Traditional for Easter, you can skip the crust for a gluten-free sweet
Should we call this a pie, a tart, or a custard? It has elements of all three.
Ricotta pie is an Italian favorite, especially at Easter time. With the addition of cream cheese, it becomes something halfway between pie and cheesecake. So we guess you could call this cheesecake, too.
But what’s in a name? We just call it delicious
Recipe: Italian Ricotta and Cream Cheese Pie
This recipe isn’t as sweet as most cheesecakes, but it’s plenty satisfying. You can make this dish in a traditional pie plate or in individual ramekins without a crust. We like it both ways, but we think it’s actually better without the crust (which makes it more like a custard, but whatever). So, although the recipe includes a crust, feel free to omit it.
We think a ginger-snap crust works particularly well, but you could substitute regular pie dough or a graham-cracker crust if you prefer. Or see Notes for ideas on making a gluten-free crust.
Mrs. Kitchen Riffs is the dessert maven in our household, and this is her creation. It’s adapted (loosely) from a King Arthur Flour recipe.
Prep time for this dish is about 20 minutes. Baking time adds 45 to 50 minutes. Allow the pie to cool for at least an hour, preferably two, before serving.
For the crust:
- 1 to 2 cups ginger snaps
- 4 to 6 tablespoons butter, melted
- 8 ounces ricotta cheese, whole-milk or part-skim
- 16 ounces cream cheese
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 6 large eggs, preferably pasteurized (see Notes)
- ¾ teaspoon almond extract
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt (may substitute table salt; see Notes)
- grated zest of one large orange
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the baking dish(es): You can use a 9-inch pie plate or tart pan or a 9-inch square pan. Alternatively, you can use about six 4-inch diameter ramekins (see Notes).
- Make the crust: Place the ginger snaps and melted butter into the bowl of a mini food processor. Process until the mixture is the consistency of wet sand. Press the mixture around the bottom of the pie plate or baking pan (we usually don’t press it up the sides of the pie plate or pan). Set aside.
- Make the filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer, beat the cheeses and sugar until creamy. Beat in the eggs. Add the almond extract, vanilla extract, salt, and orange zest. Mix until well combined.
- Pour the filling over the crust. (Depending on the size of your baking plate/pan, you may have some excess filling; see Notes.)
- Bake the pie for 45 to 50 minutes, until it is becoming brown around the edges and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center shows about 160 degrees F. The pie will still be quite liquid in the center, but will set up as it cools. Do not overbake.
- Remove the pie from the oven and cool it on a wire rack. Serve at room temperature or refrigerate to chill.
- Instead of almond extract, you can try using ¼ cup Amaretto liqueur (the original recipe offers this as an option).
- If baking this dish in a pie/tart plate: The recipe probably works best when baked in a deep-dish pie plate or a 9-inch square pan. Don’t use a metal two-piece tart pan, though (one with sides that are easily removable, leaving you with a freestanding tart in a pastry shell). The ginger-snap crust isn’t sturdy enough to support the filling for this dish. Use a one-piece pan.
- If you use a standard 9-inch pie or tart plate, you’ll probably have some filling mixture left over. You can pour this mixture into oven-safe ramekins and bake them separately.
- Or you can just bake this whole recipe in individual ramekins and serve it that way. We often do.
- It’s easy to make this recipe gluten free: Just skip the crust entirely. Or substitute nuts or gluten-free cookies for the crust.
- Speaking of the crust, you can make it thick or thin, depending on your preference. One cup of ginger snaps will make just enough to cover the bottom of a pie plate. Two cups will make enough to create a thicker crust, and may even leave some for pressing around the sides of the pie plate.
- Eggs carry a slight, but real, risk of salmonella. You can buy pasteurized eggs at most grocery stores, and that’s what we use when we bake. Why? Because we can’t resist tasting the batter – which has raw egg in it.
- We use kosher salt in cooking and baking. Because its flakes are larger, kosher salt doesn’t pack as tightly in a measure, making it less salty by volume than regular table salt. So if using regular table salt in this recipe, add just a couple of pinches. Or to taste (the recipe calls for so little salt that it doesn’t matter much).
- What’s the difference between a pie and a tart? Not a lot, actually. Both usually have crusts, but a tart traditionally is baked in a container that has fluted edges. The main difference: Tarts usually (but not always) are removed from the baking dish before being cut into serving slices – so you get to see the entire crust with its attractive fluted sides. The crust of course needs to be sturdy enough to support the baked filling when it’s removed from the dish.
- Pies usually are not removed from the baking dish before being cut and served.
- How about custard? Well, it usually doesn’t have a crust and often is baked in individual serving dishes. So if you make this recipe without a crust and bake it in individual ramekins, it resembles a custard. But custards typically contain milk or cream, which this recipe doesn’t have.
- So this dish probably most resembles a pie. That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.
“Fantastic dish,” I said. “You know how much I like cheesecake, but this pie is even better. It takes the cake.”
“Glad you like it,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “And the recipe is easy as pie. A real cakewalk.”
“Can’t decide whether I like it better with or without the crust,” I said. “We should do a bake-off so we can compare both at the same time.”
“You’re in luck, pie boy,” said Mrs K R. “I had some batter left over after I filled the pie plate – just enough to fill one ramekin. I baked it with the pie, and it’s got your name on it.”
That’s my Mrs K R – sweet as pie.
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