I don’t think I ever had cheesecake until I was a teenager. At least, I don’t remember having it before then. Growing up, dessert was a rare occurrence. My parents were fond of the classic “Why don’t you have a piece of fruit?” line. Well, a piece of fruit is all fine and well, but what I wanted as I child was dessert, and I hope you’ll forgive me the assertion that eating something after dinner doesn’t make it dessert.
No. To me, dessert should be sweet, indulgent and preferably of the baked variety. Bonus points if there’s chocolate or ice cream involved. Needless to say, my youthful explanations fell on deaf ears, and when my Mum did decide to bake something for an after-dinner treat, it was usually a pie, crisp or crumble. What other children might have found acceptable I took as a personal affront to my beliefs, as well an underhanded attempt at being “healthy”. To this day I have an aversion for any dessert containing cooked fruit.
As a teenager, though, I learned that there was plenty dessert to be found outside the walls of my home. And real dessert, too- not simply fruit in the guise of something delicious. It was at this point in my life, if I remember correctly, that I discovered cheesecake.
The discovery came about in the Byward market area of downtown Ottawa, at a small cafe called Memories. During high school, I used to go there on summer evenings with my friend Fiona. We’d sit, on the patio if it was warm, or else at our favourite table in the window, sipping tea and eating cheesecake. This place made the best flavours, and I was instantly smitten. My favourite was the white chocolate raspberry cheesecake, though I also had a soft spot for the chocolate-and-caramel Turtles incarnation.
In later years, we abandoned Memories for Oh So Good a few streets over (better music, cooler crowd, and a palm-reader on Thursday nights). Despite our new hangout’s superior selection of desserts, I never strayed far from my cheesecake love. I hear both establishments have gone downhill in terms of food and service, but in my mind, cheesecake will always remind me of balmy evenings in the Byward Market, being young and bored and free to have whatever dessert I felt like, thankyouverymuch.
Despite this long-harboured love of the dessert, I admit that I don’t have much experience making it. I think the idea of the water bath, required to achieve the perfect creamy texture, just intimidates me too much. Years ago, my sister and I did tackle this Nigella Lawson recipe with good results, but there’s something reassuring about baking in your parents’ house, with your baking-centric sister in the driver’s seat. Would I attempt this alone in my London kitchen? Never.
So when I came across this recipe in Tessa Kiros’ book Falling Cloudberries, it seemed like fate. Not only is this tart baked sans water bath, but it’s Italian in origin (always a bonus, as far as I’m concerned) and uses ricotta, a current obsession of mine. The flavours, a mixture of dark chocolate in the crust and light citrus in the filling, seemed perfect.
So, did it match up to my memories of cheesecakes past? Well, yes and no. The ricotta makes this a very light tart, less rich and not as creamy as the versions I wolfed down in my youth. Once I got past that, I found it lovely- light, flavourful, sophisticated. It’s good served at room temperature the day it’s made, but I think it improves in the fridge, and tastes even better a day or two after.
- Ricotta Tart with Chocolate Crust
- adapted from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros
- serves 8
- 100g butter, slightly softened
85g caster sugar
150g plain (all-purpose) flour
30g cocoa powder
1 egg, beaten
- 2 eggs, beaten
90g caster sugar
500g ricotta cheese
1 tsp. orange zest
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. orange juice
- 1. For the pastry, beat the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. Sift in the flour and cocoa and beat until just combined. Add the egg and beat until smooth and uniform. (The pastry will be very soft, but shouldn’t be too wet- add more flour if you feel that it is.) Gather up into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for about an hour.
2. Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F. Roll out your pastry on a lightly floured surface until about 1/4″ thick, or large enough to line an 9″ loose-bottomed (or springform) cake pan. Gently drape the pastry over your rolling pin and place into the pan, allowing it to relax into the corners. If it tears, don’t worry- the softness of this pastry makes it very forgiving. Just patch it with some more dough.
3. Line the pastry with parchment paper, fill with baking beans or uncooked rice, and blind-bake for about 20 minutes. Remove the beans and paper and bake for another 5 minutes to dry the base. Set the tart case aside to cool.
- 4. For the filling, whisk together the eggs and sugar until thick and creamy. Add the ricotta and whisk for another minute, until combined. Mix in the orange zest and juices, and scrape the filling into the tart case.
5. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, until the filling is set and the top golden in places. This tart is best when allowed to cool to room temperature, or else chilled in the fridge.