New & NowCake

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

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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.

Ricotta Cheesecake Pie with Chocolate-Coffee Ganache
Ricotta Cheesecake Pie with Chocolate-Coffee Ganache

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.

Nigella Lawson's No-Bake Nutella Cheesecake
Nigella Lawson's No-Bake Nutella Cheesecake

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.

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.

Why Cheesecakes Crack (& How to Stop It)
Why Cheesecakes Crack (& How to Stop It)

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.”

Ricotta Cheesecake Pie with Chocolate-Coffee Ganache

Ricotta Cheesecake Pie with Chocolate-Coffee Ganache

Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm
Serves 8

For the ricotta cheesecake pie:

  • 7 (about 3 1/2 onces) graham crackers
  • 7 ounces amaretti cookies
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 pounds fresh ricotta, drained well
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips, tossed with 1 teaspoon flour, plus 1/4 cup, for topping
  • 2/3 cup sliced almonds, plus 2 tablespoons, for topping

For the chocolate-coffee ganache:

  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
Go to Recipe

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

Tags: Cheesecake, Ricotta, Dessert, Bake, Long Reads, Heirloom Recipes