Does anyone else feel like something isn't quite clicking this Christmas season? Maybe it's our half-hearted attempt at outside decorations, or the stack of Christmas cards patiently awaiting addresses and stamps, but I think it's something bigger. Even though our son is too young to fully grasp the concept of Christmas, he's old enough to marvel at all the details. When I look back on my childhood Christmas memories, I wish all of that hope and magic and joy for our son too. Grandpa ringing sleigh bells outside our bedroom window at night, the "Santa Tracker" on the evening news, the phone calls from Santa Christmas morning.
We are still a couple years away from doing all that with our son, but this time of year really gets me to thinking about everything I want for him in this world, and sometimes I get discouraged by all the tragedy happening around us right now. Obviously everything dominating the news lately would be devastating at any time of the year, but having it happen during the holidays is especially hard.
It also makes it hard to sit here and write about food. This whole blog suddenly becomes so trivial to me when my attention shifts to these bizarre acts of violence and then the political rhetoric that follows. Important decisions are being made that will shape what our son's future looks like, and it's hard to not have control over that. With that being said, I'm trying to remember not to let all that noise steal away my joy for the little things that make life and this time of year so special. Spending time with friends and family is sometimes the only thing that makes sense, and that almost always involves eating, so I'm happy to play a small part in that, trivial though it may be.
So, this Christmas I'm choosing to focus on the positive - for myself, for my son, and for my husband. It's one of the oldest cliches in the book, and I really do think it's easier said than done. Maybe tuning out the crap in this world and staying bright-eyed and positive comes more naturally for some people than others....for me, it's a conscious decision each and every day. I think staying positive means being grateful for everything you have and being hopeful for the future. I have so much to be thankful for, and thinking about it all just makes me tear up. My hope is that there will be less hate and less violence in this world one day. In the meantime, I'm going to keep cooking and baking...it may not change the world, but hopefully it will help me spread a little Christmas cheer the best way I know how....through the belly.
This yummy ricotta cheesecake is a fun alternative to a traditional cheesecake made with cream cheese. It's also less than half the fat and is super light and fluffy. I especially love the ginger snap and pistachio crust, and the cranberry-orange sauce is a festive touch. I made this for my husband's work potluck, and it was devoured within minutes by a bunch of dudes, so I'm pretty sure it's a winning bet for any crowd.
Ok, now on to those Christmas cards...
Ricotta Cheesecake with Ginger Snap-Pistachio Crust and Cranberry-Orange Sauce
This cake is light and fluffy and less than half the fat of a traditional cream cheesecake. The cranberry-orange sauce is optional but a festive way to enjoy this during the holidays.
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Ricotta Cheesecake and BHG's Ginger Snap-Pistachio Crust
Yield: one 9" cake - about 12-16 servings
8 oz ginger snaps
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
24 oz. whole milk ricotta
6 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Finely grated zest of 1 navel orange (reserve juice for sauce)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
12 oz fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 navel orange
Juice of 2 navel oranges
1 1/2 cups water
- Preheat oven to 325 F. Thoroughly spray the inside of a 9" wide and at least 3" high springform pan with cooking release spray.
- Combine ginger snaps, pistachios, and brown sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Process until everything is finely ground. With the processor running, slowly pour in the melted butter until all is incorporated.
- Press the crust mixture into the bottom of the pan, spreading out evenly. Bake at 325 F for about 10 minutes. Let cool.
- Wash out the work bowl of the food processor. Add the ricotta to the bowl and process for a few minutes until smooth. Add the egg yolks, flour, orange zest, vanilla, salt, and 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and process until incorporated.
- Whisk the egg whites with a stand mixer or beaters until frothy, then raise the speed to high and slowly add the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar. Keep whisking until you achieve glossy, stiff peaks, about five minutes.
- Pour the ricotta mixture into a large mixing bowl. Gently fold in the whipped egg whites with a whisk, 1/3 at a time until all the egg whites are incorporated. Be careful not to overmix or bang the whisk on the side of the bowl...both of these actions will deflate the meringue.
- Pour the filling into the springform pan on top of the crust and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
- Bake at 325 F for about 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the center is set (no water bath needed!).
- While cake is baking, combine all the ingredients for the sauce in a small saucepot and simmer over medium heat stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes or until the cranberries have burst and the sauce has slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and refrigerate or put the pot over an ice bath to cool down quickly.
- When the cake is done, turn off the oven and crack the oven door. Let the cake sit in oven for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the outer edge of the cake to loosen, then unhinge and remove the side ring. Let cool to room temp before serving.
- Serve with the cranberry-orange sauce and/or whipped cream.
- This cake is at its fluffiest the first day, but you can refrigerate it up to one week. It will deflate a little in the fridge, but it's still just as delicious.
- When zesting the oranges, be sure to only zest the bright orange outer skin, not the white pith underneath, as it will be very bitter.
- When whipping the egg whites, you will know you have stiff peaks when you can dip the tip of your whisk into the meringue, turn it right side up, and the meringue will stand straight up forming a peak.
- If your springform pan has a tendency to leak like mine does, place a baking sheet directly underneath the pan to prevent the butter from the crust from dripping through to the oven floor and causing smoke.