Cake

The Cannoli-Inspired Ricotta Cheesecake My Dad and I Can Agree On

When a car hits ice, you lose control. You can try your best to keep the wheel straight and pump the brakes, but it’s a bit like watching a soufflé’s domed top deflate upon exiting the oven: hopeless.

When a car hits ice, you can only see it plow into the exact spot your dad is standing.

Two years ago, I thought I watched my dad die. We were out at 9 P.M. in less-than-desirable driving conditions. I had forgotten the sour cream and cream cheese for the cheesecake my dad requested I make. While at a stop sign on the outskirts of the store’s parking lot, the car behind us slid on ice, smashing into our bumper. It was minor, but my dad climbed out of the car to talk to the driver and exchange insurance information. “Maybe we should do this in the parking lot across the street,” I said.

My dad, though, didn’t listen. As he stood at the other car’s driver door, a black S.U.V. came barreling down the road toward the stop sign—toward us. The S.U.V. skidded, swerving wildly in large arcs before careening into him, taking off the other’s car door in the process.

Somehow, my dad managed to partially climb on top of the car the second before the S.U.V. collided with it. He was okay—dazed, but okay. And an examination by the paramedics and a trip to the E.R., he came away with only bruised knee to show for it all. While climbing on top of a car like that would be a feat for anyone, for my 70-year-old dad, it was a near miracle.

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“Baking for my own dad is one of my favorite things, and now I definitely want to add this to my too-bake list. Such a lovely, touching story and a delicious sounding recipe to boot!”
— Tyler
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Since that night, I’ve had nightmares about losing my dad. I cry out in my sleep and wake up shaking, cheeks wet from tears. I always knew he was older than all the other dads—that he fought in Vietnam and was born in 1945, at the tail end of World War II. I saw his hair turn grey and his gait get shakier but, until that night, I didn’t see my dad as fragile. It never occurred to me he wasn’t superhuman, that he wouldn’t live forever.

And it all started with a request for cheesecake.

Cheesecake is divisive in my family. Here’s a frequent conversation between my dad and I:

My dad: “Are you making cheesecake?”
Me: “I hate cheesecake. I don’t know why you always ask that.”

For the record, I made cheesecake once prior to the accident. Because while I can polish off a slice of chocolate cake or a monstrous-sized sundae without a thought, a few bites into a piece of cheesecake and I throw the fork in, finding the whole thing cloyingly rich.

This last time my dad asked, though, something changed. It might’ve been because of a recent nightmare, but I wanted to make cheesecake for my dad. I hoped to make something he and I could enjoy together. I needed to make him happy.

Photo by James Ransom

Instead of a cream cheese-based filling and graham cracker crust, I took cues from cannoli and tiramisu (two cheese-based desserts I love), using ricotta and amaretti cookies. The ricotta created a lighter texture and more subtle flavor—eschewing the heaviness of a traditional cheesecake. The addition of sliced almonds and mini chocolate chips gave the filling texture, avoiding any one-note sweetness.

“It’s so light,” my dad said, eating a forkful. I smiled, because yes, it was light, but his grin was also one of unmistakable joy. For the first time, I loved cheesecake. I have a feeling that, now, my conversation with my dad will go something like this:

My dad: “Are you making cheesecake?”
Me: “For you? Of course.”

Cheesecake: Love it or hate? Tell us in the comments below!

13 Comments

tiptoesinthekitchen September 18, 2016
This looks SO amazing! Just curious if you used homemade ricotta or store-bought?
 
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Riddley G. December 21, 2016
Sorry for the delayed response! I used store-bought.
 
Deb June 7, 2016
I like the story, also, of how this came to be invented. I am a big cheesecake fan, and love the type you don't - but this sounds just as appealing to me, and I'd love to try making it sometime. Thank you for sharing :)
 
Rebecca June 6, 2016
Thank you for sharing this scary, intensely personal story. I actually visualize the whole event happening. I can only hope your recipe is as wonderful as your writing. Again, thanks for sharing both your love for family and for food.
 
cpc February 26, 2016
This story brought me to tears! Thank you so much for sharing it. It made me miss my own father who loved it when my mom and I baked for him. I can't bake for him anymore but I will share this with my family and remember him.
 
Anne February 26, 2016
Yes, Love is the ingredient that perfects any food! So thankful that you shared your story and your recipe. This I will make for my daughter! The ingredients are healthier and I'm looking forward to a light, healthier and delicious cheesecake to share.
 
Catherine February 8, 2016
This is such a beautiful story. It reminds me that while I love the process of cooking, the joy comes from sharing it with loved ones.
 
Ron M. February 2, 2016
This recipe looks great ... I can't wait to try it!<br /><br />But I will probably make the coffee chocolate ganache a little different. If you take some coffee beans and soak it in cream overnight, it gives a really amazing coffee taste to the cream. I find it much better than using instant coffee. This is how I make my coffee truffles.
 
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Riddley G. February 2, 2016
Great tip! I'll have to try making the ganache like that.
 
Tyler February 2, 2016
Wow - this made me tear up! Baking for my own dad is one of my favorite things, and now I definitely want to add this to my too-bake list. Such a lovely, touching story and a delicious sounding recipe to boot!
 
Author Comment
Riddley G. February 2, 2016
Aw thank you! I hope your dad likes the cheesecake as much as mine did.
 
Rochelle F. February 2, 2016
I love cheesecake, but I would buy a book written by this author just for the stories--I want to go home and give my own dad a hug and make him his favorite comfort food.
 
Author Comment
Riddley G. February 2, 2016
Wow, thank you! That's such a wonderful compliment!