I stopped writing my new year’s resolutions years ago when I introduced the habit of choosing a word that would guide me through the next 12 months. Through the years I have carefully picked craft, seasonality, ahead… some words worked better than others. This year, though, there are no resolutions or words.
There’s a business plan, as that aspect of our life needs to be guarded and organized, but apart from that, I have no intention to set intentions.
Maybe it’s because I’m older now (41 candles last July), or because Livia taught us to live in the moment, in the here and now, grabbing our faces with two hands when we are distracted by a notification and she wants our undivided attention. Or maybe it was this sentence I read in Farrah Storr’s newsletter a couple of weeks ago.
“The stuff we didn’t plan for, or crave or dream about when we went to sleep at night. The best moments, in hindsight, are never the expected ones.”
Her newsletter is one of the gifts of 2022. I rarely felt such a deep connection with someone’s writing. Every time, I feel like she is writing directly to me, knowing my inner thoughts, fears, and hopes: it makes me laugh, it makes me reflect, it inspires me and challenges me, giving me new perspectives on writing and art, on being forty, and on life.
Unexpected, in the early days of 2023, came also one of the best cheesecakes I have ever made, an Italian ricotta cheesecake inspired by Rita Sodi and Jodi Williams’ recipe for Sweet Ricotta Cake in their Via Carota, one of my favourite cookbooks of 2022, if not my favourite. You can read more about this cookbook in the latest issue of Letters from Tuscany.
There’s no need to set intentions when you have a good cookbook to read, a slice of ricotta cheesecake to nibble on, and a group of friends to share the cake and laughter with.
Italian ricotta cheesecake with dark chocolate hazelnut spread
Recipe developed in collaboration with Nocciole.it
This recipe is developed in collaboration with Nocciole.it, a new reality born in Casentino, the valley in the heart of the Casentino forests, between Florence and Arezzo. Their hazelnuts are Tuscan, born in a valley of rare beauty, of the highest quality. Their hazelnut groves are managed in full respect of good agricultural practices: the Terra di Mezzo farm respects the natural biological cycles, using the natural resources that the uncontaminated land of the Casentino offers, with a sustainable approach and in full respect of the surrounding community.
I picked their dark chocolate hazelnut spread as a topping for my Italian ricotta cheesecake, as it perfectly complements its fresh, citrus flavour and its light texture given by the ricotta and mascarpone cheese. Their chocolate hazelnut spread is not overly sweet and has a delicate cocoa taste and a distinct aroma of roasted hazelnuts. Yes, if you eat it directly with a spoon you have my approval.
To make this cheesecake, I followed Via Carota‘s recipe for ricotta cake – a perfect recipe! – as I’ve been searching for years for a cheesecake with an Italian flair, and ricotta gave me that feeling, along with a delicious lightness. I added also a crust made with some of the most common breakfast cookies we have in Italy, Oro Saiwa, but you could use regular Digestive cookies.
Italian ricotta cheesecake with dark chocolate hazelnut spread
- 1 9 inch/23 cm springform pan
- 1 deep roasting pan where you can place the springform pan to bake the cheesecake
For the crust
- 175 grams dry cookies, such as Oro Saiwa, or Digestive
- 50 grams toasted hazelnuts
- 20 grams sugar
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 85 grams unsalted butter, melted
For the filling
- 680 grams whole-milk ricotta
- 40 grams all-purpose flour
- 200 grams sugar
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 organic lemon
- 1 organic orange
- 450 grams mascarpone, at room temperature
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 3 yolks, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 100 grams dark chocolate hazelnut spread
- Flaky sea salt
Drain the ricotta.
- Place the ricotta to drain in a fine-mesh strainer for about an hour, at room temperature, to release its water. This will allow you to have firmer ricotta. A too-watery ricotta would compromise the final result and the filling texture, so don't skip this step.
Prepare the pan.
- Butter a springform pan and wrap it on the outside with two long pieces of aluminium foil. To make this easier, arrange the two pieces of aluminium foil on your working surface to form a cross, place the pan in the centre, and then bring up the ends up to completely wrap the sides of the pan, securing them at the edges. This will allow you to bake the cake in a bain-marie, preventing water from entering the pan. This is an important step, because otherwise, if water gets in while baking, you risk having a mushy bottom.
Make the crust.
- Blend the cookies with the hazelnuts, sugar and salt until fine crumbs form. Transfer the crumbs to a small bowl and add the melted butter, then rub the ingredients together: if squeezing the crumbs in your hands, they stick together, the crust is ready, otherwise add a teaspoon of milk.
- Pour the crumbs onto the springform pan and press them well onto the base and along the sides up to 3 cm/1 inch.
- Place the springform pan in the freezer for 15 minutes and preheat the oven to 325°F/165°C. In the meantime, heat 2 litres of water in a kettle, which you will need later to bake the cheesecake.
- When the oven is hot, transfer the springform pan from the freezer to the oven and bake the crust for 15 minutes.
In the meantime, prepare the filling.
- Mix the dry ingredients - flour, sugar, and salt - in a small bowl.
- In a larger bowl, add the finely grated lemon and orange zest, the well-drained ricotta and the mascarpone. If the ricotta is too lumpy, pass it through a colander or blend it with an immersion blender to make it smoother, otherwise, it will be difficult to remove the lumps afterwards. Stir with a spatula to mix all the ingredients together.
- In a smaller bowl, briefly whisk the eggs, egg yolks and vanilla extract, then pour them over the ricotta and mascarpone mixture gradually, mixing with a spatula so as not to incorporate too much air.
- As a final step, incorporate the prepared dry ingredients into the ricotta and mascarpone mixture.
- When the cheesecake crust is ready, remove the pan from the oven and pour the filling onto the baked crust.
- Place the springform pan into the prepared roasting pan, and pour the hot water to come about halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
- Carefully transfer the cheesecake into the oven and bake for about an hour and a half, until it is golden brown on the surface and still slightly wobbly in the centre when you shake the pan.
- Remove the pan from the water and place it to cool on a wire rack. Remove the foil and run a knife around the edges of the cake. Allow the cheesecake to cool at room temperature for a few hours, then transfer it to the fridge for at least 8 hours, or better overnight.
- When the cheesecake is cold, release the pan and top the surface with the dark chocolate hazelnut spread. If the spread is too thick, microwave it for about 30 seconds so that it becomes runny and easy to spread. Finish with flaky sea salt and serve.
- The cheesecake will keep in the fridge for 2 to 3 days.
- Another cheesecake, that of my 32 birthday, the first spent with Tommaso.
- Via Carota, a love story. One of the many reasons I loved Via Carota‘s cookbook: the love story behind it.
- Origin of a classic: cheesecake. Read more about the history of this beloved recipe: in present times, cheesecake still exists in multiple forms. German cheesecake is made with quark, a sour cream-like dairy product. Italian cheesecake depends on ricotta for its creamy base.