Ricotta Cheesecake with Chai Spices

I grew up enjoying the sweet, rich dairy concoctions from India that my mother would make for celebratory occasions. Often making her own version of ricotta, she would always allow me to “sample” the still very hot batter for her famous Indian sweet… “Burfi.” I leave the burfi-making to my mother, but one of my favorite tried and true dessert recipes of all time is for ricotta cheesecake. Perhaps dating back to the pleasure I felt as a child while eating my mother’s creations, ricotta cheesecake takes me to a very happy place 🙂

I’m sure if I had an Italian grandmother, I would have a treasured family recipe to pass down to my children… But instead, I have a recipe that I have tweaked through the years, and one that I may say I am quite proud of. But something about this dessert just wasn’t screaming “pass me down to your children because this defines who you are as a mother, wife, and cook!” So, I Nita-fied it. Enjoy!

Ricotta Cheesecake with Chai Spices
Serves 10-12

2 lb whole milk ricotta (fresh if possible)
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of ginger powder
3 tablespoons unseasoned dry breadcrumbs
1 lb cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ tablespoons masala blend for chai (see my previous post)
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of salt free matzo meal (if you can’t find matzo meal, process matzo crackers into fine crumbs)

Drain ricotta in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 inch springform pan with 2 ½ inch sides with butter. Combine the 2 teaspoons sugar, cinnamon, ginger powder, and breadcrumbs together in a bowl, and sprinkle inside the pan. Coat all sides and bottom of pan, tapping out excess.

Transfer the ricotta to a food processor and puree until smooth, scraping down sides when necessary. Add cream cheese and puree until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and puree, scraping down the sides when necessary, until very smooth. Transfer batter to the prepared pan and bake until golden brown and just set, about an hour and 15 minutes.

Let the cake cool on a rack (it will deflate slightly.) Then refrigerate uncovered for an hour. Cover the cake and refrigerate overnight. To serve, remove the cake from the refrigerator about ½ hour before serving. Remove the pan sides and dust with powdered sugar. Cut in slices and serve with chilled whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Spice of Life

Home remedies have been a part of my childhood, my adulthood, and my livelihood. When I was a kid and I had a sore throat, my mother would tell me to drink a “tea” made from boiling grated ginger in water, adding honey and lemon to taste. My father would tell me to chew on a clove for a tooth ache. When I got married, my mother in law suggested that I wear a necklace of garlic to get rid of my cold. And after having my first child, she suggested rubbing asafetida on her belly to get rid of gas.

Immediate relief was not the intended goal here… but the homeopathic route was always preferred over the pharmacy. The slight burn and tingle or the ginger provided balance to the soothing nature of the honey and lemon for my sore throats. Clove oil is one of the main ingredients in natural tooth paste and dental anesthetics. Garlic, when crushed, forms a sulphuric compound called allicin which aids in healing colds. Asafetida has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries – aiding in relieving digestive issues.

The ingredients for these home remedies are not only nature’s way of healing, but they are some of the brilliant gems of my pantry. Inspired by my recent visit to India, and all of the amazing spices and flavors, I wanted to share my recipe for Chai Masala. Known to cure sore throats and aid in the prevention of colds and fevers, this spice blend is extremely versatile! I use it when I make Chai, but also found another creative way to utilize the exotic nature of its flavors… My next post will talk more about that…

Every household in India serves Chai – ALL DAY LONG. When we first arrive at someone’s home, we are served Chai. Mid day, we are served Chai. Late afternoon, or tea time, we are served Chai. After dinner, we are served Chai. So, needless to say, I had my fill of Chai while visiting India. I like my spice blend to be on the spicier side, so I tweaked my recipe to accommodate my preference. Enjoy!

Photo taken from thehathicooks.blogspot.com

Spice blend for Masala Chai
Makes 1 cup

5 cinnamon sticks
15 whole cloves
¼ cup whole black peppercorns
3 tablespoons green cardamom seeds (pods removed)
freshly grated nutmeg (I use about 1/3 of a single nutmeg)
3-4 tablespoons ground ginger powder

Dry roast in a heavy fry pan over medium heat the cinnamon, cloves, black peppercorns, and cardamom seeds for about 5 to 7 minutes. Cool completely. Transfer roasted spices to a spice grinder (in batches if necessary) and grind to a fine powder. Stir in the nutmeg and ginger powder until well combined. Store in an air-tight container.

Masala Chai (Indian Spiced Tea with Milk)
Makes 1 cup

¾ cups water
¼ cup 2% milk
scant ¼ teaspoon spice blend for masala chai
scant 2 teaspoons loose leaf black tea (I use Assam)

Heat the milk and water in a pot over high heat. Just before it comes to a boil, add the masala. Just as the mixture boils, add the tea. Let the mixture simmer for 2 minutes, watching constantly to make sure that it doesn’t boil over. Take off heat and let it steep for another 1 to 2 minutes. Strain into a tea cup, and add sugar to taste.

Rise to the Occassion

You don’t need to justify an occasion to serve these “fancy shmancy” little puffed delights! This is one of my favorite “no nonsense make ahead” recipes that I go to any time I need a fun starter course for a meal. I usually plate the souffle aside a light salad – My favorite being a mache or mixed green salad with blood oranges (when in season.) I make a vinaigrette out of the fresh orange juice. The citrus pairs nicely with the tang and creaminess of the goat cheese, and I always make sure to have a Sancerre or other Loire Sauvignon Blanc on hand to pour alongside. Enjoy!

Straight out of the oven

Goat Cheese Souffles – makes 10 individual souffles

7 tablespoons butter (room temperature)
1 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2 thyme sprigs
3 1/2 tablespoons flour
8 oz goat cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
pinch of nutmeg
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
7 egg whites (best if kept at room temperature for a bit – they will whip up much quicker this way)

you will also need: 10 ramekins (3/4 cup capacity)

Use 3 1/2 tablespoons of butter to coat 10 ramekins. Combine the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture and dust each ramekin, shaking out the excess. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Bring the milk and thyme sprigs to a low simmer in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Once simmering, take off heat, and let thyme infuse into the milk for 5 minutes. Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, and whisk until combined. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the thyme infused milk (not the sprigs – discard those) slowly in a steady stream, and whisk constantly. Slightly increase the heat. Whisk the mixture and bring to a simmer, about 5 minutes. Mixture should be thickening up. Add 4 ounces goat cheese and take off the heat. Whisk mixture until melted and smooth. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Gradually add the egg yolks, whisking until combined. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Beat egg whites in a large bowl until stiff (not dry.) I mix in about 1/3 of the whites into the warm souffle base about now. Then I fold in the rest of the whites and the remaining goat cheese. Divide the “batter” into each prepped ramekin, and place it in a large metal baking pan with 2 inch sides. I use my turkey roasting pan for this. Pour just enough hot water into the pan (being careful not to pour any water on top of the souffles!) to come up about 1/2 way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve immediately (in the ramekins all puffed and gorgeous) or do what I do when I entertain… I un-mold each souffle and place in a buttered glass baking dish. I keep these refrigerated until I am ready to serve. I then reheat them at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes. They puff back up slightly and are just as delicious!