I made lasagna last week. It seems that I bought too much ricotta cheese, but I had less than a cup left over. I know, I know. Why didn't you just add it to the lasagna? Because I'm weird about ricotta in lasagna. I like it to be there, but I don't like it to be too there. Thus, the left over ricotta. So, then the quandary began... what do you do with less than a cup of ricotta cheese?
I really like cheesecake. I love the decadence. I love the creaminess. I love it's slightly tart edge. It is the one dessert I will regularly imbibe in at a restaurant. Earlier this year, I made mini-cheesecakes from some homemade cheese I had in my fridge. Tuesday, I decided I needed to try using that left-over ricotta to make a cheesecake-like dessert. You know why I thought this was important? Have you ever compared the nutritional information on the side of a tub of ricotta to the info for a brick of cream cheese? You should. And then you will make this tart and congratulate yourself for a job well done. While these tarts are not as creamy as a cream cheese cheesecake, they are just as delicious.
I made these guys two ways. I made a couple of four-inch mini-tarts using the cute little pans you can find almost everywhere nowadays. I also made a dozen of these adorable little one-biters. I love mini-muffin tins. However, I really should finally throw away that old pan I have that pretends to be non-stick. Every time I use it, I grumble about what a bald-faced liar it is. Regardless, they still came out reasonably attractive and darn delicious!
The first step, of course, is the crust. I went with the requisite graham cracker crust. It's just the right thing to do. I pulsed the crackers in my food processor and then added the sugar, butter, and the lightest hint of cinnamon. Mix together and then divide amongst your baking vessels. I have this cute little wooden tamper that was a wedding gift, but fingers and spoons are pretty useful, too.
Bake the crusts in a preheated 400 degree F oven for about 7-9 minutes, until they are slightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Turn the oven down to about 335 degrees F. Mixing the batter together is really easy. The "hardest" part is using a fork or whisk to fluff up the egg white. I went just shy of soft peaks. The most important thing is not to forget the lemon! These tarts have such a great lemon flavor. It's subtle but distinctive. Distribute the batter evenly between the tarts.
Bake in a fairly cool oven for about 20 minutes for the mini-muffin tin size and about 30 minutes for the four-inch tart size. Remove them before they brown. They are done as soon as a tester comes out clean. By the time these would start to brown, they would be over-cooked and be a bit dry. We don't want dry cheesecakes! I like mine chilled, but you can serve them at room temperature if you want. Just be sure to let them cool completely before trying to remove them from their tins or the graham cracker crust will fall apart on you!
Lemon Ricotta Tarts
Yield: 24 mini-tarts or 4 - 4" tarts
7 full graham crackers
3 TBS sugar
3 TBS melted butter
2/3 cup ricotta cheese
2 TBS Creama Mexicans (or creme fresh or sour cream)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
zest of one small lemon (or half of a large one)
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 egg yolk
1 egg white, beaten just shy of soft peaks
Process the crackers in a food processor or bang into crumbs in a plastic bag. Add the sugar and cinnamon, stir to evenly distribute. Add the melted butter and stir completely. Divide the crust evenly between your pans. Tamp the crust firmly down. Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for 7-9 minutes, or until the crusts are just lightly golden. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
Reduce oven temperature to 335 degrees F. Mix the ricotta, Creama Mexicans, sugar, vanilla, zest, lemon juice, and egg yolk together gently. In a separate bowl, beat the egg white until it is almost to soft peaks. Fold it into the other mixture. Evenly distribute the filling between all the pans. You can fill them all the way up as this batter does not rise much at all. Bake the minis for about 20 minutes and the tarts for about 28-30 minutes. Remove as soon as a tester comes out clean. Let cool before removing from tins. Serve at room temperature or chilled.