A Birthday Chocolate & Pear Ricotta Cheesecake

September is my favorite month of the year.
There is just something about the light. The haze of August fades, but its bright sun lingers on. Smells change, the air crisps up, The sky is so incredibly blue. Dusks have amazing colors.

It was a dusk of a year ago that I shot the first pictures for my first post, a pistachio pesto. So, to celebrate the first year of this blog, that has indeed changed my life for the better, a cake was in order.

I thought I’d have more sentimental things to say, but I do not. Instead, I’d just love to thank some people, and I hope these pictures can speak for themselves.

This blog would not be what it is without the wonderful people I got to meet through it. It wouldn’t be what it is without Phi (Princess Tofu), My biggest inspiration. Josh (Culinary Bro Down), who, amongst the people I know, is the farthest from my eating style, yet the one who inspired me to experiment more with vegan cooking. Beth from Local Milk, and all the awesome photographers like her, including Luisa Brimble, Haruka Sakaguchi, Parker Fitzgerald (have you checked his Overgrowth website?) and many more (oh so many Japanese photographers!). Molly Yeh and her sunny smile, Cynthia and her Two Red Bowls, along with Sini (My Blue and White kitchen) who are always there for support. Stephanie and her I am A Food Blog (her book is coming out soon!). All the healthy blogs that introduced me to this journey: Green Kitchen Stories (they have a new book out!), Belén, Golubka. Mari, and her little, poetic Japanese shop at Biancorosso Giappone. Valentina, who is the super sweet blogger behind Sweet Kabocha, who I recently got to know and adore.
I need to thank the magazines that featured me and worked with me, and all the websites that featured my work in a way or another. And the guys at Steller Stories, who are awesome and made an awesome app that you should all join, so we can share stories and find out that yes, we actually like to know silly things about strangers, like what they ate for breakfasts or what they did on vacation.

I need to thank all the awesome friends who helped me with my shootings, and even posed for me: JonWilliam (we’ve only talked once, but that talk changed my life), William, Matteo, Paolo, Daniele. And I need to thank all those people who like every single one of my photos, even though we don’t get to talk often.

I want to thank every single person who like, comment, or even just look at my photos and posts, whether they like them or they think they suck. I am extremely thankful for every single one of you who sees my photos on the Internet, on Instagram, on Facebook or wherever. I wish I could hug&kiss every single one of you, seriously.
A special thank you goes to Australia. I get so much support from people from this country! All you Aussies are so sweet, cool, AWESOME, I can’t even begin to describe. I want to visit Australia at some point! Your country is so full of awesomeness!
And I have to thank Japan for being my constant source of inspiration. I might have never mentioned it, but I have always loved its culture, food and art, and it has always been my greatest source of inspiration.

And finally, I have to thank a friend who visited me a couple months ago and who made me realize how beautiful Italy actually is. Sure, it has its many problems, but I want its best side to shine through in this blog and through my work. This person kept going on about how incredible this place was and I was like ‘is it, really?’ all the time.
I realized that yes, it actually is.

My plans for the future are more photo essays on this beautiful country, and I would like to travel through it a little more an make little city guides for you guys. Exploring Veneto with this purpose in mind was so much fun! Please, give Provencial Magazine and their (our) Kickstarter campaign a look, as I am preparing a photo essay about fall here in rural Italy. Any help is appreciated!

And I would like to help Italy understand that Vegetarianism doesn’t mean grass and tofu, and help those who want to embrace a plant-based lifestyle with tips on how to make adjustments. I would love to hold events and workshops about cooking and photographing, here, in this stunning countryside.
Even if I don’t always comment on your blogs, or reply to all comments, I hope you understand how much I love you because putting all your links here was a pain (HA!).
I hope you guys will stick around.

May this new September shine throughout a new year together, and many more after this one.

Chocolate Pear Ricotta Cheesecake

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And now, on to the recipe!

I am no fan of cakes, but I do love ricotta-based sweets. So a ricotta cheesecake felt like the perfect choice.

Here is a light, simple version of it. It is not only good as a dessert, but also makes a great breakfast. Also, sorry this cake looks fugly, I didn;t have a springform and decided to follow the ‘fake it + make it’ rule.

ABOUT THE COOKIE BASE: This base is actually an experiment my mom attempted and that really fit the bill for this recipe. It has a macaron-like consistency, which can be kind of strange for a cheesecake, but it really works. You can also use one of the nut bases mentioned in my Strawbery Bavarese post, or substitute with sponge cake.

A NOTE ON THE DAIRY USED: I find sheep’s milk ricotta to be the most delicate and best tasting – it is even fed to very small kids, as it is easier to digest and I can confirm this with personal experience. If you find vanilla sheep’s yogurt, go ahead and use that for far better results (Bellweather Farms makes a KILLER sheep’s milk yogurt). You can also use one part goat dairy if you like the taste. Personally, I love vanilla goat yogurt, but it is quite strong so do not use too much of it.
Whatever yogurt you pick, make sure it’s a good quality yogurt free of any added crap or starches. You’ll surely find some local business or farmers that makes good yogurt.
Obviously, if you lack alternatives, Cow’s milk products work great as well. Vanilla Skyr, like Siggi’s, are great. Do not worry about the different consistency.
Regular milk is also a good substitute for plant milk.

A NOTE ON THE HONEY: Go ahead and use maple if you prefer its taste, but if you have access to several kinds of honey, play around with your favorites! There’s citrus honey, elderflower honey…and of course, raw honey.

Chocolate Pear Ricotta Cheesecake

Chocolate & Pear Ricotta Cheesecake
(Makes a 24 cm / 9 inch cheesecake)

For the base:
2 eggs
60g brown sugar
1 tbsp Cocoa powder
20g Almond meal
40g Potato starch

For the filling:
250g Natural, full fat vanilla yogurt, preferably sheep’s milk* (see note above)
300g Good quality fresh ricotta, preferably sheep’s milk* (see note above)
150ml almond or hazelnut milk
3g Agar-agar powder

A ripe Williams pear
Juice of half a lemon
1 Tbsp honey** or maple syrup
A pinch of cinnamon
70% dark chocolate shavings or chips

For the topping:
A Williams pear
2 Tbsps honey or maple syrup
A vanilla bean
Juice of half a lemon

Melted 70%dark chocolate or chocolate shavings, or chopped roasted hazelnuts, to serve.

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1. MAKE THE COOKIE BASE
Preheat the oven to 180 C˚/ 350 F˚.
Break the eggs in a bowl and add the sugar, then beat them for at least 5 minutes, until fluffy and foamy. Sift in the cocoa and starch, and add the almond meal. Pour this mixture into the springform pan and bake for about 20 minutes. It should have a macaron-like consistency, crispy on the outside and soft, slightly chewy on the inside. Check with a toothpick to make sure it is cooked through.

2. MAKE THE CHEESECAKE MIXTURE
In the meantime, make the top of the cake.
Cut up the pear into cubes, and sauté them with the honey, lemon juice and a pinch of cinnamon on medium-high for about 5 minutes, until the pears are soft and the lemon juice and honey combine in a glossy coating.
In a glass or steel bowl, whip the ricotta, and pass it through a sieve if it is not very creamy. You can combine it with some sweetener, which I did not use since vanilla yogurts tend to be quite sweet. Whip it with the yogurt and combine well. Now, we need to heat this mixture up with the bain-marie technique: heat a pot of water until boiling, then put the bowl on the pot. The bowl should not touch the water, but be very close to it, so make sure to use bowls & pots of appropriate dimensions and the right amount of water. Heat the mixture well (if you have a thermometer, it should be at about 50C˚/120F˚, then turn off the heat, but leave the bowl on the pot.
In another pot, dissolve the agar agar in the almond milk, adding it a little by little. Bring to a soft boil, and boil for 3 minutes, then pour into the ricotta-yogurt mixture and combine well. Add the cooked pears too, along with all their juices, and the chocolate chips if using.
Let this whole mixture cool down before pouring it onto the cookie base into the springform pan. Transfer to the fridge and let it set – it will take at least 3 hours.

3. FINISHING IT OFF
Slice another pear into thin wedges, and add them to a pan with the lemon juice and scraped vanilla bean. Cook them on high, arranging them in a single layer, until well browned. Once the cake is set, you can use the slices and the juices to decorate the top.

Serve with some melted chocolate, the juice from the sautéed pears and roasted nuts.

Chocolate Pear Ricotta Cheesecake

Valentina Solfrini - portrait, Hortus Cuisine

  1. happy happy happiest of blog birthdays to you, ms. valentina!!!!!!! what a beautiful space you have created and this cake is a beautiful way to celebrate. big hugs!!!!!!

  2. Happy Blog Birthday to You!! I wish I could be there to share in your joy. You are right — there are so many generous, talented persons out there who are willing to share their gift. As I’ve said before — you are an inspiration and I will go study the rest of the talented photographers you’ve mentioned. I am so glad you found your solution to your health. We all take feeling good for granted, don’t we??
    Abbracci,
    Marisa

  3. Happy birthday! Wow your work looks way too mature to have only one year! Congratulations! As repeated as I might sound you really are an ispiration, especially for those like me who have just entered into trhis new world and are taking tiny little steps!
    And Itay, it’s impossible and too irresistable to let go of!
    Cheers!

  4. happy blog birthday! i’ve been lurking on your blog for a spell and it is a fantastic piece of work… i love your photography, the detailed knolwedge you provide us with about traditional italian cooking, and your goal to expand the italian definition of vegetarian cooking. thank you for making hortus, the internet is a far better place with it! :)

    this cake sounds divine (and looks beautiful too — if you faked it you totally rocked it). i had the loveliest ricotta cheesecake in the jewish quarter in Rome once (it was one of my favourite cakes ever), but yours sounds ever more wonderful.

  5. I can’t think of a more perfect cake for a blogiversary celebration! Yay for your one-year, Valentina! Thank you for all the beauty and inspiration you bring to this community. Here’s to many many more years of Hortus!

  6. Happy Blog Birthday!!! Wonderful photos and gorgeous receipt as always! Thanks a lot for all that you do!!! And please Italy city guide))) waiting-waiting-waiting)))

  7. Dear Valentina… Congratulations and I hope you keep going and going, Hortus is one of my absolute favourite sites. Its just so visually stunning and your words are so authentic. X

  8. The happiest blogiversary to you, my friend! I still remember that feeling of excitement and inspiration when I stumbled upon this space for the very first time. I think the post was about bread or different kind of flours… Anyway, I was amazed by your photos and writing. I browsed through your previous posts and knew I had found a true gem. And I made your ciabatta which turned out fabulous. Remember?
    This space makes me smile and wonder and I have to thank you for that. You have a bright future ahead of you, Valentina. I know you do. xoxo

  9. Happy blog birthday dear Valentina and thank you for bringing and sharing with us your words, thoughts, sense of beauty and style… Also for inspiring some of us who love our sweets to sometimes make healthier choices. I’m exciting to see more of your work and I wish you every success! :-)

  10. Hi Valentina. Wow 1 year only and you have achieved soooo much. This blog really is a special place in cyberspace and I so enjoy reading you blog entries and gushing over your beautiful pictures. I can’t wait to see what year 2 brings.
    All the best
    Kimberly

  11. Pingback: Food Love | A Cookie Named Desire

  12. Oh Valentina how wonderful! Of course Italy is very beautiful, otherwise why would come people from aal over the world to visit? Thank you very much for this recipe, I am also a sheep yoghurt lover. All the best!

  13. Happy blogversary V! September is indeed a beautiful month for birthdays, anniversaries and new beginnings. Might all your projects and plans and ideas and dreams come true – look at what you achieved in a year! You have a truly beautiful and shining future awaiting for you, and we are all happy to be hear seeing it. x

  14. Love this post! I can’t believe your blog is only a year old, you seem like a seasoned professional. Especially the photographs, because my god :) And I agree that blogging is in large part a community, as no blog exists in a vacuum.

    As for the cake: drool. Caramel + pear is one flawless combination, especially in creamy cheesecake…yum :) I’ve never heard of sheep’s milk ricotta but it sounds interesting. Though I would hardly be able to resist thinking of that baaa-ing while eating the cheesecake, of course. :P

    • Aw, thank you so much! I am far from being a pro, but practice makes perfect (totally not true, but sure helps).
      I love pears in sweets sooooooo much! And sheep’s milk ricotta is so much better IMO. I don’t worry much about the baa-ing of the sheep…I get my cheese from a couple local farmers who own the happiest animals I’ve seen (which means not all products-cheeses are always available). :)

  15. Valentina – beautiful blog! We found you via the Saveur Awards and noted you in our recent posting.
    Thought2form-living creatively
    We look forward to more of your postings!
    Steve