Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ricotta Cheesecake

When I was a kid my parents attended many a party hosted by members of the Apex Club. This was an exclusive club for men under the age of forty, and where we lived, there were loads of young dads in the club. The rules for these parties were simple: blokes bring the booze, ladies bring a "plate" and kids run amok until you pass out with exhaustion.

There would be tressle tables, sometimes in marquees, or maybe set up in the garage, covered with all sorts of culinary delights like cabanossi and cubes of cheese, pickled cocktail onions on tooth picks, slices of devon wrapped around mashed potato, and of course plenty of potato chips and a new concept in catering for a crowd - dip.

I remember the Apex party we went to on new year's eve, 1976, very clearly because I was sitting on my mum's lap at midnight. "There goes 1976!" she said, pointing to the night sky. I started crying because I didn't want the year to go. I don't think Mum expected that.

It was at one of these parties that I tasted my first cheesecake. It was a seventies classic with biscuit base made from over salted margarine, and a chill and mix filling. These cheesecakes have a very strong and distinct flavour, which I have to say was not that enrolling to my eight year old tastebuds. Skip forward to the day my sister acquired the America The Beautiful cookbook. Amongst its pages was the recipe for New York Cheesecake. This has been the definitive cheesecake for me ever since. But it is loaded with cream cheese and over the years I've tried different things to reduce the Philly factor. My latest attempt uses ricotta. See what you think.

Ingredients
Pastry
1.5 cups plain flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp grated lemon zest
100g cold butter
1 egg yolk
¼ tsp vanilla extract

Filling
625g cream cheese
625g fine ricotta cheese
440g sugar
3 tblsp plain flour
1.5 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks extra

1. Combine flour, sugar and zest in a large bowl.
2. Cut in butter until mixture resembles course breadcrumbs.
3. Stir in the egg yolk and vanilla to form a soft dough. Add up to four teaspoons of milk if the dough does not come together. Just add one at a time, mix, see how the dough goes, then add another if you need to. Wrap in plastic in cling film and refrigerate for one hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celcius.
5. Roll the pastry on a floured board to 3mm thick. Cut the pastry to fit a 23cm springform pan.
6. Line the bottom of the pan with a piece of baking paper, snagging it out the sides of the pan to keep it taught across the bottom. Grease the sides of the pan. Line the pan with the rolled out pastry, ensuring you press it into the corners of the tin, but also leaving a little overhand at the top if you to combat shrinkage. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and cool on a rack.
7. Beat both cheeses with sugar, flour, zest and vanilla in the large bowl of a mixer. If you like you can exchange the vanilla essence for the paste from two vanilla beans.
8. Add eggs and yolks one at a time. Beat thoroughly between additions.
9. Increase the oven temperature to 290 celcius. Quickly fill the pie crust with the cheese mixture. Bake for 12 minutes then reduce the temperature to 200 and continue to bake for another hour.
10. Cool on a rack in the tin and chill for two hours before serving.

Notes: The paper will become heated and give off a burning smell. At the same time, the very top edge of the pastry will brown a great deal and trick you into thinking it is burnt. But when you take off the springform you'll find it's nicely golden brown, so don't worry!

I served this cheesecake with a pile of raspberries seated on some whipped cream. I dusted it with icing sugar to make it look festive, since it was kind of for a pre-christmas lunch. It should keep in the fridge for at least a week.

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