This dessert is not your typical cheesecake. Since it is made with ricotta, rather than cream cheese, it is softer, more crumbly, and has a slightly sandy texture compared to a classic cheesecake. Some may see this as a dealbreaker. I know I love the smooth, melt-in-your-mouth richness of a bite of cheesecake, mixing with the buttery crunch of a graham cracker crust and perhaps the sweet tang of a fruit glaze on top. I don’t love the fact that eating about half of a little slice of cheesecake from a cafe or campus dining hall always made me feel like I had a brick in my stomach. This probably had something to do with the wheat in the crust (or the main body of the cake, which I didn’t know was in there until I looked up “cheesecake recipe” just now. No wonder it made me sick!).
In contrast, this cheesecake is crustless and could, in theory, be made entirely fatless, although I wouldn’t recommend that. I suspect that using full-fat ricotta and buttermilk would yield a significantly different cake than my part-skim and plain yogurt version, but I like mine pretty well as an accompaniment to fresh fruit that delivers some sweet, cheesy flavor while remaining comparatively light.
Some history: Moosewood is a restaurant in Ithaca, NY, founded in 1973 by a collective group of owners (there are 19 of them at present). It’s famous for its vegetarian cooking and is considered one of the most influential restaurants in the United States. Since my mom got her Ph.D. at Cornell, she knows all about how wonderful Moosewood is. Several of their cookbooks, including her first-edition copy of their first cookbook, have a home in our kitchen library, and I love looking through them for inspiration.
Changing their recipe seems almost sacrilegious, so I’ve copied it down here more or less as it appears in the cookbook, with my annotations of how I actually my cake at the bottom. For example, I don’t like getting out the blender unless I absolutely have to, so I just used a hand mixer. I also neglected to spread flavored yogurt on top; although it would look a little nicer with the suggested topping, I wanted to leave the additional flavoring of the cake more open to individual interpretation. We had it with a fresh peach, blueberries, and raspberries, which was quite delicious! I might even try grinding a little black pepper over my next slice…
Original recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook (1977):
4 c skim, part-skim, or whole ricotta
4 medium eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 c sugar or honey (more to taste)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Juice and grated rind of 1 lime (or 1/2 lemon)
1/4 tsp salt
Topping: one cup yogurt, flavored to taste with your favorite preserves.
Combine all ingredients (except topping) in a blender. Puree until very smooth and fluffy. Pour into a lightly-buttered spring-form pan. Bake 45 minutes at 375 degrees F, with a pan of water in the oven.
Cool the cake completely before spreading on the topping. Decorate with berries, if they’re available.
How I made it: Used 3/4 c plain yogurt and 1/4 c milk in place of buttermilk. Did not make a topping. Used lemon, not lime. Used 4 extra-large eggs. Sweetened with 1/4 c honey and 1/4 c white sugar. Ran out of ricotta, so I substituted Greek yogurt for the last 1/2 cup. Since I was using a convection oven, I tried reducing the temperature to 350 degrees F and ended up having to increase the baking time to about 1 hour 10 minutes. I would recommend sticking with the original baking time and temperature.*
Serving suggestions: with fresh berries or other fruit, drizzled with honey or maple syrup.
*Cheesecake baking tips:
- Lower temperature and longer baking time ensures that the cake won’t crack (I didn’t have a problem with it, using the reduced oven temperature; I seem to recall that it cracked last time, when we used the original, higher temperature).
- The pan of water in the oven keeps the environment more humid, so the top of the cake doesn’t dry out.
- Lightly butter the pan; excess butter will melt and drip out the bottom of a spring-form pan, burning to the oven, or pool in the bottom of a regular pan, messing up your cake.
- The cake is done when the center is almost set, but jiggles when the pan is gently shaken. If you don’t mind making a hole, you can also check by inserting a plain (not dyed) toothpick into the center of the cake. Small ricotta crumbles clinging on mean it’s done; anything goopy or liquid means it needs more time.
- After taking it out of the oven, set it down on a baking sheet (to catch any dribbling butter) and allow to cool completely. I let mine cool uncovered for about 30 minutes, then covered with a tea towel and let it sit out overnight.
- Chill in a fridge, covered with plastic wrap, for 4 to ~24 hours before serving. Do not chill until completely cooled to room temperature, or you will trap condensation inside and have a soggy cake.
- At serving time, place the spring-form pan on a serving platter or plate, run a thin knife around the edge of the cake, and release the spring or latch.