Italians love cheesecake, like Americans love tiramisu. The difference is that they don't adopt foreign dishes like we do. So whenever the dr bob cooking team is persuaded to do a cheesecake in Italy, it is a big success, but not one which inspires imitation by the locals.
Limoncello is a lemon ("limone") liqueur made in the Italian islands of Capri, Ischia, and Ponza scattered from Naples towards Rome and no doubt in many other places there as well, given that Italy is blessed with both an abundance of lemons and a well known priority for alcohol in its liquid consumable traditions. The team acquired a bottle in Capri years ago with baking in mind, but it never found its way out of the refrigerator where it is always ready to be served in its mandatory chilled state, should we ever remember that it can also be imbibed directly without prior insertion into some labor intensive dessert.
A trip to Naples with a follow-up visit to Ponza reminded us of its potential baking possibilities. Limoncello seemed to be enjoying a wave of popularity in Italy at the time, so when on very short notice a cheesecake was requested, it seemed like a logical choice for a new experiment in the killer dessert department, without having to fuss with actual fresh fruit, obvious choices for which were not readily available. With the amount of cream cheese that materialized in the original Naples improvisation, only a low profile cake was possible. Encouraged by the success of the simple no-frills version, a standard sized normal height three layer version was planned for a big 39-at-one-table-43rd-birthday-party-seafood-based-antipasto-and-pasta- blowout extravaganza on Ponza, with desserts contributed by some of the guests, among which was the dr bob team entry. Finding ourselves somewhat embarrassed by the wave of compliments for our creation, somehow miraculously divided up among most of the guests, we downed a second piece of the mascarpone cream cake (generously cut larger than the first!) to show our enthusiasm for the closest competitor. We survived.
Of course this recipe was inspired by the legendary Mother Wonderful hazelnut cheesecake, but since the local copy of the complete "What, ME Cook?" book was not kept in a prominent and immediately accessible location ("somewhere in the house, but I don't know where," loosely translated from the Italian), we had to go with an extrapolation from the three singles "No Excuses Left Cheesecake," "Simple Soft Touch Cheesecake," and "bob's Converted Lindy's Strawberry Cheesecake" all stashed together in one of the host's few cookbooks, having been obtained by letter in the early days before aggressive book distribution of the entire edition by dr bob vanity press. Naturally never used.
In the expanded version on Ponza, the vague memory of mixing plain yogurt and Fiorello (a mascarpone-creme-frais-like Italian product, see "Cheesecake Supplement for English Speaking Italians") to produce a sour cream substitute for the topping was confronted with the hard reality of availability with only fruit flavored yogurt, so mascarpone, the magic ingredient of tiramisu, took its place.
The cake was actually baked in plug-in-the-wall electric oven just big enough to fit the 22.5cm (9.5in) springform pan borrowed from Annamaria and equipped with a temperature setting, unlike most Italian ovens. We started out a bit high to get going and saved the cake just in time from getting too browned by turning it down to 180º C (about 350º F). Thinking that by using the electric coils both above and below for more uniform heat distribution turned out to be a miscalculation, since the pseudo-sour-cream layer ended up getting broiled, but in spite of its somewhat golden brown highlights, the taste was not affected, as testified to by the army of guests who wiped it out.
|versione bassa (Napoli)||versione alta (Ponza)||US version|
|75g||125g||burro fuso||1/4 c =2oz = 4 T = 1/2 stick melted butter|
|100g||150g||Mulino Bianco Grancereale||1 c graham cracker crumbs|
|50g||50g||Saiwa Lingue di Gatto oppure Parmalat Nussli||1/2 c vanilla wafers or hazelnut cookies|
|0 Cu||2 Cu||zucchero||2 T sugar|
|450g||800g||Philadelphia (formaggio fresco)||4 8oz cream cheese|
|150g||300g||zucchero (1.5 tazze)||1 1/2 c sugar|
|2 Cu||4 Cu||farina||4 T flour|
|1/4 cu||1/4 cu||sale fine||1/4 t salt|
|1/2 cu||1/2 cu||buccia di limone||1/2 T lemon zest|
|1 Cu||8 Cu||limoncello||1/2 c limoncello|
|150g||Fiorello (latticino cremoso)||2 c sour cream|
|3 Cu||zucchero (normale o a velo)||1/4 c sugar|
|1 cu||limoncello||1 t limoncello|
|a piacere||spolverata di zucchero a velo|
After coasting many years on a reputation built on distant memories of rarely produced cheesecakes for Italian friends, a few Italian friends demanded action in the summer of 2010, which saw two successive cheesecake events in Sabaudia on the coast south of Rome. Our 1996 limoncello cheesecake had been on the web for 12 years already, and by 2010 this obvious limoncello application found many implementers worldwide, even a few who discovered our pioneering recipe [the self-proclaimed cheesecake goddess for example], and some inadvertently ripping us off without any credit [anthony bourdain food essay contest applicant, bob comment, she graciously replied], but sharing is why we do this so we were flattered by this act of appreciation for our creation.
Our double header Italian cheesecake experience led us to conclude the optimal configuration for this recipe is instead a half recipe in a full 9 or 10 inch pan (23 to 26 cm diameter) to lower the cheesecake layer to a reasonable height in comparison with the crust and topping layers. The full recipe even with narrow slices is still pretty heavy on the stomach, so this change also lightens up the dish and makes it easier to slice and serve. And by this time recipe ready hazelnuts were also easy to find in Italy so there was no need for the hazelnut cookie substitution in the crust, and since we have traditionally been using toasted hazelnut crumbs for garnish on the topping for a decade in the US, we have updated the recipe slightly to conform to this new reality. And that old advice about slowly incorporating the eggs one at a time seems a bit irrelevant here with the half cup of limoncello that liquifies the batter anyway. We dropped it.
Furthermore pressing crumbs up the side of the pan is hard to deal with, so we only do flat bottoms now with any cheesecakes. Somewhere along the way we also realized that tracing the bottom of the cheesecake pan on parchment or waxed paper and cutting out the circle and putting it curled side down on the bottom of the locked springform pan, with the bottom upside down so the rim points down, makes it easy to cut in place without damaging the pan or easy to slide off onto a flat plate for more elegant presentation, or to leave at an away from home destination without the pan. We always do this now. Dental floss can then be used to precut small slices, sawing down first in half, then quarters, then eighths, and then the remaining wedges in thirds in the higher full recipe mode to guarantee small serving slices (24). The lower half recipe slices can be wider. The crust should also only be about 3/16 in (0.5 cm) thick to cut easily so some adjustment of the crust quantities might be required depending on the actual configuration used (9, 9.5, 10, 10.5 in; 23, 26cm). Finally leaving the cake in uncut self-serve mode is dangerous since people tend to mutilate the cake and take overly generous slices.
Although we suggest the half recipe in a full sized pan, some of you may want to do the full recipe anyway, which only differs in the middle cheesecake layer. On the other hand a full recipe can also be poured into two full sized pans, with appropriate extrapolation of the crust and topping layers by the ratio of the surface areas (ratio of the squares of the diameters). Standard packaging of ingredients is another consideration for these choices. In Italy Fiorello comes in 100g packages while mascarpone comes in 250 g packages (or 500g). We used a 5/4 batter scale up (5 x 200g Philadelphia, 5 eggs, etc) plus 3 Fiorello packages and 1 250g mascarpone package to make topping for 9.5 and 10.5 (23 cm and 26 cm) pans, which maybe was a bit shy of what covers easily, but we made it work. For 1 full recipe in a full pan we had tried 2 Fiorello package and 1 250g mascarpone package, but that was a bit much, so 125g of the latter would be a better solution with the 2 Fiorello packages, but then you have leftover mascarpone. Resist throwing it all in if you want a lighter total product. Italy also seems to have a new version of Philadelphia cream cheese called Philadelphia Yo (how ironic, Philly speak by accident) marked "best for desserts" made from lowfat yogurt (it comes in 200g packages). We used that and it was fine.
|versione a meta||versione intera||US half version||US full version|
|125g||125g||burro fuso||4 T||1/4 c =2oz = 4 T = 1/2 stick melted butter|
|125g||125g||Mulino Bianco Grancereale||3/4-1 c||3/4-1 c graham cracker crumbs|
|75g||75g||sbriccioli di nocciole||1/2 c||1/2 c hazelnut crumbs|
|2 Cu||2 Cu||zucchero||2 T||2 T sugar|
|400g||800g||Philadelphia (formaggio fresco)||2 8oz||4 8oz cream cheese|
|150g||300g||zucchero (1.5 tazze)||3/4 c||1 1/2 c sugar|
|2 Cu||4 Cu||farina||2 T||4 T flour|
|1/8 cu||1/4 cu||sale fine||1/8 t||1/4 t salt|
|1/4 cu||1/2 cu||buccia di limone (facoltativa)||1/2 T||1 T lemon zest (optional)|
|4 Cu||8 Cu||limoncello||1/4 c||1/2 c limoncello|
|200g||200g||Fiorello (latticino cremoso)||2 c sour cream||2 c sour cream|
|3 Cu||3 Cu||zucchero (normale o a velo)||1/4 c sugar||1/4 c sugar|
|1 cu||1 cu||limoncello||1 t limoncello||1 t limoncello|
|for all versions: spolverata di bricciole di nocciole = sprinkling of toasted hazelnut crumbs|