I’ve tried several recipe ideas to use the 13 Meyer lemons from my backyard tree before they “sour.” With cold weather and two freezes now, I picked the entire lemon crop. Don’t want to waste a single lemon. I love cheesecake and experimented with making a “lighter” version of traditional cheesecake using the Meyer lemons and ricotta cheese.
Cheesecake has many variations — praline, chocolate, cherry, pumpkin-hazelnut, lemon–I’ve made them all. Lemons, especially, bring out the flavor in a cheesecake and I decided make one using my Meyer lemons. Actually, one lemon was plenty for the recipe because Meyer lemons are so large.Lower fat cheesecake?
Cheesecake is rich–high in fat and high in calories. It is made with cream cheese, sugar, eggs and flavoring extract. Cream cheese, by definition, must be 33 percent fat. Is it possible to make a lower fat cheesecake which still tastes good?
I made several versions substituting ricotta cheese for cream cheese to lower the fat content. It took several attempts to get the proportions and cooking times worked out; the last one resulted in creamy, lemony and lighter cheesecake which tasted delicious. For the final version I used one 8-oz block of 1/3 less fat cream cheese and 15 oz ricotta cheese rather than four 8-blocks of cream cheese in the original recipe. Quite a difference!
Ricotta Cheese vs Cream Cheese
Both ricotta cheese and cream cheese are fresh cheeses–they are not aged. But ricotta cheese is quite different from cream cheese and substituting it gives different characteristics to the cheesecake. Cream cheese is made from coagulated milk and cream and is very high in fat. Ricotta cheese is made from whey-protein curd and is higher in protein and fairly low in fat.
Ricotta cheese is an Italian cheese which means “cooked again”. It technically is not a cheese, but a by-product from making mozzarella, provolone and other cheeses. It is made from whey, which is the liquid left over after the cheese curdles. It is made by adding vinegar and a touch of salt, so that the protein denatures and forms a curd.. It is very delicate, soft and moist with a fine but grainy texture, perhaps slightly sweet. Modern ricotta cheese is made from whey, whole, part-skim or skim milk.
Ricotta cheese is much lower in fat than cream cheese. For example, 1/4 cup (62 gm) of part-skim Sargento Ricotta cheese has 4.5 gm fat and 1/4 cup whole milk Sargento Ricotta cheese has 6 gm fat. Compare this to Philadelphia cream cheese which has 18 gm fat in 2 oz (60 gm) cheese! Philadelphia 1/3 less fat cream cheese has 12 gm fat in 2 oz cheese.
Cream cheese is made from cow’s milk and cream with lactic acid bacteria added to coagulate the cheese. Stabilizers such as guar gum are often added because the high fat content of the cream cheese easily separates. Cream cheese is a fresh cheese–not fermented–and has a shorter shelf life than aged cheeses. It is a mild cheese, smooth texture and slightly sweet.
Cheesecake recipe with Ricotta Cheese
For this recipe, I substituted ricotta cheese–either whole milk or part-skim–for part of the cream cheese. You have to be careful when baking this cheesecake; this cheesecake is more delicate and baking too long results in a tough filling. Here are the ingredients for my first cheesecake (the final recipe had only one block of cream cheese and 3 eggs).
This cheesecake filling is quite soft and liquid; I added cornstarch to help the cheesecake thicken. The light sour cream is for a spread on top after the cheesecake is removed from the oven and cooled.
Both cream cheese and ricotta cheeses can be whipped or beaten. Use an electric mixer and mix until the filling is creamy and smooth. If you don’t beat long enough, the ricotta cheese will still be grainy. If helps if all the ingredients are at room temperature before you start–let all the ingredients set at room temperature for 2 hours. (During this time you can make a trip to the grocery store to replace the graham crackers for the crust which mysteriously disappeared.)
Beat the cream cheese and ricotta cheese until creamy and smooth, then add the other ingredients–sugar and cornstarch, then the eggs, vanilla extract and lemon with zest. I added the zest for extra lemony flavor.
Baking a cheesecake
The tricky part to making a cheesecake with ricotta cheese is baking it so that it bakes and does not crack. The cheesecake must be baked on a lower oven temperature for a longer time. The key is to bake until the center is slightly giggly. If you over-bake, then the cheesecake will be tough and crack. Some recipes call for you to turn the oven off and let the cheesecake set in the oven for an additional hour–this is optional.
My recipe uses an 8″ spring-form pan rather than a 10″ pan, so the baking time is not as long. Still, watch the baking time carefully. Let the cheesecake cool in the pan for at least an hour before removing the sides of the spring-form pan. Then refrigerate until cool and set (also good slightly warm!). Here’s my final cheesecake.
Graham Cracker Crust
I made a graham cracker crust for the cheesecake. One package of graham crackers (9 crackers) was the right amount to fit in the bottom of an 8″ diameter spring-form pan.I have a simple method for crushing graham crackers which works every time. Place the graham crackers in a large zip-lock bag and crush using a rolling pin. This is much easier than using a food processor to pulverize the graham crackers.
Then add powdered sugar and soft tub margarine to the graham crackers in the zip-lock bag and mix with your fingers until soft and crumbly. Don’t try to melt soft tub margarine in a microwave–you end up with margarine and water!
Press the graham cracker crumbs with powdered sugar and margarine in bottom of spring-form pan. Bake the graham cracker crust in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes until set and slightly browned. Remove from oven and let the crust cool.
Here’s the final cheesecake. It is delicious–smooth and creamy with a great lemon flavor. I iced the cake with light sour cream. It deserves to be served at a special occasion–birthday, anniversary, Valentines Day, Mardi Gras celebration!
Luscious Meyer Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake
Note: Before beginning, let all ingredients for cheesecake filling set at room temperature for 2 hours.
Ingredients for graham cracker crust:
- 18 graham crackers (1/4 of 14.4 oz graham cracker box)
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup soft tub margarine
Ingredients for cheesecake filling:
- 1-8 oz package Philadelphia 1/3 less fat cream cheese
- 15 oz carton of ricotta cheese (either part-skim or whole milk)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice from one Meyer lemon
- 1 tsp lemon zest from peel of Meyer lemon
- 1 cup light sour cream
- lemon wedge for garnish (optional)
- fresh or dried cranberry or canned Maraschino cherry for garnish (optional)
Method and Steps for crust:
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Place graham crackers into a gallon size zip-lock bag. Crush the graham crackers with rolling pin until finely blended.
- Add the powdered sugar to the graham crackers in the zip-lock bag and shake to combine.
- Add the soft-tub margarine (do not melt) and massage the zip-lock bag mix with your fingers until the margarine is blended in and the graham crackers are crumbly.
- Pour and press crumbs into bottom of 8″ spring-form pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes until the crust is slightly browned. Remove from oven, cool and set aside.
Method and Steps for cheesecake filling:
- Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees
- Place cream cheese and ricotta cheese in large mixing bowl. Beat on high speed of electric mixer for 2 to 5 minutes until cheeses are smooth and blended. Occasionally scrape down sides of mixer with rubber spatula.
- In another bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch. Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly pour sugar/cornstarch into the cheeses. Beat until combined.
- Add eggs, one at a time, to the mixer bowl and beat until blended.
- Add vanilla extract and mix until blended.
- Lastly, add lemon juice and zest and mix until just combined.
- Pour into 8″ spring-form pan.
- Place in 325 degree oven and bake for 45-55 minutes. Check cheesecake at 45 minutes. Center should still be giggly and slightly liquid and sides of cheesecake browned. Bake additional 5 to 10 minutes longer if cake is too soft. Do not over bake.
- Remove from oven, let set on counter for 1 hour.
- Take knife and run around edge of spring-form pan before removing side of pan.
- Chill in refrigerator. Then spread one cup light sour cream over top of cheesecake.
- If desired, garnish with lemon wedge and cranberry or Maraschino cherry.
- Cut into 8 – 10 slices and serve.
I was pleased that the “lighter”version of my lemon cheesecake turned out so well. I hope you will enjoy it, too.