La Tavola della mia Famiglia: Italian Ricotta Cheesecake Recipe

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I’ll let you in on a little secret.  Even though I grew up in an Italian family where more than half of my relatives, including my father and grandparents, were actually from Italy, I had never heard of mascarpone until I was an adult and discovered it for myself.  Shocking, isn’t it?  But, it’s true.  For some reason none of the cooks in my family ever used the stuff.  How could this be?  Well, the only answer that I can come up with is that none of them were big bakers, and mascarpone is more commonly used in sweet dishes.   Also, since my family came from the southern half of the boot, most of the food out of their kitchens was tomato and olive oil based.  Except for ricotta and fresh mozzarella, very little of anything creamy was ever used in cooking.

My grandmother was diabetic, so she really never served much in the way of desserts outside of fresh fruit platters and some sfogliatelle or cannoli picked up from one of the neighborhood pastry shops.   I guess she figured why make luscious desserts that she couldn’t enjoy herself, especially when there were so many excellent bakeries within walking distance.  And, because she didn’t bake or make lots of sweets, none of her four daughters ever did either.  They bought their cakes, tiramisu and pastries too.  I guess you could say that our entire family did its part to keep the local bakeries in business.   Heck, I’d probably do the same thing if I had access to all of those wonderful Italian treats!  Sadly, here in my neck of the woods that is not an option.  If I want to enjoy authentic, mouthwatering Italian delights, I have two options.  The first is to buy them at the one and decidedly “meh” Italian bakery in town.  The second is to make them myself.  Sometimes, I choose option one, but most of the time I go the DIY route. 


Even though the cooks in my family leaned towards the savory side of food, there were some notable exceptions.  There were always homemade cookies and struffoli at Christmas time,  and Pizza Rustica and Pastiera di Grano for Easter.  There was also this Italian Ricotta Cheesecake that made an appearance every so often.  I remember my mother poring over her Polly-O cookbook while churning out her version of cheesecake – Italian-style.  This cheesecake bears little resemblance to the super rich and dense variety that most of us are familiar (and maybe a little obsessed) with.   Instead of cream cheese, the primary ingredient in this cheesecake is ricotta cheese.  Using ricotta makes for a much lighter and fluffier cake, but also one that has a significantly less smooth and creamy texture.   Honestly, I was never the biggest fan of my mother’s ricotta cheesecake, but my father loved it.  He wasn’t a big dessert guy, and this cake was one of the few he truly enjoyed.   So, when I think of  it, I think of him.  That’s why I wanted to share it with you.  And, that’s also where the mascarpone comes in.


As I mentioned, I am not overly fond of the traditional ricotta cheesecake.  I mean I like it, but it doesn’t send me to the moon.   The flavors are lovely, but there’s just a slight graininess and wetness about it that puts me off.   When I conceived the recipe for this cheesecake, one of the things I wanted to achieve was smoother, creamier consistency – more like its New York-style cousin.  Adding cream cheese didn’t work because I felt it gave the cake too much of a sharp edge.  The flavor profile of an Italian cheesecake should be subtle, mellow and a little lazy, reminiscent of sunny afternoons enjoying la dolce vita in the Italian countryside with the scent of Sicilian orange blossoms wafting by on a breeze.   Nope.  Cream cheese wasn’t the answer.  But, mascarpone was another story.  Its silky, luxurious quality with the barest hint of sweet cream was exactly what my cheesecake needed!  So, in this recipe I have swapped out a pound of the regularly used ricotta for mascarpone.

Besides the ricotta, another signature ingredient found in an Italian ricotta cheesecake is orange flower water.  Orange flower water is a clear, perfumed distillation of fresh bitter orange blossoms that is widely used in Mediterranean dessert dishes.   It is incredibly fragrant and its flavor is quite distinctive.  It is more floral than citrusy.   You can try using orange extract instead of orange flower water, but there really is no substitute.  It’s available at most Italian and Middle Eastern markets, as well as online.

Oh, how I wish you could have been in my kitchen while my cheesecake was baking!  I’m pretty sure that the heady aroma of vanilla and orange blossoms would have made you swoon.  I did.  And, if you had been there, you would have also gotten to taste this dreamy confection.  It was marvelously smooth and rich, and yet lighter in texture than I expected it to be.  The mascarpone didn’t weigh it down.  It pulled the rest of the ingredients together and enhanced them.  This will definitely be my “go to” ricotta cheesecake recipe, now and forever.  I only wish that I could have shared a slice with my father.  I know he would have loved this version just as much as Mom’s.



104 responses to La Tavola della mia Famiglia: Italian Ricotta Cheesecake Recipe

  1. On February 20, 2011 at 4:38pm, Rosa said...

    I love ricotta. That Italian cheesecake is wonderful and must taste heavenly.



  2. On February 20, 2011 at 4:58pm, Allison @ OneWhiteTulip said...

    Oh how funny! My italian family was the same way! Anything savory was made completely from scratch, and we made a wide variety of Italian dishes, but our desserts were always pizelles and biscotti – never anything rich like tiramisu. Although, every couple years or so my Grandma would make a ricotta cheesecake – it always came out a little on the dry side though. I’ll have to try your recipe!

  3. On February 20, 2011 at 7:27pm, MaryBeth said... looks simply perfect, I would love to try it.

  4. On February 20, 2011 at 7:41pm, Joanne said...

    My family had never encountered mascarpone before I introduced it to them either and I think it’s a southern italy thing…maybe it’s used more in the north?

    I’m with you on the Italian cheesecake…it’s OKAY but not spectacular. The addition of mascarpone, though, would certainly send it over the edge.

  5. On February 20, 2011 at 7:42pm, Pat said...

    My Italian husband’s family never used mascarpone either, Susan. It wasn’t a cheese often available in southern Italy. Your cheesecake looks absolutely delicious! I still have my original copies of the Polly-O cookbooks…love them!

  6. On February 20, 2011 at 11:25pm, Foodiewife said...

    I admit that I am a big fan of ricotta pie. However, I adore NY cheesecake, and I loooooooove mascarpone cheese. The photos of this cheesecake hit the lusty side of my brain. I absolutely have to make this recipe. I happen to have a couple bags of amaretti cookies, and I love those too. I love the color of the cheesecake, and I can already visualize that this is going to be a huge hit! Thank you for sharing the recipe, and the story of your heritage. Great post!

  7. On February 21, 2011 at 6:43am, Rachel (S[d]OC) said...

    I’ve always liked Italian cheesecake, but I know what you mean about the texture. I like the fact that it lacks the tartness of traditional cheesecake (I hated that growing up) but it is a bit grainy. I do like thelightness of it though. Sometimes that light texture and not-too-sweetness makes it the perfect dessert after a heavy meal. I love the addition of mascapone. Now there is a way to improve that texture! You are brilliant!

    So many good Italian bakeries in my ‘hood. I’ll have to send you a care package.

    I never had mascarpone until I was in my 20s. I think that’s partially because it didn’t really become trendy before then. The explosion of tiramisu as a popular dessert seems to be what brought mascarpone into the spotlight.

  8. On February 21, 2011 at 1:36pm, SMITH BITES said...

    it’s perfect Susan! and i much prefer the ricotta cheesecake over its new york sister . . . i know i’m weird . . . but really, NY cheesecake is just too heavy and dense for me. i like it yes, over-the-moon, rock-my world, gaga? nope. but ricotta cheesecake is swoon-worthy for me – and your trick about adding the mascarpone? brilliant!!

  9. On February 21, 2011 at 2:42pm, Bren said...

    this looks like it needs to be in someone’s high-end bakery!

  10. On February 21, 2011 at 4:33pm, Rosemary said...

    I think I’m in love with this! My family also did not bake all that much, but we sure ate well! And I, too, never heard of mascarpone until I was a biggie girl. I love the idea of this cheesecake and I’m going to make it this weekend.

  11. On February 21, 2011 at 5:52pm, Eliana said...

    I haven’t seen a cheesecake look this good in a long time. I wish I could dive into a big slice of this right now.

  12. On February 22, 2011 at 8:18am, paul jennette said...

    What a wonderful story! I would love to be able to go to REAL Italian bakeries and pick up desserts, how spoiled (in a good way) you must have been. And I’m sure it very hard to find the real deal in your neck of the woods. I live near Chicago, so a stroll to Little Italy can do the trick for us. But I’m sure nothing beats bakeries in Italy!

  13. On February 23, 2011 at 1:25pm, The Food Hunter said...

    I like your version of ricotta cheesecake. We never used mascarpone in my family either…also from southern Italy. I will have to try this.

  14. On February 23, 2011 at 1:54pm, Lucy said...

    Oooh what a treat! This looks so creamy and delicious, and has reminded me to use orange flower water more often. Thank you for sharing 😀

  15. On March 16, 2011 at 3:12am, Mayajo said...

    Never tried using mascarpone with cheese cake, and its difficult to fine one here in my country.

  16. On April 21, 2011 at 10:17pm, Susan said...

    I just finished making this very delicious Italian cheese cake! It’s in the oven right now as I post this. I was so excited to bake this for Easter, I couldn’t even wait for it to come out of the oven to post!!! I will say this, it looks perfect right now as it bakes. The aromatic smell is permeating the entire house <3 will keep you posted on all the results/opinions!!! Thanks for sharing this one!

  17. On October 12, 2011 at 6:19pm, Louise said...

    I tried this based on the ingredients, I never made a c cheesecake before . . . but I know how to cook. Looked on the internet for tips etc. Didn’t know how much of the cake should be wobbly or how set the sides should be in relation. I took 1/4 C sugar off the ingredients because I don’t like overly sweet cheesecake. I changed the orange zest to Tangelo zest because it’s not bitter and bright orange. I used about 3/4 Tb of lemon zest, 1 1/2 of Tangelo, and 1/2 of orange zest. I baked it with a pan of water on the bottom shelf while the cheesecake was on the middle rack. When it seemed to get a little too brown halfway through, I put a sheet of foil over the top. I didn’t tuck it, just lay it over the top and checked the cake. Mine needed a few more minutes. . .I thought. It was the most delicious cheesecake I ever had. It wasn’t grainy. It was smooth and light and delicate but luscious in flavor. I brought it to a buffet dine and the whole thing went and I got compliments. I will make it again ASAP as I din’t get a chance to get more than a taste.

  18. On November 12, 2011 at 12:32pm, Andrea Brooks said...

    Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. It is absolutely the best Italian cheesecake I’ve ever eaten.
    I followed the recipe exactly and it turned out PERFETTO!

  19. On February 13, 2012 at 4:22pm, Erin said...

    Mmm Yum yum yum! I lovecooking! It’s my favourite subject at school, this looks a lot nicer then what I can make :) I gotta have a crack at making this 😀

  20. On March 09, 2012 at 6:20pm, Louise said...

    I posted after my first one. It was great and since then I have made several. It’s become my signature dessert because everyone demands it. In my first cake I used some lemon zest as well as tangelo and orange. Now I use exactly what’s called for in the recipe and use orange and/or tangelo. I have one in the oven now and all the ingredients measured out for another.. The next one will be in a 9 1/2 inch pan. I hope that doesn’t matter. Mascarpone comes in 17.5 oz. tubs or 500 mg. So I use a little more than the recipe calls for but not quite the 17.5 0z. I have always liked the ricottas cheesecake over the NY which just seemed overly heavy and not quite as healthy. . .which can’t be true because they are both high in fat and calorie. This is a terrific recipe. Has anyone made the batter in tiny bite size cupcake cups????

  21. On March 25, 2012 at 12:10pm, Jo Ann said...

    I just made this and it’s really wiggly in the center – will it get better as it cools or should I bake it longer?

  22. On March 25, 2012 at 9:53pm, Jo Ann said...

    OK – cake tastes awesome, but is still really wiggly in the middle and was expelling water all day – still is – should it have baked longer?

  23. On April 07, 2012 at 5:14pm, Jennifer said...

    This cake is awesome tasting. Tastes better than the cake at my high-end Italian rest. here on Long Island. I did a water bath under it and wrapped the bottom of the pan in foil before putting in oven. I baked it 30. Minutes longer than directed. Put some foil over it when it started to brown. Amazing recipe..thanks. This will be handed down to my kids for sure!

  24. On April 07, 2012 at 9:17pm, PJ said...

    Just made for Easter dinner dessert…It looks awesome, hope it tastes as good as it looks/sounds – thanks for the recipe!!

  25. On April 08, 2012 at 8:15pm, Karen said...

    Made this yesterday for Easter today. Made exactly as directions said with one exception. I heated up 1/4 cup of orange marmalade, strained it, and then glazed the top of cake with it instead of powdered sugar. Everyone loved it! Thanks for the recipe!

  26. On May 18, 2012 at 2:09pm, Donna said...

    I have this cheesecake in the oven now so not much I can do about it but I’m supposed to bring it to someones house for dinner tomorrow. I hadn’t realized that the tub of ricotta I bought was 2pounds 15 oz. I only saw the 2 when I dumped the whole thing in. Will this effect the taste and quality of the cheesecake/ Would like to know so I can bake another if it will. Thanks so much.

  27. On June 24, 2012 at 10:26pm, Patty O said...

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank You!
    By far, the best Italian Cheese Cake I have ever had!!!

  28. On September 14, 2012 at 12:58pm, Becky said...

    I’ve been making cheesecakes for years. Every time I go to a dinner party, people ask me to make cheesecake. This time I’m headed to an Italian themed dinner party and I thought I’d step away from the cheesecakes I normally make to make an Italian cheesecake…. big mistake. I drained the ricotta for 1.5 hours and could only get a couple of T of water out of it. About half way through the baking, I could see I was in trouble because water was bubbling up everywhere. By the time the baking was completed, water was all along the top and sides. Since it was a lost cause anyway, I took it out of the oven and released the form to drain the water… which was a LOT. I put it back in the oven to sit the required 30 minutes and MORE water came out of it. My oven is a mess, I have a cheesecake I can’t use and now I have to make another cheesecake. I wish I would have stuck with what I knew. More of a reflection on me than your recipe, but this was not a good experience.

    • On June 26, 2013 at 12:24pm, Phyllis said...

      Becky. I just found this recipe and read your comment about the water. Most people do not realize now much liquid is in ricotta. Put the ricotta in a sieve or cheesecloth over a bowl and drain overnight in the frig. This step is always necessary when cooking with ricotta, but frequently left out of recipes. Same applies if you want to make lasagna or ravioli.

    • On April 02, 2015 at 8:07pm, Antonio said...

      The reason people are having trouble with water coming out of their cheesecakes is due to the stabilizers found in many store bought Ricottas. These are Guar Gum, Locust Bean Gum, and Xanthan Gum. In many cases, one or two, or all three of these stabilizers are used in Ricotta. Galbani, for instance has all three and it is NOT suitable for baking!!! Draining will NOT release the majority of moisture from Ricotta with these gum binders whose purpose is to keep the “cheese” and the price heavy without appearing full of water which they are. For those that can’t find Ricotta without these additions, try making it yourself and drain it thoroughly after making it (I suggest overnight or at least 6 hours). It is VERY EASY to make, just google a recipe for instructions on making the most delicious Ricotta.

  29. On October 04, 2012 at 10:44pm, pj said...

    I made this cheesecake last Christmas because, being 100%talian, my parents and siblings are big fans….it was sooo delicious, best cheesecake Ive ever made….! I used crushed vanilla biscotti in lieu of the amaretti cookies…and couldnt get the orang flower water so used a bit of orange extract. I am so glad I made it b/c my dad died early this year so I was happy he really enjoyed this dessert at my house for the holiday…I plan to make it again this Christmas in his honor….! Thank you for this wonderful recipe.

  30. On December 31, 2012 at 6:29am, Lucy said...

    I made this and it was absolutely perfect and delicious! My husband loved it and he’s very particular with his Italian cheesecake being from Italy and growing up with mom making it. It’s was beautiful to look at, great texture… hank you soooo much!

  31. On March 07, 2013 at 8:16pm, Donna said...

    FABULOUS! Light, airy and tasty. I literally whipped my ricotta and mascarpone…took several minutes. Also used Sorrento whole milk ricotta because it is not at all grainy. After I removed the cake from the oven and let it sit for about 10 minutes, saw it started to deflate, which was to be expected. I ran a knife around the edge, which prevented any sinking of the cake in the middle (as in the photo above). So by the time the cake cooled completely, it was a uniform layer. People swooned over this! thanks!

  32. On March 27, 2013 at 1:13pm, Michele said...

    I am going to give this a try … Not much of a baker , but I LOVE Italian cheesecake

    Should i use …
    Fresh ricotta or from the cold section in the supermarket ?

    Thank you
    Happy Easter to all

  33. On August 23, 2013 at 3:22pm, Frances Nadeau said...

    I just made La Tavola Della Mia Famiglia (Italian Ricotta Cheese Cake) I thought it deserved the full name. Ii is so good.I was actually trying to copy an Italian Cheesecake that I found in one of the Restaurants in Naples, Florida.Unfortunately I don’t have their recipy.I didn’t have the Orange Flower Water, that was disappointing but I used the Orange Extract and I thought it was great.It did leak a bit as it was cooling down but I poured it off.I did not touch the cake for a few hours after it came out of the oven.It was coming away itself.I loved the Ameretta on the base and next time I will put a little more on the sides for that extra crunch.I put it in the fridge overnight and we had it for my daughters birthday.We were wondering how it would be if we didn’t refridgerate it.Anyway, everything about it looked great. I am very pleased. Lol

  34. On October 11, 2013 at 7:03am, Margherita said...

    Ciao! I wanted to take time to write a comment about this incredible recipe. I have been wanting to make an authentic Italian Ricotta Cheesecake but wanted to combine Mascarpone Cheese with the ingredients as the author did, but was unsure of the measurements to create a perfect balance. I have made my mother and Nonna’s Ricotta Pie for years now and it comes out delicious time and time again, but it has absolutely no Mascarpone Cheese in it. I find the NY Cheesecakes to be tasty, but a little too dense and sweet at times when I buy them from regular stores. And like the author, my family (entire family) originated in Italy and came over on the boat to NY. Now… the pastry shoppes in NY are delicious, but living now in Florida, I’m lucky if I can find anything authentic, including pizza. Being that I love to cook, I often making everything myself… but the Florida heat at times discourages me from baking… too hot!!

    We had our first “cooler” temps move through yesterday… low 60s in the morning and beautiful days for the next week. I decided to get up very early this morning since we dropped to 58 (my kind of weather!) and while I could have my windows open, and since this recipe requiers 2 hours of oven time, I decided this would be the best morning to bake it.

    I followed the recipe to the tee (minus the Orange Flower Water as I could not obtain it here). I used Polly-O Ricotta which is exactly 2 pounds in the container. I drained it in 3 separate cheesecloth balls overnight to ensure the liquid would drain from it as I did not want to have any problems. However, I will say when I’ve my family’s Ricotta Pie so many times before, I’ve never had to drain the Ricotta prior to baking and it comes out perfect each time! But, to ensure things went well, and being it’s not cheap to bake your own cheesecake especially when purchasing Mascarpone cheese, I took the added extra precaution of draining the Ricotta overnight. I monitored the liquid from 30 minutes (as the recipe calls for draining) to what I had this morning… I think I had an extra tablespoon of liquid. Not bad.

    As I sit here and type this, the cheesecake is settling in the oven for 30 minutes. I have to tell you it’s absoluetly beautiful. The height on the cake is spectacular. I baked it the entire 1 – 1/2 hours on 325 as it called for and am leaving it to “settle” as a good cook knows, cheesecake MUST settle before you remove it from the oven or it’s a mess. It’s a perfect light golden brown on top. I did not have to cover it to protect it from burning. I tend to make sure I do not open the oven ONCE during baking to ensure even temperature through and through. I can tell by looking at it that it’s cooked thoroughly without opening it to check for wiggling. The center is golden brown on top… perfect! I know it will deflate a tad in the center as all good cheesecakes do when they come out of the oven, but this is the fluffiest cheesecake I’ve baked. I’ve used cream cheese in the past without the Ricotta and it’s not this fluffy and thick.

    I’m looking forward to tasting this divine creation, as if it tastes as great as it smells and looks, I will continue to make this whenever someone (or I) crave cheesecake! :)

    I want to thank the author for posting this recipe… Italian minds do think alike and I am quite certain without having tasted it yet, that you have created the perfect balance of measurements between Ricotta and Mascarpone cheese. :) I will have to post later after it cools down and I’ve had a piece as to my thoughts on the final outcome… but right now I applaud you for a wonderful recipe and sharing! :) GRAZIE!!!

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  37. On November 05, 2013 at 6:23pm, Edward said...

    I had real trouble with this recipe. As instructed, I drained the ricotta for an hour in cheesecloth, and yet while baking, this cheesecake gave up copious amounts of liquid. A good cup in the baking pan. And at least another cup released in a giant puddle under the rack while cooling to room temp. Even more in the fridge while chilling. The “grainy wetness” you spoke of in the text is what I experienced, is what I got. It basically rinsed off all the amaretti crumbs, washing them into soggy and unpleasant pockets throughout the cake. Did I have some sort of super-wet Ricotta? I went to the ends of the earth to find the Orange flower water, and really do like its subtle flavor. But my cake didn’t come out nearly as beautifully textured as your photo. Mine was a soggy mess. Where gravity had time to work, near the top of the cake, the texture was better, tighter. But the bottom third remains grainy and wet, to the point where it loses cohesion, and tastes a bit like scrambled eggs. If I’m going to try again, I’d need to find a much drier ricotta than my grocery store brand, or else drain it for days, rather than an hour.

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  41. On December 27, 2013 at 6:21pm, J Penny Wells said...

    Made it last night for a special lunch I was hosting today
    Followed recipe exactly
    Lots of liquid was coming out of bottom of pan when it came out of the oven but when it was cool and I removed from pan to serving platter it looked great
    This morning after a night in the fridge cake was perfect
    I will do this again. Big hit, easy to make, taste great.
    By the way you can find Orange Blossum Water in most liquor stores as well
    I am not Italian but love food and love cooking it
    Live in Texas but originally from NYC
    I was spoiled by the restaurants and bakeries
    Cannot find one true Italian bakery anywhere here

  42. On January 29, 2014 at 1:25am, Joe - SF said...

    I made this cake…….
    I felt like I was back home as a kid enjoying wonderful Italian pastries with my Parents, Aunts and Uncles.

    This recipe is just fantastic….mille grazie.
    I was transformed back to Brooklyn. I will surely make several of them for friends.

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  52. On April 21, 2014 at 12:45am, Tina said...

    I made this for our Easter Sunday dessert. I followed the recipe to the letter. I also used orange flower water in which I purchased at a local Italian deli. After making my first Italian cheesecake last year which was a disappointment, & weeks of my recent search for the right recipe, I finally found it! My husband said this is a “keeper”. First my daughter tasted it, then my husband, when I tried it I almost cried. DELICIOUS! It even looks like the photo. PERFECT! I am a Sicilian from the Bronx, & this is the best I ever had. It went so well with the demitasse & anisette. I will be making this special dessert every year. It will be a tradition such as the Strufoli I make every Christmas. Thank you so much! Sweet victory! Buono Pasqua!

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  96. On April 14, 2016 at 11:59am, Laurna calabrese said...

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kiss the cook!

Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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