For growing up Italian, I did not try cannoli until relatively late in life. But man, oh, man did my first encounter occur at the right place and time. During my sophomore year in college, I spent a semester in Rome. Over spring break, my friends and I traveled far and wide across Europe, eventually making our way to Sicily. It was on the streets of Palermo where I walked past a quaint bakery that has probably been there for a hundred years and zeroed in on the most beautiful dessert I’d ever laid eyes on. A delicate, flaky pastry shell filled with impossibly smooth and sweet ricotta cheese, rolled in chocolate and dusted with confectioner’s sugar. I strolled right in, managed to order this delicacy in my broken Italian, and took it to a bench overlooking the sea. O.M.G. I’m sure the Sicilian sun and sea breeze colored my opinion, but that cannoli lives in my memory as the most remarkable dessert I have ever enjoyed.
It’s a good thing, too, that the cannoli was spectacular, because our accommodations in Palermo were not. In typical college student fashion, we stayed in a hostel during our visit (pre hostel inspired horror movies.) This particular hostel had a large room with about 10 bunk beds to sleep a total of 20. My friends and I wound up sharing the room with another group of co-ed students from who knows where. As one might expect, a couple of these charming people were feeling a little frisky after one too many Limoncellos and stumbled into the sleeping quarters late that night to, well, not sleep. Thank god I had the memory of my cannoli to distract my attention from their um, extracurricular activities.
While I clearly love a traditional cannoli, I’m not enamored with the idea of forming and baking the delicate pastry shells. I’ll leave that to the local bakery. A cannoli cheesecake, however, I can do. Ricotta cheese replaces the standard cream cheese, which renders this cheesecake lighter and fluffier than traditional cheesecake. A hit of rum, lemon zest and nutmeg add complexity and interest. Add a cloud of sweetened whipped cream and mini chocolate chips and this is an impressive and unique dessert worthy of your fanciest dinner party or holiday gathering.
Impressive yes, quick no. This cheesecake does require some planning and a few steps, but nothing is overly complicated. You’ll need to dust off both your food processor and stand mixer, but personally I think it’s fun to break out the kitchen toys. And the cheesecake is pretty forgiving. Since we’re covering the top with whipped cream, it doesn’t matter if the cheesecake cracks on top. If this is a concern for you, you can bake it in a water bath. The baking time reflected below does not account for a water bath, so if you decide to use one, keep in mind that you may need to allow the cheesecake to bake for a few more minutes.
Pick a weekend afternoon or special occasion and treat yourself to this delectable cheesecake.
- 4 full sheets graham crackers
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 6 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, divided
- 32 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese
- 4 large eggs, separated
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¼ cup light rum
- 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
- 1 cup mini chocolate chips
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- Zest of 1 lemon, grated, about 1 Tbsp
- 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp salt
Whipped Cream Topping:
- 1 cup cold heavy cream
- 3 Tbsp powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ cup mini chocolate chips
At least 8 hours prior to making cheesecake, drain ricotta cheese as follows. Line a fine mesh strainer with 2 layers of paper towels and place strainer in large bowl. Put ricotta in strainer and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to drain 8 hours or overnight. Liquid will drain from ricotta into towels and bowl.
When ready to make cheesecake, prepare crust. Preheat oven to 350. Pulse graham crackers and sugar in food processor until reduced to fine crumbs. Add 5 Tbsp melted butter and pulse until combined. Use remaining tablespoon of butter to grease 9 inch springform pan, making sure to grease the sides. You can also spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray as added insurance. Put crumbs in bottom of springform pan and press until they are compact and uniformly cover the bottom of the pan. Bake crust for 12-15 minutes, until edges begin to brown. Cool crust completely.
To prepare the filling, place drained ricotta in food processor and process until very smooth, about 1 minute. Add egg yolks, sugar, rum, lemon zest, vanilla, nutmeg, 1 Tbsp flour and salt. Process until ingredients are well mixed. Transfer ricotta mixture into large bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, add egg whites and whip at medium high speed until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the ricotta mixture. In a small bowl, mix mini chocolate chips and remaining 1 Tbsp flour. Gently mix chocolate chips and flour into ricotta mixture.
Transfer ricotta mixture into springform pan. Bake 70-80 minutes, until outer edge of cheesecake is set but center is still slightly jiggly. Place pan on wire rack. After 5 minutes, run a paring knife between edge of cheesecake and pan. Cool at room temperature 2-3 hours, then cover with plastic wrap and cool completely in the refrigerator, at least 6 hours.
When ready to serve, prepare whipped cream topping. Place heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla in bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Whip until soft peaks form. Remove cheesecake from springform mold, leaving it on the bottom piece. Place whipped cream (you do not need to use the full amount) on top of cheesecake, and spread evenly using offset spatula. Sprinkle mini chocolate chips over the top.
Recipe adapted from Baking Illustrated‘s Ricotta Cheesecake