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Recipe: Limoncello Cheesecake Squares

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My love for cheesecake goes back to my childhood. My mom used to make cheesecake often for our parties and get-togethers. She always used the same recipe—one from an old edition of The Joy of Cooking, and a recipe that I now have a copy of, too. It's a phenomenal recipe and one that was often requested by friends and family and happily devoured at every gathering. The filling was always light and smooth with a velvety texture and a hint of sweetness which I loved because the delicate tang of the cream cheese was never overpowered by too much sugar. The crust, made from Zwieback toast, also scantly sweetened, was always firm and crisp; and gave way with a *snap* when pierced with a fork. My most favorite part of my mom's cheesecake was the topping: lightly sweetened sour cream perfumed with vanilla extract and spread into a thin even layer on top of which she would alternate pieces of sliced of strawberry and kiwi.

Very few cheesecakes I have eaten over the years have measured up to the recipe my mom made. Until now. Over the years I have eaten and come across many bad versions and cheesecake recipes. Soggy crusts, dense and over-sweetened fillings, gargantuan portions. But it looks like I have finally found another favorite cheesecake recipe and one I have placed solidly in my dessert recipe files right next to my mom's recipe.

It is a recipe for Limoncello Cheesecake Squares from one of Giada de Laurentiis' cookbooks, and it is divine in so many ways. Her recipe uses one of my favorite Italian liquors from the South of Italy: Limoncello. The bright, tart flavor of this after-dinner drink gives these cheesecake squares a light, citrus flavor, which is enhanced by freshly grated lemon zest in both the crust and the filling. Although I rarely drink alcoholic beverages, I do enjoy using wine and liquors in a variety of recipes like most Italians. Beverages such as wine and liquors lend depth of flavor to many sweet and savory dishes, and a little goes a long way. The alcohol dissipates in the cooking or baking process, leaving the final dish lightly scented with the flavor of the spirit that was used. The crust is made from store-bought Italian almond biscotti, which gives it a nutty flavor and crisp texture. The filling is a combination of cream cheese and ricotta cheese which results in a light, smooth texture. I also love the less traditional cheesecake shape—in a square baking pan cut into squares. It is an ideal way to control portions and makes for a unique presentation since most people expect cheesecake to be served in wedges.

With Spring almost in full bloom, these Limoncello Cheesecake Squares would make a delightful dessert at your next get-together. Because this dessert has to be made at least a day in advance and can be refrigerated for up t 2 days before serving; perfect for entertaining.

Limoncello Cheesecake Squares Recipe

Adapted from Giada's Family Dinners by Giada de Laurentiis

Note: If you do not want to use or cannot easily find Limoncello for this recipe, substitute the same amount of freshly squeezed lemon juice. 

Ingredients:

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 7oz. package Italian almond biscotti
  • 6 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 T. grated lemon zest
  • 1 12oz. container whole milk ricotta cheese, drained
  • 2 8oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup limoncello liquor
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Position an oven rack in the center. Spray the bottom of a 9 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan with the cooking spray; set aside.

Break the biscotti into pieces and place them in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Grind the biscotti into fine crumbs. Add in the melted butter and 1 tablespoon of the grated lemon zest and process until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Transfer the crumb mixture into the prepared baking pan and, using your hand, press the mixture evenly and firmly into the bottom (not the sides) of the baking pan. Bake the crust until it is light golden, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and cool completely on a cooling rack.

In the meantime, bring some water to boil in a kettle.

Clean out the food processor bowl and steel blade. Place the ricotta in the work bowl and blend until smooth. Add in the cream cheese and sugar and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add in the limoncello, vanilla extract, the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon zest and the eggs. Pulse until all the ingredients are completely incorporated.

Pour the cheese mixture over the cooled crust in the baking pan. Place the baking pan in a large roasting pan. Pour enough of the hot water into the roasting pan so that it comes halfway up the sides of the pan with the cheesecake mixture. Carefully transfer the roasting pan into the oven and place on the center oven rack. Bake until the cheesecake is light golden but the center of the cake jiggles slightly when the pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour (the cheesecake will firm as it cools). Remove the baking pan from the roasting pan and place it on a cooling rack to cool for 1 hour. Transfer the cheesecake to the refrigerator and chill it until it is cold, at least 8 hours or up to 2 days.

To serve, cut the cheesecake into squares with a very sharp knife and wipe the knife between cuts for the cleanest slices. Serve the cheesecake slightly chilled.

Do you have a dessert recipe that has become a staple in your cooking arsenal? Tell us about it.

Flavia Scalzitti is a food blogger based in Houston, Texas. She is originally from Maryland and comes from an Italian family. Flavia grew up around people who used food and cooking as a way to keep their traditions alive, celebrate their Italian culture, express their love for their family, and nourish the people they cooked for with the freshest and best quality ingredients. She is entirely self-taught and is also passionate about baking. In addition to cooking and baking, Flavia enjoys learning about and practicing photography, reading, traveling, practicing yoga, and spending time with her husband, Peter. She blogs at Flavia's Flavors: http://www.flaviasflavors.com

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