When it comes to cheesecake, everything in me balks at simply posting a recipe and calling it a day. I just can’t. Cheesecake is serious business. We need to talk about it. But before I lose myself in an exercise in cheesecake catechism below, let me just quickly tell you that today’s post is a luscious ricotta cake with toasted pine nuts, rosemary and honey. Actually, you might rather call this a ricotta bake than a ricotta cake, since it doesn’t have a crust and it contains no flour whatsoever: Just the pure, immaculate milkyness of the ricotta, a few eggs, and the aforementioned aromatic additions. The pine nuts provide some tender bite and a savory hint, which together with the woody freshness of the rosemary and the aromatic sweetness of honey takes you straight to a forest in summer. I chose Italian flavorings as a nod to Sicily, where ricotta cakes are very popular. And I chose the Italian naming because it allowed me to not call this cake a cheesecake. Why this should be an issue? Well…
For some reason, February has turned out to be international cheesecake month. First, our friend Achim brought a chocolate-laced zebra cheesecake for my husband’s birthday party at the beginning of the month. Then, 10 days later, Deb Perelman from smitten kitchen posted her ultra-decadent chocolate peanut butter cheesecake, of which my dear friend and co-foodista Corinna promptly brought me two pieces to my office last Monday, leaving me with no words and an all time high in blood sugar. And finally, Clara from tastesheriff officially declared February cheesecake-month in her monthly bake-along #ichbacksmir, thereby putting me in a dilemma: In my world (=kitchen), you don’t mess around with cheesecake. It’s off limits. No room for reformation there.
Amen. Period. So I was left with two options: either posting one of my families’ cheesecake recipes or betraying my true faith and coming up with a “special” kind of cheesecake.
Survey says: there is a system of separation lines running through the church of cheesecake, along which you have to position yourself (or can do so, if you’re the live-and-let-eat-type). It would be a fun combinatorical exercise to calculate the number of cheesecake varieties and corresponding dogmas imaginable with all the numerous crusts, fillings, toppings, flavorings, methods and what not, but let me break it down for you: There is a trinity of cheesecake principles which repeatedly causes unrest. First: raisins – yes or (hell-) no? Second: baked or refrigerated? This is no real question for me. I despise almost every variation of unbaked cream cheese-based cheesecake – it’s just too rich for my taste (you may want to tape that, because chances are I will never say that about anything else). Also, something in me refuses to call cream cheese on crackers cake. Finally, third: lemon or vanilla – tart or tender?
I grew up in a household where cheesecake was a Quark (curd) filling with lots of raisins framed in a buttery crust. My mother loves a lemony and tart cheesecake (and so do I in her spirit), because it goes so well with the natural tartness of the curd. She would not only add lemon zest but also a generous squeeze of lemon juice to the filling. Her recipe used to be the original cheesecake memory I compared everything else to. And a mere memory it is, since one day, my mother suddenly – and to much of my sisters and my confusion – decided that she wasn’t able to make short pastry anymore. So a new era began. The new original is a version of the original curd filling baked without the pastry case in a rectangular cake tin, which my mother serves with almond crunch on top, cut into thick slices (it’s just as good). In my husband’s family in turn, cheesecake used to be non-pastry all along: My mother in law’s recipe starts with half a pound of butter and the same amount of sugar (which is always a good start) to which lots of eggs and curd are added later, resulting in a moist and dense round-baked cheesecake with the most luxurious and rich (but not greasy) consistency. There is always heaps of vanilla and never, ever lemon in this one. It was the first birthday cake that Alex ever made for me, and although I was reluctant at first (still having been of the con-crust-only-denomination back then), I loved it when I had my first fork ever.
So personally, after years of orthodoxy, I have converted to a kind of semi-peaceful polytheism (at least in the lemon-vanilla-question). I enjoy many incarnations of cheesecake today, and I mostly preach culinary ecumenism (but! still: no fridge-cake). In that spirit, I have refrained from both lemon and vanilla in this Torta di Ricotta and left out all the raisins I considered putting in, so that Alex and I could break this cake together.
Torta di Ricotta with Rosemary, Honey & Pine Nuts
Active time: 15 minutes, baking: about 60 minutes, cooling: min. 30 minutes
Ingredients (for a 22 cm ⌀cake)
1 tsp butter (for the Springform)
500 g ricotta
3 eggs (size L)
2.5 tbsp rosemary honey (or any other semi-runny honey)
40 g pine nuts
1 Grease a 22 cm ⌀ Springform with butter and set aside. Toast the pine nuts in a pan with no additional fat. Pine nuts tend to burn incredibly quickly, so use a medium to high heat and do not leave them unattended at any time, moving them around constantly until they are golden brown and fragrant. Turn them onto a plate immediately to prevent the residual heat in the pan from burning them. Separate the eggs and beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt in a completely fat-free bowl until they form stiff and glossy peaks (this takes about seven minutes).
2 Preheat the oven to 160 °C top and bottom heat. In a separate bowl or a kitchen processor, mix the ricotta, honey, egg yolks and superfinely chopped rosemary (this is according to taste – go for about half a teaspoon if in doubt). Stir in the pine nuts, add a third to half of the whipped egg white and stir to lighten the mixture a bit. Then add the remaining egg whites and fold in carefully (if you don’t know how that works, YouTube might be helpful – I also described this a bit more in my Hubby Birthday Cake post). Pour into the Springform and bake on medium shelf for about 60 minutes, until the cake is nicely golden brown and resists your finger’s touch (try that from 45 minutes baking time on). At first, the cake rises a bit like a soufflé, and you can serve it that way, as a warm and fluffy dessert. It will deflate a bit later, but that’s no problem: that is when it becomes moist, dense and cheesecake-like. A bit of powdered sugar on top sure doesn’t hurt.