Notes from the Test Kitchen: Ricotta cheesecake

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Sometimes it’s hard to get sympathy from friends when you tell them you work in a test kitchen. For the last two weeks, we were ‘forced’ to test cheesecakes.....

One of our recipes was for a classic Italian cheesecake from Ciro Marino of Marino Restaurant in Hollywood. Like many chefs, he uses no measuring cups or spoons -- everything’s eyeballed -- and the cake bakes in the oven until it’s done -- no timers. That, and his method is different. Rather than bake the cheesecake in a water bath, Ciro places the cake on the bottom of a 450-degree oven and props the door open with a pan. And the baking process is twofold: The cake bakes first until it has risen properly, then bakes again for coloring.

Yeah, it is a pretty wonderful job, especially for this cheesecake fanatic. Amy Scattergood has today’s cover story on cheesecakes, so naturally we simply had to test various recipes incorporating classic cream cheese, farmer cheese, mascarpone and even ricotta as a cake base.

But even cheesecake testing can have its stressful moments -- and I’m not just talking about how to burn off all the extra calories you consume with all the testing and tasting. Each recipe has to be tested (and retested) until we’re certain it will work in the average home kitchen.


Amy scrupulously noted every measurement and step when she watched Ciro in his kitchen (check out the video on the Food section website), but could we duplicate the results? We tested a recipe from Amy’s notes in the test kitchen, measuring out ingredients and assembling the cake. Everything looked fine. We put the cake on the bottom of our 450-degree oven and propped the door open with a small saucepan. Then we stood there and watched it bake. Everything seemed to work fine, but when the cake was sliced after chilling, it just fell apart. The flavor was there, but the texture definitely wasn’t.

What to do? We wanted to keep the integrity of Ciro’s recipe but still have a cake that worked. We talked it over and retested the cake, keeping everything the same except for the method. We moved the cake to the bottom rack of the oven, and cut the baking process to just one step. Oh, and we closed the oven door. (To be honest, we were a little uncomfortable with a recipe that required that the oven door be propped open.) The result? The cheesecake was great, faithful to the original, and the slices disappeared in no time.

For you fellow cheesecake fanatics, check out the recipe (and two others) in today’s section.

-- Noelle Carter

Photos by Noelle Carter