Cheesecake is a dessert loved all around the world. Most of the people think it is originated from the United States, but actually it dates back to ancient Greece. It seems that the first “cheesecake” was made on the island of Samos around 2000 BC. In ancient Greece cheesecake was considered good source of energy, therefore it was offered to the athletes during the first Olympic Games in 776 BC. In addition Greeks were known to use the cheesecake as a wedding cake. Even the Romans appreciated this dessert and they exported it to other European countries.
Only in the nineteenth century in the United States, however, did cheesecake start to be a dessert similar to the one we know today. In fact, in 1872 an American milkman, James Kraft, created by mistake a pasteurized cheese, which became known as Philadelphia cheese, the key ingredient of this delicious cake. The most popular one is New York cheesecake, although you may wonder why it’s called that way. It’s simply because the best producers are in New York. However, each city in the States and almost every nation in the world has its own recipe.
Mine is truly unique: tasty, creamy and irresistible … but with an Italian twist: part of the Philadelphia cheese is replaced with ricotta cheese. Ricotta cheese is a creamy cheese with a low fat content. My cheesecake then, is delicious and lighter, definitely worth trying. Cheesecake is really a dessert that has past the test over time. From its very first step on the island of Samos recorded over 4000 years ago to its current iconic status around the world. You can enjoy it with fresh berries or a strawberry sauce made with fresh strawberries, sugar and lemon.
CHEESECAKE ALL’ITALIANA (ITALIAN STYLE CHEESECAKE)
120 g (4 oz) crushed Digestive cookies or Graham crackers
55 g (about 3 1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
450 g (1 pound) cow’s milk ricotta
240 g (about ½ pound) Philadelphia, at room temperature
110 g (½ cup) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk
½ organic lemon, zest
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
6 strawberries to decorate
230 g (½ pound) strawberries
50 g (2 oz) powdered sugar
Juice of ½ lemon, strained
1. Preheat oven to 180 °C (about 350°F)
2. Prepare the crust. In a food processor crush the cookies to obtain fine crumbs.
In a small pan on medium-low heat, melt the butter. In a medium-sized bowl mix the crumbs with the butter. Work for a few minutes until it looks like wet sand.
Line the bottom of a springform pan (17-18 cm, about 7 inch) with a disk of parchment paper, pre-moistened and squeezed, so it will be easier to remove the cake. Add the cookies crumbs and pack down with your hands to cover the entire surface. Bake for about 8- 10 minutes. Cool on a rack
3. Prepare the filling. In a food processor mix the sugar, flour, ricotta , Philadelphia, egg, vanilla extract and lemon zest. Blend at low speed to mix all the ingredients. It is important to blend for a very short time because you don’t want to whip air into the filling, otherwise it will crack when cooling. Pour the batter over the cool crust. The ideal baking method is a water bath. I suggest adding a baking pan full of water on the lower rack. Bake for 10 min. to 180 °C. and then remove the top aluminum sheet for browning the cake. Cook for another 15 minutes until completely set. The exact baking time depends on your oven. Turn off the oven and allow to cool in the oven with the door half open, for about 45-50 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a rack. Gently loosen the edges using the blade of a knife and then release the sides of the pan. Chill for at least 3-4 hours in the refrigerator or overnight
4. Prepare the strawberry sauce. Pour the strawberries in a pan over low heat for 5 minutes or until the fruit has released some water (the amount of water will depend on the strawberries. If they are not completely ripe add 1-2 tablespoons of water). Add the powdered sugar and the strained lemon juice and stir with a whisk until everything is well blended, then cook for a few minutes on low heat. Strain the mixture through a sieve over a small bowl to remove any seeds. Press well with the back of a spoon to squeeze out all the juice.
5. Remove the cake from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you plan to serve it. Spoon over the sauce until covered uniformly. Decorate with the strawberries according to your creativity. Leftovers will keep, uncovered and refrigerated, for one day.
Note: Baking the cheesecake is the most difficult part of the whole recipe. The possibility of having cracks on the final product is quite high. The bain-marie cooking and cooling in an area free from drafts should prevent this. – Paola