Mamma Mia! We’re back in Italy (at least in the culinary sense) for this gluten-free, Italian style Orange and Almond Cheesecake, made with ricotta and mascarpone cheese.
I’ve made several cheesecakes now, always in the American style with cream cheese, so I thought it was high time I gave the Italian version a go. For those of you who don’t like the denseness associated with cream cheese versions, you might like to try this lighter alternative. Baking with ricotta ensures a distinctive texture which is, for want of a more eloquent description, ‘fluffy’ and slightly ‘grainy’, though as this recipe pairs the ricotta with mascarpone cheese the result is somewhat creamier. Ricotta is also more subtle in flavour than its tangier cream cheese cousin which, I think, provides a platform for the other flavours to really shine.
Thanks to Jenny Morris on Food Network.co.uk for this recipe which I adapted only slightly. The cheesecake, which was baked without a water bath, came together beautifully – not a crack in sight, and the texture inside was just as it should be. But… I did have issues with the crust and, specifically, the amount of butter used (the original recipe used 140g of it – that’s a whopping 9 tablespoons)! I should have listened to my gut instinct about there being so much of it, but didn’t, and I ended up with butter running out all over the place and a soft crust to boot. If I made this again, I’d use only 2-3 tablespoons of butter – I’ve changed the recipe accordingly. And, if there is a next time, I’d definitely consider baking the crust before pouring the filling over top, given how delicate and porous those amaretti biscuits are.
Crust issues aside, this Italian style cheesecake with its classic pairing of orange and almond was delicious and definitely worth the trying. If you’re looking for a cheesecake that’s gluten-free, light and flavoursome, this one certainly fits the bill.
GLUTEN-FREE ORANGE & ALMOND RICOTTA CHEESECAKE
For the base:
- 150 grams (5.2 oz) gluten-free Amaretti biscuits
- 80 grams (2.8 oz) whole blanched almonds or ground almonds (almond meal)
- 30-40g butter (1-1.4oz), melted (or just enough for the crumbs to hold together)
For the cake:
- 500 grams (17.6 oz) fresh ricotta
- 250 grams (8.8 oz) mascarpone
- 160 grams ((5.6 oz) caster sugar
- Zest of 1 large orange
- 3 large eggs
- Optional: 1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
For the topping:
- 2 large oranges
- ½ cup honey
- Optional: 120 grams (4.2 oz) sliced almonds, toasted
- For the base, place the biscuits and whole or ground almonds into the bowl of your food processor and combine until it resembles coarse sand. Add the melted butter (you may not need all of it) until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Press the mixture into the base of the cake tin (I use the base of a glass to ensure it’s pressed in well and evenly). Refrigerate for at least half an hour.
- Pre-heat the oven to 160°C (320°F) and line the base of a 23cm spring-form cake tin with baking paper and grease the sides.
- For the filling, place the ricotta, mascarpone and orange zest into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until well combined. Add the caster sugar in gradually until combined and smooth. Add the vanilla or almond essence (if using), then the eggs one by one, beating well after each addition, until thoroughly combined. Spoon the filling onto the base and level out the top with a spatula.
- Bake in the pre-heated oven for 60-70 minutes. The top will rise quite a bit towards the end of baking – don’t worry, it will settle back down again as it cools. The cheesecake is ready when the sides are firm, but the centre is still jiggly and may even look a little wet – this is perfectly normal, as the cake will firm up considerably as it chills.
- Take out of the oven and set on a cake rack to cool. Take a thin knife or fine spatula and run it around the outside edges of the cake – this will prevent cracking as it cools. Once completely cooled, place the cheesecake in the fridge, cover lightly with a piece of foil and leave for several hours (preferably overnight) to set and firm up.
- Thinly slice the two oranges. Put the honey in a large, shallow pan on medium heat; when it starts to foam add the orange slices and cook them at a slow simmer until they are soft and golden brown – 10-15 minutes. Then transfer them to a tray lined with wax paper and allow them to cool.
- When ready to serve, take the cheesecake out of the fridge, remove from the spring-form pan and transfer to your serving plate. Line the orange slices around the perimeter of the cake (along with toasted almonds if using). Serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.
Food Photography Info: Canon 550D (EOS Rebel T2i); Top image – Canon 18-55 lens; Bottom image – Canon 50mm 1.8 lens / Natural lighting