Luscious cake rich in ricotta

Cooking 101

June 11, 2008|By Amy Scattergood | Amy Scattergood,Los Angeles Times

Ciro Marino's torta di ricotta is an old-fashioned Italian chef's take on an old-fashioned Italian dessert. Marino, who doesn't even have a measuring spoon at Marino's, the Los Angeles restaurant he has helmed for 25 years, bakes his cake in the bottom of the oven, door propped open with an old saucepan (a method we updated), the cake insulated by a layer of crushed graham crackers tucked around the pan instead of a hot water bath.

Marino's cheesecake is a paean to ricotta. It's made with 5 pounds of the glorious stuff. This cheesecake is subtle in flavor and texture, with delicate notes from rose water, orange-blossom water and candied lemon peel that underscore the gentle flavor of the cheese.

Cheesecake is best at room temperature, but cutting the slices is easier when the cake is chilled. Another trick is to use a length of dental floss, or use a knife you've heated by running it under hot water.

Amy Scattergood writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Marino's Ricotta Cheesecake

Serves 16

6 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) butter, softened

9 1/2 ounces graham crackers (about 17 whole, divided use)

5 pounds ricotta cheese, preferably Polly-O

4 ounces ( 1/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons) sour cream

3 generous cups (12 ounces) powdered sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

1 1/2 teaspoons finely diced candied lemon peel

1 teaspoon orange zest

2 teaspoons lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon rose water

1/2 teaspoon orange-blossom water

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

2 large eggs

Heat the oven to 450 degrees and place a rack in the lowest part of the oven. With your fingers, butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Use all the butter; you will have a fairly thick coating. Finely grind 7 1/2 graham crackers in a food processor; be careful not to over-process to a paste. Pour the crumbs into the pan, shaking and turning the pan to coat all surfaces well (the remaining crumbs will form a thicker layer on the bottom of the pan).

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer), gradually combine the ricotta, sour cream, sugar, lemon peel, zests, rose water, orange-blossom water and vanilla on low speed. Switch to high speed and beat until thoroughly combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as you go.

Add both eggs and mix, first at low speed and then high speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl, just until the ingredients are combined. Be careful not to over-mix.

Using a large spoon, drop the batter into the pan, starting in the center and working your way out to the edges so that the crumbs do not get mixed into the batter. Smooth the batter to the edges of the pan, using the spoon to form an even layer.

Finely grind the remaining crackers, and spread the crumbs evenly over the top of the cake.

Center the cake pan on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the oven and bake 8 to 10 minutes, until the graham-cracker topping is golden brown.

Cover the top of the cake with foil and continue to bake until the cake has risen (including the center) about 1 inch over the sides of the pan, an additional 40 to 55 minutes, depending on the oven. Rotate the cake after 20 minutes for even baking. Carefully remove the risen cake and cool (still on the cookie sheet) to room temperature; this will take a few hours.

Refrigerate the cake overnight before serving. Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Note: Rose water and orange-blossom water are available at Middle Eastern and specialty food stores.

Adapted from Ciro Marino of Marino Ristorante in Los Angeles

Per serving: 504 calories, 18 grams protein, 39 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 31 grams fat, 19 grams saturated fat, 124 milligrams cholesterol, 235 milligrams sodium

Analysis provided by the Los Angeles Times.

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