This light, citrusy cheesecake is made with ricotta cheese and cream cheese. The cake is not too sweet, and the orange zest makes this Italian ricotta cheesecake taste so light and refreshing. Italians use almonds in many dessert recipes. So, my friend Gino and I swapped out a graham cracker crust for a nutty, almond crust. Then, we garnished each piece of Italian ricotta cheesecake with a few maraschino cherries and a slice of orange.Jump to Recipe
I was so happy to have Gino Gerasole bake with me today. Gino is my friend and co-owner of Girasole restaurant in Pittsburgh, PA.
Even though this Italian ricotta cheesecake is a dessert we Italian-Americans seem to make around the Easter holiday, it's fitting for any time of the year. Because its texture is lighter than other types of cheesecakes, this ricotta cheesecake is perfect for spring, even summer.
I wrote a story about my Easters growing up called, "Easter Polaroids." You can read the story below or skip straight to the recipe. If you are an Italian-American or were raised Catholic, you might relate. Since I mention Gino's dad, Pie, in my story, it seems only fitting to be baking this Italian ricotta cheesecake with Gino, today.
Tips To Making the Best Italian Ricotta Cheesecake
- Start with the best quality ingredients. Italian cooking is simple. It's the ingredients that make the difference. Find the highest quality ricotta you can get your hands on. Make sure it is whole milk ricotta. It's the fat in the whole milk ricotta that will make your cheesecake extra creamy.
- Prepare your springform pan well. I found that spraying my pan with a cooking spray was the cleanest way to release the cheesecake from the pan. However, coating the pan with butter and flour made the almond crust crunchier. I did find that using the butter/flour method made my cheesecake stick to the sides of the pan just a bit, and it needed a little coaxing to come away from the sides. I simply slid a butter knife down around the inside of the pan and then it released just fine.
- Make sure your eggs, ricotta, and cream cheese are at room temperature. This is a must in all baking. Having your ingredients at room temperature allows the ingredients to blend well and will yield the best end product.
- Don't over-mix the filling.
- If it is important to you that the top of your Italian ricotta cheesecake doesn't crack, you can wrap the bottom and sides of your springform pan in heavy-duty aluminum foil and bake your cheesecake in a water bath. Make sure that your foil is wrapped tightly, though you don't want the water to seep into your crust.
- Completely chill your cake before serving. Overnight is best.
- Garnish with maraschino cherries just before serving; otherwise, the syrup will make your cake soggy.
Life Story: Easter Polaroids
As holiday memories go, Easter’s vague. I can’t find many pictures. I found a few in my Easter’s Best getups, but none around the table or laughing it up with family. Maybe you’re not supposed to take pictures on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, maybe just on his birthday, although coming back from the dead seems like a real reason to get the party started. Maybe there aren’t many pictures because we didn’t celebrate Easter with extended family. Maybe because there was no music, no alcohol. Maybe because I hated most of the desserts: ricotta and rice pies. What kid wants to eat a pie made out of rice and cheese?
I have a few Polaroids, but mostly snapshots in my mind.
Like the time I woke extra early in search of my basket. The house was dark, but my father was up and seated at the kitchen table.
”Wow,” I thought. “He’s just as excited for the Easter Bunny as I am.” He had a glass from the cabinet filled with apple juice. I asked for a sip.
“Sure,“ he said. He laughed a hard “haaa.” The kind of “haaa” that causes one to spread his mouth wide. The kind of “haaa” where spit spins and gargles far back in your throat.
He slid his glass in my direction and I took a gulp. My throat burned and my head spun. This was juice from another fruit. My father didn’t get up early to catch a glimpse of the Easter Bunny. He was just getting in. Now I was too buzzed to ever find my candy.
One year, I was particularly proud of my Easter attire. For a while, I was on a real purple kick. I had purple barrettes, purple corduroy knickers, purple jellies, purple My Little Ponies. I loved Prince and purple rain and raspberry berets.
My infatuation with purple started with my older sister’s infatuation with purple. She moved out of our room, claiming I was too messy. My mother gave her a room in the basement equipped with purple walls, purple carpet, and a purple bedspread. She had a desk that converted into a makeup table. You could lift the top and purple makeup appeared: purple lipstick and an array of purple eyeshadows. She was so cool and I wanted to be just like her.
That Easter, I wore a long-sleeved lavender dress, bibbed-front, a white fur coat and muff to match, white tights and patent-leather shoes, my mullet freshly feathered.
“I look good,” I thought. “My sister will think so, too.”
I walked down our driveway and slid on a patch of ice. I fell forward, tore my stockings, scraped my hands on the pavement. When I stood up, my knees were bloody. My mother said we didn’t have time for me to change. We had to get to Mass.
“Jesus knows what it’s like to bleed,” I thought. “He understands my pain.”
I was angry with my mother, but I suddenly felt a simpatico with God. I was bleeding, after all. That had to make me look more holy than the rest of them.
One Easter, my oldest sister’s boyfriend stopped by the house to give her a basket. His family was wealthy. His father owned a flower shop and a restaurant. All the cumpies hung out there. My father would take me there for dinner sometimes. I always ordered white fish in butter sauce and sucked on lemon wedges as his friends stopped by our table.
“Hey, what’s up, cumpy?”
“Hey, what’s happening, Blackie, Inky, Steps, and Pie?”
None of my father’s friends had real names. My father didn’t have a real name, either. They called him Zoot after the zoot suits his father wore. They called my father’s brother Junior. Junior and Zoot called their father Shorts. Shorts called my father, Zoot, Louie, but his real name is Dominic.
So my sister’s rich boyfriend came by the house Easter morning and hands her the most glorious basket filled with gourmet chocolates and jelly beans, a huge solid bunny, and a chocolate cross. Even the basket was made of chocolate, handle and all.
My pink wicker basket from Thrift Drug didn’t look so hot anymore. Neither did my Barbie Doll, my Big League Chew Gum, or my candy cigarettes. “Screw this,” I thought. “The Easter Bunny blows.” My sister’s boyfriend did a way better job than he ever did. My sister’s boyfriend’s name was Paul. His mother’s name was Bunny.
These days, we don’t get dressed up for Easter. We don’t go to church. It’s been years since anyone has made rice or ricotta pies. My father goes by his given name full-time now. My daughter says she doesn’t believe in God and my son blames it on the emo bands she listens to. He’s nine. He believes in God and the Easter Bunny.
“Mama, I know no one believes me, but I saw the Easter Bunny walk up our street the other day.”
“I believe you,” I say. “What did he look like?”
“Well, he was six feet five, taller than Dad. He had white fur and a wicker basket like the one for your tomatoes. Do you believe me, Mama?”
“Of course I do. The Easter Bunny is real.”
He says, “I know, I just wish I had a picture to prove it.”
A few variations to consider when making Italian ricotta cheesecake
- The orange zest in Italian ricotta cheesecake is so lovely, and lemon zest would be just as nice.
- Many people add candied orange rind and candied lemon rind to their ricotta cheesecake. If you like this idea, omit the orange zest and add two tablespoons each of finely chopped candied orange and lemon.
- Some people skip the candied fruit altogether but like to add chocolate chip morsels. In this case, I would fold into the batter ½ -¾ cup of mini chocolate chip morsels.
Like the story above says, as a kid, I wouldn't go near a cake made of ricotta cheese, but my kids love it. To ensure your kids love this cheesecake too, consider some of these variations listed above, and make sure to read my tips for making the best Italian ricotta cheesecake ever! It's sure to be a hit with your family!
Italian Ricotta Cheesecake
- 9-inch springform pan
For the Crust
- ¾ cups sliced, blanched almonds toasted and cooled
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 3 TBSP granulated sugar
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 2 TBSP melted butter cooled
- 1 large egg yolk
- ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
For the Filling:
- 1 8-ounce package cream cheese
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- 4 cups fresh whole milk ricotta
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 TBSP amaretto liqueur
- 1 TBSP cornstarch
- grated zest from one large orange
For the Topping:
- Maraschino Cherries
- 1 orange thinly sliced
For the Crust
- Preheat the oven to 325°F. Prepare a 9-inch springform pan by spraying with cooking spray, or rubbing the bottom and sides liberally with butter and then a dusting of flour.
- In a food processor, combine the toasted almonds, flour, sugar, and salt, and process for 10-15 seconds.
- In a separate bowl, combine the cooled, melted butter, egg yolk, and ½ teaspoon of vanilla and whisk together.
- Add the melted butter mixture to the almond mixture and pulse for a few more seconds.
- Pour the crust into the bottom of your prepared springform pan. To form the crust, use your hands to press the crust out evenly at the bottom and about an inch up the sides.
- Chill the crust for 15-20 minutes before baking. Bake the crust for 10-15 minutes, and then let it cool before adding the ricotta filling.
To Make the Filling
- In an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese together with ¾ cup sugar and ¼ teaspoon salt. Beat on medium speed until everything is well blended and creamy (about 1 minute).
- Next, add the ricotta and beat for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure that the first egg is fully incorporated before adding the next egg. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl after each egg is mixed.
- In a small, separate bowl, whisk together the amaretto, vanilla, and cornstarch.
- Add the cornstarch mixture to the filling and beat for a few seconds more.
- Lastly, beat in the orange zest.
- Pour the ricotta cheesecake filling into the cooled crust and bake for 50-55 minutes. The cake will seem pretty jiggly but not raw.
- Refrigerate the cake for a minimum of 4 hours, but it's best to chill the cheesecake overnight.
- To serve, remove the sides of the springform pan. Cut a piece of Italian ricotta cheesecake. Add a few maraschino cherries and then drizzle with the cherry syrup. Garnish with a slice of orange.