Why It Works
- Cream cheese and ricotta work together for a more complex diary flavor, balanced in both its richness and tang.
- A food processor emulsifies the cheeses and eggs with minimal aeration, for a cheesecake that's creamy and smooth.
- A deep, aluminum cheesecake pan keeps the cheesecake's exterior delicate and light while minimizing browning along the surface.
- Baking at 225°F keeps the oven temperature low, obviating the need for a water bath.
This is, first and foremost, a lemon cheesecake—its bold flavor originating with grated lemon zest and essential oil working in tandem, with the zippy brightness of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and the mellow citrus fragrance of orange blossom water to tie everything together. Underneath it all, a combination of cream cheese and ricotta make the cheesecake itself tangy, light, and rich (but not overly so).
Other citrus cheesecakes, whether orange, bergamot, or key lime, are no more complicated than swapping one ingredient for its equivalent; for more on sourcing obscure essential oils, see our guide to essential oils, extracts, and flower waters.
- For the Graham Cracker Crust:
- 9 ounces fine cookie crumbs, store-bought or homemade, such as gingerbread, gingersnaps, or graham crackers, see note (about 2 cups; 250g)
- 1 ounce unsalted butter, melted (about 2 tablespoons; 30g)
- Pinch of salt
- For the Cheesecake:
- 24 ounces full-fat cream cheese, such as Philadelphia, brought to about 70°F/21°C (about 3 cups; 680g)
- 24 ounces fresh ricotta, strained if watery, brought to about 70°F/21°C, see note (about 3 cups; 680g)
- 10 ounces plain or toasted sugar (about 1 1/2 cups; 280g)
- 1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 tablespoons; 30g)
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest, not packed (about 5g)
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon oil or lemon extract
- 1/2 teaspoon orange flower water
- 1/4 teaspoon (1g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
- 8 large eggs (about 14 ounces; 395g)
- To Serve:
- candied lemon peel, blueberry jam, or other accompaniments, such as 1 recipe (about 1/2 cup) complementary Fruit Syrup or jelly, for saucing the fruit, optional
Getting Ready: This recipe requires an 8- by 4-inch nonreactive aluminum pan, preferably a non-latching, two-piece style, such as this one. Otherwise, a traditional cake pan of those dimensions will work, with a touch more effort to unmold. Of course, cheesecake can be baked in any size or style of pan, but the volume of batter, target temperatures, and times will require individual adjustments, which have not been tested here.
If using a two-piece pan, wrap the bottom piece in foil before assembly, then tear away the excess so the pan sits flat. If using a traditional cake pan, line the bottom with a parchment round (explanation and tutorial here). In either case, lightly grease the pan.
For the Crust: Add the cookie crumbs, melted butter, and salt to the pan, and stir with a fork until well combined. If needed, season to taste with additional salt. With your fingers, compress into an even layer along the bottom of the pan. The mixture may seem drier than you might expect, but it will absorb moisture from the cheesecake as it bakes.
For the Cheesecake: Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 225°F. Combine cream cheese, ricotta, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, lemon oil, orange flower water, and salt in the bowl of a 14-cup food processor and process until smooth, pausing to scrape the bowl as needed to dislodge any pieces of cream cheese that do not initially incorporate. Once smooth, add the eggs and process only until well combined. Use immediately or refrigerate the batter in an airtight container until needed, up to one week. Please note that the volume of batter will overwhelm mini-choppers as well as food processors with a "thick liquid" max-fill line of less than 10-cups; if this equipment is not available, the ingredients will need to be combined by hand or with great care on a stand mixer to avoid over-aeration.
Pour batter into the prepared pan and place on a baking sheet. Bounce a spoon across the surface to dislodge any air bubbles in the batter. If you don't see any, no need to continue. If you do notice a few rising up, keep bouncing the spoon until they're gone.
Bake until the cheesecake feels firm around the edges, though the innermost ring of cheesecake will wobble when you shake the pan. This softer zone should be no more than 3 inches across. The cheesecake will be done when the very center registers 155°F on a digital thermometer inserted into the very center of the cheesecake. Testing with a thermometer will not cause the cheesecake to crack; cracking is the result of over-baking and nothing more. In an accurate oven, with an 8- by 4-inch aluminum pan, the cheesecake will bake in about 3 1/2 hours. Please be aware the bake time will vary, perhaps substantially, according to the accuracy of the oven's temperature, pan style, batter temperature, and other factors. Cool the cheesecake at least 1 hour (or up to 4) before covering it to refrigerate until cold to the core, at least 12 hours.
Unmolding the Cheesecake From a Loose-Bottom Cake Pan: Loosen the sides of the cheesecake from the pan with a thin knife or offset spatula. Place the pan on a large can of tomatoes or a similarly sized object; something tall enough to lift the cheesecake 4 inches from the counter, and wide enough to form a stable base. With both hands on the sides of the pan, pull downward to drop the outer ring away from the bottom. Place the cake onto a flat work surface, loosen it from the bottom of the pan with an offset spatula, and transfer to a large, flat serving plate. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until needed, up to 10 days.
Unmolding the Cheesecake From a Traditional Cake Pan: Loosen the sides of the cheesecake from the pan with a thin knife or offset spatula. Stand the cake in a few inches of scalding hot water until the pan feels warm (a roasting pan works well for this). Drape the cake in plastic wrap to protect its surface and then invert onto a large, flat plate. Lift the pan to pull it away. It should slide free without any resistance; if not, continue standing in hot water a few minutes more. After removing the pan, peel the parchment from the crust, and re-invert the cheesecake onto a serving plate. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until needed, up to 10 days.
To Serve: Top with candied lemon rind, jam, or homemade fruit syrup. Cut the cheesecake with a large chef's knife dipped in hot water; for clean and tidy portions of cheesecake, pause to clean the blade under hot running water between each slice.
The lemony flavor of this cheesecake pairs nicely with many types of cookie crumbs, whether homemade (recipe suggestions follow) or store-bought, particularly those with a strong note of ginger or spice to balance the bright lemon. Suggestions include gingersnaps, gingerbread, and lemon-ginger creams (wafers only), or options like Biscoff-style speculoos cookies or homemade graham crackers. Gluten-free alternatives to any of these options will work equally well.
The flavor, texture, and appearance of this cheesecake can vary substantially depending on the composition of the ricotta itself, so expect deviations from brand to brand and style to style, depending on factors such as fat, protein, and moisture content. These variations will all produce an enjoyable cheesecake, so long as the ricotta has a good flavor and texture to start. A grainy, gritty ricotta will make a grainy, gritty cheesecake.
Make-Ahead and Storage
In an airtight container, the cheesecake batter can be refrigerated up to one week and used straight from the fridge. Wrapped in plastic, the finished cheesecake will keep well for about 10 days in the fridge.