You’ve seen the buckwheat & okara pie crust and got a visual hint of the cheesecake there already :). This was my first cheesecake ever and will probably be my last for quite some time to come.
Not because the results were unsatisfactory – - quite the contrary — but because (a) it’s not often I’ll have unwanted homemade biscuits on hand (I certainly hope not!) to make the crust and (b) the cream cheese and ricotta cheese cost me a rather steep S$18, and they were simply supermarket cheeses (if the cake had been a failure, I would have cried at the wasted expensive ingredients!). Cheese has never been cheap in Singapore and the prices of dairy products are going up tremendously due to a worldwide shortage.
Ricotta isnt’t all that common and quite often it comes in flavoured varieties full of additives. I ended up with a plain organic ricotta from Naturally Marketplace at Vivocity, if I remember correctly, but it was no more expensive than non-organic ricotta I’d seen in other Cold Storage supermarkets. [Shopping tip: gourmet delicatessens sometimes stock cheeses at about the same price as better supermarket cheeses, but which are much better quality.]
The usual Philadelphia cream cheese in blocks is fine though it’s good to always check the label for preservatives. Earlier on, I mentioned my intolerance to mozarella and cheddar but fortunately soft white cheeses such as the ones used in this cake can be all right for those who are intolerant to the amines and glutamates in hard yellow cheeses.
It took me a long time to get round to making this recipe because often I didn’t have enough time to manage recipe of this level of complexity — when it’s important to have a calm frame of mind to follow instructions carefully, pay attention to the processes and changing foods and be able to deal with any unexpected things that crop up. There was one day when I thought I would make the cheesecake, only to discover that it required a springform pan (didn’t have one) and two large eggs (only had one). Quite often, I only have a limited block of time in which I have to produce something edible or else go hungry for the next few days. At such times, you just want a foolproof, no-fuss recipe.
This recipe came from Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America. There are certainly simpler cheesecake recipes out there (such as Harumi’s “foolproof” Japanese cheesecake recipe). The description for this recipe said that the use of ricotta produced a lighter cheesecake and I thought it might be similar to those those light fluffy Japanese cheesecakes that are commonly sold in Singapore (always in an oval shape!). As you can see from the photo, it isn’t one of those and still has a dense and heavy texture.
1 recipe pie crust
2/3 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese [I used the whole tub, about 1 cup because I didn't have enough cream cheese; whole-milk ricotta stays more tender when baked]
1/4 cup sugar [reduced from 1/2 cup]
1 lb cream cheese [2 full blocks of cream cheese would be just nice, but I had only 1.5 blocks of cream cheese after using some as a spread for the disastrous buckwheat biscuits]
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice [which I replaced with a pinch of citric acid dissolved in water - this is a good replacement for those trying to avoid the high level of salicylates in citrus fruits]
1 Tbs cornstarch
3 Tbs bread flour
3 Tbs unsalted butter, melted and kept warm
1) Preheat oven to 160ºC , a slow oven. The moderately-low temperature (and water bath) ensure that the eggs are not over-cooked and that they bake into a smooth, moist texture. Baking at an excessively high cooking method, cheesecakes are actually classified as puddings.
2) Lightly butter an 8-inch springform pan and wrap the outside carefully with aluminium foil. This is to prevent water from seeping in when the cake is baked in a water bath. Initially, I thought I could get away with the existing baking tins in my home but soon realised that this fragile cake probably shouldn’t be tipped upside down to be released from the pan! Phoon Huat of course had a variety of springform pans but they were not cheap: an 8-inch pan cost about S$21 (then again, even simple doughnut baking trays can cost that much!).
3) Prepare the biscuit pie crust in the springform pan.
4) Purée the ricotta and sugar with a food processor or handheld mixer until smooth. 3-5 mins.
5) Using the handheld mixer, combine the cream cream cheese with the ricotta mixture until smooth, about 10 mins.
6 ) Add the eggs and mix on low speed until very smooth, scraping down the bowl thoroughly.
7) Add vanilla extract, lemon juice, cornstarch and flour to the batter and blend on medium speed until smooth.
8) Gradually add the melted butter, mixing until evenly blended.
9) Pour the batter over the biscuit crust in the springform pan. Smoothen the surface. Drop the pan onto the kitchen counter from a height of 1 inch to get rid of any air bubbles.
10) Place the pan in a shallow baking dish on a pulled-out oven rack and add 1 inch of hot water. Carefully slide the rack back into the oven and bake until the edges are set and start to pull away from the side, and the top is just starting to brown. The centre of the cake should still be soft. 50-60 mins.
1 1) Remove the cake from the water bath and cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate for at least 3 hrs or overnight before unmoulding from the springform pan.
As a big fan of cheesecake, I was extremely pleased with the result. It tasted great, and despite being less sweet than bought cheesecakes, it managed to please the tastebuds of the rest of my family too. Eating this gave me tremedous satisfaction because my conscientious attention to the cake-making process paid off. And I’m savouring this because as I mentioned, who knows when I’ll ever attempt this again.