fresh ricotta cheesecake and a love story

One week ago today, we took our cat, Fritz, to the vet for his very last appointment. He didn’t come home.

Sometime this week, we’re supposed to pick up his ashes.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Thanksgiving weekend, 1994: I was home from school for the Thanksgiving holiday. I was living in Georgia at the time, a few months into a Master’s program in psychology. I was living alone and feeling dissatisfied with the choice I had made to attend graduate school. I just wasn’t happy with where I was in life, and I was grateful to be at home with my family. My brother had not yet been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and we were getting along with each other. My parents had a beautiful cat – a Maine Coon named Tipper – who had recently had kittens. I left my family on that Sunday afternoon to head back to Statesboro with two new kittens  – Fritz and Mitzi – and a lighter heart.

Fall 1997: I was living in Miami, a newlywed for about 6 weeks, but I was alone. My new husband was finishing up dental school at the University of Florida, and I had just started attending medical school five hours south of him. Our separation was a necessary thing, and we were comforted by the fact that it was only for a year, and also by the fact that I had Fritz and Mitzi to keep me company in that tiny apartment overlooking the Miami River, in a not-so-great part of town. I studied for gross anatomy on my living room floor, with Mitzi in my lap, and with Fritz sprawled out on my copy of Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy.

July 2001: Sam and I were living in our final destination, back in north Florida. I was a newly minted MD, an intern, struggling to survive during my first hospital month, learning the ropes of an academic hospital. I worked over 100 hours a week during my first few weeks, and I came home exhausted and near tears. After hugging my husband after getting home each night, I cuddled on the sofa with Fritz, trying to stay awake and have some semblance of a normal life. Two months later, on September 11th, I came home from work and hugged Fritz tightly, promising myself I would not bring children into a world that lets people use airplanes as weapons.

December 2003: Madeline is born three weeks early, jaundiced and difficult to nurse. Fritz stopped sleeping in our bedroom and began sleeping under our daughter’s bed each night.

October 2006: Oliver is born, entirely too late for my preference. He’s perfect in every way. Fritz starts sleeping under his crib, and when Oliver cries, he meows insistently.

October 2009: After Fritz begins having trouble eating and loses 10 pounds, we finally take him for a second opinion at the university’s veterinary school. We learn he has an aggressive form of lymphoma. I find this ironic because one of my specialties is lymphoma, and my grandmother has just gone through treatment for lymphoma. I also find it incredibly unfair. Fritz starts treatment, and he starts eating again, starts purring more, begins playing again. We keep going. But we start preparing. We read Cat Heaven to the children at bedtime, and I think my husband and I take more comfort in the message – that cats go to heaven when they die – than do our kids.

May 7, 2011: I’m in the middle of working a two-week stretch in the hospital. I’ve come home unexpectedly early on a Saturday and I have some free time. So, I make Jennifer Perillo’s ricotta for the first time. I notice that Fritz isn’t acting right. He begins pacing the house. He’s had an accident outside the litter box. That night we celebrate an early Mother’s Day dinner out with both sets of grandparents. When we get home, Fritz is still pacing. I decide to make cheesecake with the fresh ricotta. He walks through the kitchen and around my feet. He does this the entire time I’m baking. He won’t eat. He won’t purr. He doesn’t seem to recognize me. We make our decision.

May 8, 2011: Mother’s Day. Fritz resumes his pacing, his staring, his not eating. We know we’re making the right decision, but it hurts. I take my children to work with me and Sam takes Fritz to the vet. After an hour, Sam meets me at the hospital and gets the kids. Without Fritz.

*   *   *   *   *   *

This cheesecake (adapted from and inspired by this recipe from Redbook Magazine) is now my favorite cheesecake. I’m not a fan of the super-sweet ones that make one feel about 10 pounds heavier just after eating one slice. This has great texture – light and creamy – with the right amount of sweetness. I like mine unadorned, with perhaps a few strawberries or blueberries on top.

Yield: 12 servings

Ricotta Cheesecake

I used fresh homemade ricotta, but feel free to substitute store-bought ricotta.

Ingredients:

Ingredients For Crust

1 cup gingersnap cookie crumbs (approximately 20 cookies)
1 tablespoon brown sugar (packed)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Ingredients For Filling

1 1/2 cups fresh whole milk ricotta, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Zest of one lemon
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
3 large eggs, room temperature

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan (or grease with nonstick cooking spray) and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix gingersnap crumbs, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Press into bottom of prepared springform pan. Bake 10 minutes then allow to cool on a rack.

In a food processor, process ricotta cheese, granulated sugar, and lemon zest until smooth. Add cream cheese and process just until smooth.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs. Whisk in 1/4 of the cheese mixture, then fold in the remaining cheese mixture. Pour over the crust and bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until the edges rise, and the center is just set, but still jiggly. Place on wire rack to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

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25 Responses to “a good day and tres leches cake”

  1. Adriana — April 27, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

    Loved the story of the donkey farm. In one of my first trips out to California, I had a friend stop the car so I could take a picture of farmed ostrich, which I had never seen before. I didn’t try to reach out for them, but it was awesome just stopping and seeing them in all their tall, live glory. If I had fun and didn’t even get to see one at arm’s length, I can only imagine how happy your kids were! I love tres leches cake, but haven’t tried to make it myself. So many people do a great job with it around these parts! My favorite version is actually called ‘Cuatro Leches’, which also has dulce de leche in it.

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — April 27th, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

      Oh, I bet you have access to some amazing versions of this cake. I cannot imagine adding dulce de leche to this cake – I might never stop eating it.

  2. Amy | She Wears Many Hats — April 27, 2011 @ 4:59 pm

    I’ve yet to make a tres leches cake yet, and I don’t know why. It does look mighty fine. Mighty fine indeed.

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — April 27th, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

      Oh, you should totally make one, Amy.

  3. First off, the story of Oliver wanting to see Eyeore made me smile ear-to-ear… those photos are so cute. Second, tres leches cake has been on my list for several months to make. After this ringing endorsement, I might just have to tackle it this weekend!

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — April 27th, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

      You won’t be disappointed, Kimmy. I promise. 🙂

  4. Brian @ A Thought For Food — April 27, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

    So adorable! What a cute story!

    And now you have me drooling over this cake. How divine that looks!

  5. DessertForTwo — April 27, 2011 @ 9:06 pm

    Tres leches and pineapple upside down cake fight for #1 cake in my book. Yours looks great!!

  6. Donna — April 27, 2011 @ 9:12 pm

    Thank you so much for posting the tres leches cake recipe and delictable photos. For Easter I made my totally trashing (but delicious) cake that we call “Orgasmic Coconut Cake.” The original name of the cake was “Decadent Coconut Cake” but at some point my cousin got confused and now the misnomer has stuck. At Christmas I made tres leches and on Sunday two of my nieces asked for the recipe. All I had to do was direct them to your blog for both the recipe and photos. Perfect timing!

  7. This cake looks phenomenal! So moist! I completely agree with you about homemade whipped cream (I say this right after I posted a cake with cool whip frosting-ha).

  8. So wonderful that you had perfect day! The cake looks amazing and just wish I had a slice in front of me right now.

  9. Adora's Box — April 28, 2011 @ 8:37 am

    Aren’t donkeys just so cute. Now that my children are grown, I really miss those squeals of delight when they see animals. We are not in tune with tres leches cake here in the UK although I’ve heard of it. Gosh, that sounds really decadent and wicked. Three kinds of milk and heavy cream! Wow!

  10. Lynda — April 28, 2011 @ 10:29 am

    This cake sounds and looks sublime. Lovely post!

  11. Lora @cakeduchess — April 28, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

    Oliver is adorable petting the eeyore. I am also never as happy as when my children are:)Such a sweet post. Your tres leches cake is making me HUNGRY! Looks fantastic MJ:)

  12. Joy — April 28, 2011 @ 10:41 pm

    I love love tres leche cake. That looks wonderful.

  13. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — April 28, 2011 @ 11:12 pm

    Sounds like an amazing day… And, the cake looks equally perfect! Can’t wait to give the recipe a try.

  14. marla — April 29, 2011 @ 8:06 am

    Your tres leches cake looks wonderful, but that time with your family is precious and priceless. Love that you found the Eeyore farm for your son 🙂

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — April 29th, 2011 @ 10:26 am

      Thanks, Marla. Yes – you’re right. The day with the family was just wonderful. One of those seemingly-rare days when everyone is in a good mood and there’s very little bickering. And then the donkeys were the icing on the cake. 🙂

  15. Anita Menon — April 30, 2011 @ 7:09 am

    A lovely day out with family. Nothing beats that!
    The tres leches cake seems like the best thing in the world right now. I have book marked it. thank you for sharing:-)

  16. Aggie — April 30, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

    That Eeyore story has got to be the sweetest story ever. How awesome to run into a couple of Eeyore’s on the side of the road…

    And the cake. I can seriously just taste it. Even though I am not even sure I’ve ever had it or know what it would taste like. I’m going to save this recipe for a special treat, I have a feeling it will wow anyone I serve it to.

  17. Katty's Kitchen — April 30, 2011 @ 8:50 pm

    I love this story–and what is NOT to love about tres leches cake! I refer to myself in Eeyore terms when I’m having a gloomy day and say I need to nail my tail back on just as soon as I can find it! 🙂 A good day for you and Oliver, too!

  18. Mauna — May 1, 2011 @ 12:16 am

    James just made this for my parents. It was a huge hit with everyone. My mom deemed him the ultimate son-in-law!

  19. TheGourmetCoffeeGuy — May 5, 2011 @ 12:47 am

    Delightful story. Donkeys are actually very intelligent animals and have some characteristics that make them excellent companions for farmers in many parts of the world. The Tres Leches Cake sounds incredible, moist and hard to put down… Nice photos, thank you for sharing.

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