I was the host of What's Baking? this month, and in the past, a few people have mentioned that they wished the themes were a little more challenging, so I wanted to step it up a bit! I challenged everyone to either bake a convenience product or to make a convenience product and then bake something with it!
I tossed around a lot of different ideas--homemade graham crackers, homemade pie crust (yes, I usually buy it!), homemade lemon curd, and many others! But I finally decided on homemade fresh ricotta cheese. I was pleased with the result--it was a bit lemony, and the curds were bigger than I'm used to for ricotta, but it was quite tasty! The yield was not great, unfortunately, but I got enough for my purposes! It's not something I'll do every day, for sure, but it wasn't difficult at all.
I used my ricotta to make a fresh ricotta cheesecake. It turned out really yummy! It reminded me a lot of an Italian pastry that my dad used to make every year for Easter, called pastia (I have no idea on the spelling!). The pastia is made with farmer's cheese or basket cheese, rather than ricotta, and has rice in it, but the texture and the cinnamon/orange flavors were very similar to this cheesecake! It's one of my favorite Italian desserts, so that was a good thing!
Fresh Ricotta (from Serious Eats)
6 c. milk (I used skim, but whole would be tastier!)
6 Tbl. lemon juice or white vinegar (vinegar will give a more neutral flavor)
3/4 tsp. salt
Stir all the ingredients together in a large, clear, microwave-safe container. Microwave on high for 6-10 minutes, stirring gently a couple times throughout, until the mixture starts to bubble around the edges and/or reaches 165* F. Stir for 5 seconds, until the curds separate out from the whey. Spoon the curds into a colander that has been lines with cheesecloth or paper towels. Let drain while you make the crust for the cheesecake (or until it reaches a consistency that you like).
Ricotta Cheesecake with Shortbread Crust (crust from Joy of Baking, cheesecake adapted from Allrecipes.com)
1/3 c. plus 1 1/2 Tbl. all-purpose flour, divided
4 Tbl. powdered sugar, divided
3 Tbl. cold butter
1 c. (about 10 oz.) fresh or store-bought ricotta
2 Tbl. honey (use something good like orange flower or wildflower honey)
Zest of half an orange
1/4-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
For the crust, cut the butter into 1/3 c. flour and 2 Tbl. of the powdered sugar until pea-sized (you can also do this in a food processor). Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 5" spring-form pan or other pan with high sides. Bake at 400*F for 10 minutes, or until edges start to lightly brown.
Meanwhile, stir together the ricotta and eggs. If you prefer a smoother texture, use a blender or food processor to mix them. Stir in remaining 1 1/2 Tbl. flour, remaining 2 Tbl. powdered sugar, honey, zest, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla extract until combined. Pour the mixture into the pan with the crust, and bake at 325* F for 30-40 minutes, or until the center is just firm. Enjoy!