With the three randomly chosen ricotta cheese, almond paste (or some suitably nutty substitute), and white chocolate, as well as the special seasonal strawberries, I made a White Chocolate Ricotta Cheesecake in Almond Crust with Fresh Berries. We had it for dessert after our Mother’s Day luncheon, and with more than half of it leftover, I brought the rest in to the office to share with co-workers. It sounds good. It tastes good. Well, at least to me. For everyone else, well, here’s a summary dramatization of the dialogue:
Others: How pretty! What is this? A cheesecake?
Sarah: A ricotta cheesecake. (They taste.)
Others: It doesn’t taste like a cheesecake. It’s kinda grainy.
Sarah: Well, it’s made with ricotta, not cream cheese, so it’s different.
Others: Oh. Cheesecake Factory tastes better.
Ooooo. K. They didn’t get it. I probably should have called it a ricotta cheese tart. Or a pie.
Ricotta cheesecake is not totally new to me. When my best friend from college did her short stint as the pastry chef at Campanile, she would bring home leftover pastries from La Brea Bakery, as well as Nancy-Silverton-inspired desserts from the restaurant. Chocolate tart. Various sorbets. And one week, an experiment with ricotta cheesecake with currants. I actually had a first reaction in the same vein as my tasters this past weekend. But after she brought it home several nights in a row, it grew on me. It doesn’t taste like a traditional thick and creamy, dense and heavy cheesecake made with cream cheese. The ricotta cheese, even after a whirl in a food processor, makes it grainy. Instead of adding whole eggs, the whites are whipped to soft peaks, giving the cake a much lighter texture, somewhat spongy. It’s kind of like an airy, grainy custard.
The egg whites of course, make the cake rise like a balloon while baking, and when removed from the oven, rapidly deflate like it’s forgotten to take it’s Prozac. Even with a water bath, my dark and deeply cracked cake needed some extra moisturizing with a heavy dose of SPF. Thank goodness that I was going to conceal that mess of a top with fresh strawberries (and Jenn's addition of "they have antioxidants!" blueberries).
The almond paste is what threw me. I’ve never used it before, and only knew of it in its marzipan form. Was I going to sit around my little dining table in my apartment on a Saturday afternoon with perfect L.A. weather outside, meticulously forming and shaping tiny marzipan somethings? No way. I’m good, but not that good. Okay, so I’m not really good at all, which is why I simply added finely crushed almonds to the graham cracker crust.
And though I didn’t have to peer through a magnifying glass, making tiny hand-crafted marzipan thingies, I did end up with my face dangerously close to a very sharp object, trying to make white chocolate cigarettes for the top of the cake. Adding melted white chocolate to the ricotta cheese batter was easy. Shaving white chocolate into perfect, unbroken curls is not. *eh* I gave up and settled for the white chocolate shards. Good enough, especially since it didn’t taste anything like the Cheesecake Factory.