What's the difference between ricotta pie, and cheesecake?

Not much, taste-wise.

But if you're looking for a lighter-textured "cheesecake," do what many an Italian family does: enjoy a modest slice of Amaretto-scented ricotta pie, topped (or not) with orange marmalade.

With a cup of espresso, it's the perfect end to the typical Easter feast: ham, potatoes, vegetables, salad... and lasagna.

Yes, lasagna. I've learned, after nearly 37 years of enjoying holidays with my Italian in-laws – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, birthdays – that pasta is seldom left out of any celebratory occasion.

Even if the Thanksgiving turkey itself isn't accompanied by a bowl of spaghetti (as it occasionally has been), you can be sure that pasta was on tap the night before; or will be ready by halftime of the final football game Thanksgiving night.

Thankfully, I love pasta, and would happily eat it three times a day (if I was active enough to work it off). And while I've never really learned to love Italian desserts – aside from biscotti and pizzelle – ricotta pie is one treat I happily embrace each Easter.

Along with the lasagna, of course.

[Attention, all you Italians out there – my family's not alone in serving pasta at every holiday, are we? Reassure me with a comment below, please!]

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the following in a food processor or blender, and process until totally ground, but not powdery:

  • a scant 1/3 cup (32g) graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon (14g) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (32g) almonds — whole, slivered, or blanched; honey roasted are tasty
  • pinch of salt

Rub a generous amount of soft butter on the inside of a 9" pie pan at least 1 1/2" deep; use a deep-dish pan, if you have one. If your pie pan isn't at least 1 1/2" deep, substitute a 9" square pan.

Pour the crumbs into the pan, tilting and shaking the pan to distribute the crumbs across the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet, to make it easy to handle once you've added the filling.

Note: For a less traditional but delicious crust, substitute our Citrus Scented Tart Dough for this graham cracker crust. There's no need to parbake the crust before filling.

To make the filling, place the following in a mixing bowl:

  • 3 cups (680g) ricotta cheese, whole-milk or part-skim, at room temperature
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (99g) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (57g) amaretto liqueur, optional; for enhanced flavor
  • 1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia, optional; for enhanced flavor
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind (zest), optional; for enhanced flavor
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Tip: If you're not someone who keeps liqueur in the house but wants to try the Amaretto in this recipe, purchase one of the small "nips" from the liquor store. It should be a scant 1/4 cup, but if it's not, don't worry; just use however much you have.

Stir everything together until well combined. For smoother texture, gently pulse the filling a few times in a food processor.

Pour the filling into the crust; it will come nearly to the lip of the pan. That's why you need to use a pan that's at least 1 1/2" deep.

Bake the pie for 45 to 50 minutes, until it's puffed up, turned golden, and is becoming brown around the very outside edge.

A digital thermometer inserted into the center should register about 160°F. The pie will still look quite unset in the center; that's OK.

Remove the pie from the oven, and cool it to room temperature. Note that it'll sink in the center as it cool; again, no worries, that's as it should be.

Once it's cool, refrigerate the pie until it's chilled.

Serve the pie as is, in all its simple glory.

Or add the topping of your choice. Orange marmalade, heated briefly in the microwave to make it pourable, is a nice topping for this pie. Grated orange peel is often one of the ingredients in the filling; but substituting an orange-based topping gives you more flexibility, in case your audience includes those who might not like orange in their cheesecake – er, ricotta pie.

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Ricotta Pie.

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About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was an award-winning Maine journalist (favorite topics: sports and food) before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. Hired to write the newly launched Baker’s Catalogue, PJ became the small but growing company’s sixth employee.PJ wa...
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