool to room temperature in the water bath. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours before serving. It will firm up as it rests.
- To unmold, slide a thin knife around the cake edges. Release the sides of the springform pan. Refrigerate until serving.