It is rare that we can re-create a food memory from our childhood. Time and experience color our thoughts and palate. However, I was able to re-create the delicious, light cheesecake from Debold's Bakery in Hempstead, N.Y. They might not have considered it Italian, but with the ricotta instead of cream cheese and sour cream, it definitely hails from close to the Mediterranean.
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound ricotta cheese
1/2 pound cream cheese
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
4 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup crushed pineapple, drained
- Preheat the oven to 300°F, and butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan.
- Place the flour and sugar in a processor and pulse on and off to combine. Cut the butter into 6 pieces and add to the work bowl. Pulse the machine until the mixture looks like coarse meal.
- Combine the egg and vanilla in a small dish, and add it to the work bowl with the processor running. As soon as the ball of dough begins to form, stop the processor and remove the dough.
- Roll the dough 1/4 inch thick between two sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper, and using the bottom of the pan as a pattern, cut out a 10-inch circle. Place the dough in the pan, prick it all over with a fork, and bake for 15 minutes. Cool.
- Drain the ricotta, and place the 2 cheeses in the processor work bowl and process until the mixture is smooth. Add the flour, salt, vanilla, lemon zest, and 2 eggs, and process until smooth. Pour into a bowl.
- In another bowl, beat the egg whites with the sugar until stiff, but shiny. Fold into the cheese mixture.
- Spread the drained, crushed pineapple over the crust, and gently pour the cheese mixture over the pineapple. Bake for 45 minutes or until the cake is fairly set. Cool and serve.
- The crust for this cake is a murbeteig, or German short crust. A firm cookie dough is needed so that the pineapple doesn't dissolve it during baking.
- Use whole-milk ricotta for a rich taste and lower water content.
- If cream cheese is at room temperature, it will blend well with other ingredients and no lumps will be apparent.
- Creating a meringue before adding to the cheese mixture not only incorporates air into the mixture but also ensures that the sugar will be completely dissolved.