Confession: I’ve never made a cheesecake in my entire life. This seemed like a glaring shortcoming in my dessert repertory, and I figured the weekend was as good a time as any to fix this problem. It was Labor Day weekend and our friend Stevie was throwing a party. I had a Martha Stewart-y vision of myself showing up to her door beaming over my first ever beautiful, perfect cheesecake. I was naively unprepared for the deluge of conflicting doctrines regarding the most authentic variety and style of cheesecake. The disparity in different recipes’ cooking temperatures was staggering. I was pretty sure this left a huge margin for error, but it was just cheesecake. If I really messed it up, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I chose William Sonoma’s zesty lemon ricotta cake to be my first test. At least if this cake was a flop I’d be able to console myself with ricotta.
Having followed through with this cheesecake, I can say now that this recipe was kind of a headache. The primary reason being that the cake in its entirety had to be made in Jeff’s very terrifying, very ancient food processor. (I’m just happy to be writing this post with all ten digits intact) The second reason was that this cake ended up being a two day long process. I would have known this had I carefully read through the instructions in advance. Whoops. Seriously though, three hours of resting in the oven? Four hours setting in the fridge? Bringing all the ingredients to room temperature before?? It is a finicky, high-maintenance recipe. Definitely not the recipe I wanted to tackle through the fog of a pre-Labor Day weekend hangover at 7 am on a Monday morning. There’d been an unfortunate encounter with a bottle of applejack brandy the night before, if I’m being completely honest. It was Jeff’s idea. Note to future self: when coerced into drinking straight liquor, applejack brandy should be your very, very last choice.
Anyway, with the help of an extra large 7-11 coffee and extra cheesy scrambled eggs, I am happy to say we were eventually able to show up with a gorgeous jiggly cheesecake to our friend Stevie’s Labor Day party. I didn’t know if it tasted as good as it looked, but the cake was a fluffy golden beauty. I was a little nervous as I watched everyone slice in and take their first bite. The taste was spot-on and the cheesecake was a hit! I might even say it was a recipe I’d like to tackle again. Without the applejack, with an ample amount of free time, and hopefully with a shiny new food processor. Maybe you’d like to try it too. Recipe follows below.
6 oz. gingersnaps, plus more if needed
1 1/4 cups walnut halves
1/4 cup sugar
5 tbsp unsalted butter, or as needed, melted
1/2 lb cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated at room temperature
2/3 cup heavy cream
zest of 2 lemons
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
Powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat the over to 325 degrees F.
Pulse the gingersnap cookies in a food processor until they are finely ground. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
Pulse the walnuts until ground and then add to the gingersnaps
Add the sugar and butter allotted for the curst and mix well. You can add more butter if needed to bind crumbs together.
Press the crumbs into a 9″ springform pan and press to cover the bottom and up approx 1.5″ inches up the sides.
Bake until lightly browned (8-10 minutes). Cool, and then place in freezer until you are ready to use.
Drop the oven temp to 300 degrees F.
Using a clean processor, combine the ricotta, cream cheese, sugar, egg yolks, cream, lemon zest and juice, vanilla & salt. Process until you have an evenly mixed cream, 4-5 minutes.
Place mixture into a large mixing bowl.
Separately, use a hand mixer to beat the egg whites until you have stiff peaks, then fold whites into the cheese mixture until combined. Now you’re ready to pour into the chilled crust and smooth the top.
Bake the pan on a foil lined baking sheet for 30 minutes then raise the temp to 325 degrees F and bake until the top is golden brown, edges are firm, and the center still jiggles (approx 30-35 minutes).
At this point, turn the oven off and leave the door open with the cake still in place for around 3 hours. Once this time has elapsed, the middle may dropped a bit. No worries! You can now wrap with plastic, but don’t let the plastic touch the top of the cheesecake, and place the wrapped cake in the refrigerator for at 4 hours and up to 24.
To remove from mold, run the knife along the edge of the cake to loose it from the pan, then release the springform. Dust with powdered sugar and now it’s ready to serve!
(Adapted from William-Sonoma)