Italian baked ricotta cheesecake with blueberries

Saturdays are my favorite day of the week. It is market day, cooking day and the day when from 1 to 3 pm I listen to DJ Emma Peel on 3PBS spinning her discs. Emma Peel, as advertised on the 3PBS website, takes us on a vinyl safari around the world in the 1960s. She often throws in an old tune by my favorite Italian diva, Mina. Today Emma Peel was on holidays from her radio show on 3PBS but I still managed to combine my favorite activities by listening to an old CD of Mina and baking a ricotta cake with blueberries.

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Blueberries were on sale at the Victoria Market today. So feeling some spring time baking inspiration, I bought a large piece of ricotta and searched though my cookbooks for a recipe to combine them in a cake. I struck luck on the internet through Not Quite Nigella’s blog with an Italian Ricotta Cheesecake (which she had found on SBS Food Safari) – it’s funny how the recipe trail on food blogs works! The recipe was for a baked cheesecake made with ricotta as I couldn’t find a recipe that struck a chord that incorporated the blueberries. So I thought I could just throw them on top as decoration after it was baked. The berries really dress the cake up.

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The cake has a sweet shortbread base, which I cooked so it was still a bit soft and a lovely filling made with ricotta and cream cheese. I modified the recipe slightly by adding a bit of vanilla to the pastry and omitting the candied peel in the filling and replacing it with the zest of an organic lemon (fresh from my mother’s tree). It is probably not terribly Italian, but it decadently delicious. It is definitely a festive cake, perfect for a celebration. You could substitute other berries for the blueberries on top – raspberries would look great. And it keeps for many days in the fridge and is perfect eaten cold directly from the fridge, with extra blueberries on the side. I enjoyed the cake with a glass of sweet Malvasia and listened to Mina whilst eating it. A perfect Saturday night.

Italian ricotta cake with blueberries

pastry
200g (7 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
100g (3 & 1/2 oz) caster sugar
1 medium sized egg
300g (10 & 1/2 oz)plain flour
1/4 tsp pure vanilla essence
filling
650g (23 oz) ricotta
350g (just under 12 & 1/2 oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
80ml thickened cream
3 eggs
60g (2 oz) plus 50g (1 & 3/4 oz) caster sugar
1 lemon, zest only
80g (2 & 4/5 oz) sultanas presoaked in either grappa, brandy or warm water
80g (2 & 4/5 oz) almond meal
125g (4 & 1/2 oz) blueberries
Icing sugar for dusting

To make the pastry, cream the butter and sugar in a food processor until light and creamy. Add the vanilla and the egg and beat until well incorporated. Add the flour and process only until well combined. Remove and place on a piece of cling film, flattening it with the palm of your hand once it is wrapped in the film. Refrigerate for around an hour.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (390 F) Cut the pastry in half. Place one half back in the fridge, wrapped in cling film. Get more cling film for the other half so that it is between two sheets and flatten it with a rolling pin. Using the base of a 26cm (10 inch) diameter springform cake tin, make a circle with the pastry the size of the base, making sure it is an even thickness. Place the circle of pastry on the base of the tin (which I had lined with baking paper) and cook for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove when the base is cooked and golden. Allow the base to cool. Remove the remaining pastry from the fridge and roll flat. This will form the sides of the cake tin. Line the sides of the tin with baking paper then place strips of pastry to make the sides, making sure they are well joined all around including to the base (the pastry is soft and buttery so easy to adapt to the base).

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Now prepare the filling. Beat the cream cheese with 50g sugar. When it is well incorporated, add the ricotta and beat well. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with the 60g sugar until light and fluffy. Add this gradually to the ricotta mixture. Next stir in the cream. Lastly fold in the almond meal, drained sultanas and lemon zest. Pour the filling into the pastry making sure the top is flat and bake for an hour. The top of the cake will be golden and firm to touch.

Allow to cool in the oven with the door slightly open and remove when cool. Remove the cake from the tin when it is completely cold. Place on a pretty plate and decorate with the washed blueberries. Sift on a bit of icing sugar.

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