Remember how I said that I love cheesecake? Well, the stars aligned this week, and I finally had a good reason to make a cheesecake. For the Dark Days challenge, we were asked to make a local, seasonal Valentine’s day dessert. I’ve also been experimenting with cheesemaking, and had just made a fresh batch of ricotta from local Strauss cream and milk. So I went looking for a cheesecake recipe that I could make with local ingredients. As I searched, I found a great recipe from Giada De Laurentiis for a honey ricotta cheesecake.
However, the crust was made with biscotti, which I definitely could not source within 150 miles. So I decided to make the crust with local almonds and butter. The only challenge I had was that the recipe called for sugar. I decided that I would continue to use the small amount of sugar called for in the recipe, as I didn’t think that honey would work from a textural standpoint completely.
I don’t currently have a springform pan, so I decided to modify the recipe to be made in a 9″ pie pan instead. So it’s technically not a cheesecake, though I used a cheesecake recipe. I’m calling it a cheesecake pie, but the key is that it’s simple–no water bath, and it’s easy to put together. (FYI, you can still do a water bath if you want–I did have some cracking on part of the outside edge, which the water bath likely would have prevented. I’m not that picky, however!)
Another great part of the recipe is that it’s entirely made in the food processor. And for those of you out there without a food processor, unfortunately, this is probably not a recipe that will work for you (you really need it to grind the crust and puree the ricotta). For the crust, I used whole raw almonds, local Strauss butter, and a few tablespoons of sugar. The process is ultra simple–just blend the nuts, salt and sugar till finely chopped, then add the melted butter and pulse until it is incorporated. The mixture will look like breadcrumbs–definitely not like a pie dough–you can see it above.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Dump the mixture into the pie pan, and spread it around evenly with your hands and the bottom of a glass or measuring cup that is flat. Press it into corners and about 1/2 of the way up the sides of the pan, trying to keep it at equal thickness all over. Make sure you compress the crust, as it needs to be firmly in place to keep from crumbling when you pre-bake it. The crust needs to be baked empty for 15-20 minutes, until it is light brown. Take it out to let it cool for at least 30 minutes.
Honey Ricotta Cheesecake with Almond Crust
For the Crust
- 2 cups raw almonds
- 5 tbsp sugar
- 5 tbsp butter (unsalted)
- 1/4 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
For the Filling
- 1 (12-ounce) container fresh whole milk ricotta, drained (or 10-oz well drained homemade ricotta)
- 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature, or 16-oz creme fraiche, if that is what is available to be sourced locally
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup orange blossom or clover honey
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest (or blood orange, lime, etc.)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 blood orange
- lemon or lime curd
While the pie crust is cooling, turn the oven down to 350°, and place the ricotta into the food processor (I didn’t bother to clean it after making the crust–it only had a few bits left in it). Blend until it is completely smooth. This is important, as the texture of the cheesecake is much better without the pronounced graininess of the ricotta. Then add the cream cheese or creme fraiche (I used local Bellwether Farms creme fraiche, which is very thick and similar in texture to cream cheese, because I couldn’t find local cream cheese) and the sugar, and blend until well mixed, stopping once or twice to scrape down the walls of the processor.
Then add the honey and lemon zest, pulsing until incorporated. Finally, add all 4 eggs and blend just until they are mixed in. Pour this filling over the cooled crust. Make sure not to jostle it around very much, as the drips will tend to burn. For the most attractive cheesecake, fill only up to the level of the crust. If you have any extra filling, you can always fill a ramekin or two and bake them separately for a cook’s snack (take out much sooner).
Place the pie pan in the oven, and cook for about 40 minutes. This is much faster than a typical cheesecake, as the filling is thinner in the pie pan. Be sure to take the pie out before the center is firm–it will continue to firm up as it cools, so the ideal creamy cheesecake is jiggling a bit in the middle when you take it out. Let it sit out for about an hour, then cover and chill for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator before serving.
As you can see above, I added a simple little valentine’s flourish with some blood orange segments. Just cut out a blood orange into segments, and pick two of similar size. Lay them out on the cutting board paired together, and trim to develop the heart shape. Transfer to the top of each slice, and you have a lovely Valentine’s heart. This cheesecake is also delicious served with lemon or lime curd. You can drizzle some on the bottom of the plate before you put down a slice, then add the blood orange heart on top, or place a dollop of lemon curd on the top, as you see below. This makes for a fun and relatively easy Valentine’s dessert, or really a great base for any seasonal toppings you want throughout the year.