Lemon-Ricotta Cheesecake Recipe

It's hard to beat the tart, refreshing flavor of lemon.

A slice of lemon ricotta cheesecake plated next to the whole cake.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Why It Works

  • Cream cheese and ricotta work together for a more complex dairy flavor, balanced in both its richness and tang.
  • A food processor emulsifies the cheeses and eggs with minimal aeration, for a cheesecake that's creamy and smooth.
  • A deep, aluminum cheesecake pan keeps the cheesecake's exterior delicate and light while minimizing browning along the surface.
  • Baking at 225°F (110°C) keeps the oven temperature low, obviating the need for a water bath.

Broadly speaking, I don't often publish recipes for minty, citrusy, or nutty cakes and cookies, since these flavors are easily achieved using essential oils, extracts, and flower waters rather than technique. Any cake can be an almond cake if you've got the right extract!

When I make exceptions to this rule, it's for recipes that offer a more holistic approach—for example, a coconut layer cake made with aromatic coconut oil, coconut milk, and ground coconut, rather than extract alone.

That's the angle I decided to take here. The result is a lemon cheesecake that owes its complex flavor profile to freshly squeezed juice, grated zest, essential oil, and flower water. That combination creates layers of acidity, flavor, and aroma that give the cheesecake a lemon flavor that isn't too astringent, bitter, or harsh.

While these ingredients could certainly be incorporated to taste in my classic New York-style cheesecake, I wanted to match the light and refreshing qualities of lemon with a cheesecake that would be a little more cottony and light, rather than creamy and rich. Which brings us to the secret ingredient: ricotta.

Side by side comparison of two ricotta styles, one grainy and coarse, the other creamy and smooth.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Ricotta can be a tricky ingredient to work with, as its flavor, texture, and appearance (not to mention its composition in terms of moisture, fat, and protein) can vary so widely from one brand to another, resulting in a cheesecake that's hardly ever the same from batch to batch.

And yet those different expressions needn't be a bad thing; so long as the recipe is rooted in a good-quality ricotta that you love, the results will always be delicious. What's important is to use a brand of ricotta you absolutely love; if you find one that feels grainy or chalky, it won't get any better in cheesecake form. So play the field; try some different styles, and know that my brown butter ricotta cookies CAN transform grainy ricotta into great cookies, so there will always be a home for the brands that don't make the grade for cheesecake.

Having tested more than a few brands for this recipe, my favorites have been Murray's and Bel Gioioso (both found in the deli section of my local Kroger, rather than in the dairy case), Calabro, and White Rose. On my last visit to New York, I also scored a few tubs of sheep's whey ricotta at Sahadi's from The Ricotta & Cheese Factory. We don't brand-shame on Serious Eats, but two of the most readily available organic ricotta brands here in the US both proved to be abysmally gritty.

A collage of making gingerbread cookie crumbs: placing the cookies in a zipper lock bag and using a pin roller to crush the cookies.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

The true foundation for this cheesecake is the crust, which you can create with almost any sort of cookie crumb—provided you like the idea of how it sounds with lemon. My personal favorites have been homemade gingersnapsgingerbreadlemon-ginger creams (wafers only)Biscoff-style speculoos cookies, and homemade graham crackers, although store-bought or gluten-free alternatives to any of these options will work equally well.

For me, the sharp note of spice in gingerbread is the perfect note of contrast for lemon at any time of the year, but it's a particularly convenient option if that's something you bake often around the holidays. Whatever type of crumbs you choose, simply combine them with a little melted butter and a pinch of salt in the bottom of a cheesecake pan.

Adding melted butter to the cookie crumbs in a cheesecake pan and using a fork and the bottom of a glass to press the crumbs down to prepare the crust.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Here, I'm using my signature eight- by four-inch loose-bottom pan from LloydPans, but this recipe is more flexible than some of my others in terms of the exact pan involved. I do find the loose bottom–style to be the most convenient for unmolding, and I like how the added height of a four-inch pan keeps this cheesecake so creamy and thick.

Unlike my other recipes, I like preparing this one in a 14-cup food processor; its blades effortlessly emulsify the cream cheese and ricotta without aeration while better distributing the bits of zest (which tend to get stuck along the paddles of a stand mixer).

A food processor also slashes prep time for the batter down to about 90 seconds; just blitz the cheeses, sugar, and flavoring together until smooth, then quickly pulse in the whole eggs, and pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Pouring the creamy cheesecake batter into the prepared pan.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

To keep the cheesecake's texture dense and thick, I bake it low and slow at just 225°F (110°C), which obviates the need for a water bath, further simplifying the recipe. The cheesecake's ready when it's bouncy and firm to the touch around the edges, although a little wobbly in the dead center, with a pale color throughout.

This translates to an internal temperature of about 155°F (68°C), which generally takes me about three-and-a-half hours to reach, but the exact timing will vary depending on your cheesecake pan and the accuracy of your oven, so keep a close eye on the cheesecake as it bakes and pay more attention to the physical cues than your clock.

Overhead shot of lemon ricotta cheesecake garnished with chopped candied lemon peel.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Once the cheesecake has fully cooled, it's a cinch to unmold from a loose-bottom pan: just place it over a large jar or can and slide off the sides. To play up the lemony flavor, try serving it with a sprinkling of candied lemon peel or spoonfuls of your favorite jam. If you're feeling fancy, my fruit syrup for ice cream serves nicely as a glaze, and around the holidays, the cranberry jam from my cranberry trifle is a bang-up topping for a lemon cheesecake, too.

Taking a bite from a slice of lemon cheesecake.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

November 2019

Recipe Facts

Prep: 0 mins
Active: About 30 mins
Total: 13 hrs
Serves: 10 to 12 servings
Makes: 1 cake

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Ingredients

For the Graham Cracker Crust:

  • 9 ounces fine cookie crumbs, store-bought or homemade, such as gingerbread, gingersnaps, or graham crackers, see notes (about 2 cups; 250g)

  • 1 ounce unsalted butter, melted (about 2 tablespoons; 30g)

  • Pinch of salt

For the Cheesecake:

  • 24 ounces full-fat cream cheese, such as Philadelphia, brought to about 70°F/21°C (about 3 cups; 680g)

  • 24 ounces fresh ricotta, strained if watery, brought to about 70°F/21°C, see notes (about 3 cups; 680g)

  • 10 ounces plain or toasted sugar (about 1 1/2 cups; 280g)

  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 tablespoons; 30g)

  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest, not packed (about 5g)

  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon oil or lemon extract

  • 1/2 teaspoon orange flower water

  • 1/4 teaspoon (1g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight

  • 8 large eggs (about 14 ounces; 395g)

To Serve:

  • Candied lemon peel, blueberry jam, or other accompaniments, such as 1 recipe (about 1/2 cup) complementary fruit syrup or jelly, for saucing the fruit, optional

Directions

  1. Getting Ready: This recipe requires an 8- by 4-inch nonreactive aluminum pan, preferably a non-latching, two-piece style, such as this one. Otherwise, a traditional cake pan of those dimensions will work, with a touch more effort to unmold. Of course, cheesecake can be baked in any size or style of pan, but the volume of batter, target temperatures, and times will require individual adjustments, which have not been tested here.

    A disassembled loose bottom cheesecake pan.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  2. If using a two-piece pan, wrap the bottom piece in foil before assembly, then tear away the excess so the pan sits flat. If using a traditional cake pan, line the bottom with a parchment round (explanation and tutorial here). In either case, lightly grease the pan.

    Wrapping removable bottom of a cheesecake pan with foil.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  3. For the Crust: Add the cookie crumbs, melted butter, and salt to the pan, and stir with a fork until well combined. If needed, season to taste with additional salt. With your fingers, compress into an even layer along the bottom of the pan. The mixture may seem drier than you might expect, but it will absorb moisture from the cheesecake as it bakes.

    Collage of making and forming cookie crust in a cheesecake pan: combining cookie crumbs, adding salt, butter, and using a fork and hand to compress the crumbs into a thin even layer.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  4. For the Cheesecake: Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 225°F (110°C). Combine cream cheese, ricotta, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, lemon oil, orange flower water, and salt in the bowl of a 14-cup food processor and process until smooth, pausing to scrape the bowl as needed to dislodge any pieces of cream cheese that do not initially incorporate. Once smooth, add the eggs and process only until well combined. Use immediately or refrigerate the batter in an airtight container until needed, up to one week. Please note that the volume of batter will overwhelm mini-choppers as well as food processors with a "thick liquid" max-fill line of less than 10-cups; if this equipment is not available, the ingredients will need to be combined by hand or with great care on a stand mixer to avoid over-aeration.

    Preparing the cheesecake batter in a food processor: adding ricotta, sugar, lemon zest and juice and process until smooth before adding eggs.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  5. Pour batter into the prepared pan and place on a baking sheet. Bounce a spoon across the surface to dislodge any air bubbles in the batter. If you don't see any, no need to continue. If you do notice a few rising up, keep bouncing the spoon until they're gone.

    Bouncing the back of a spoon on surface of cheesecake batter to dislodge bubbles.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  6. Bake until the cheesecake feels firm around the edges, though the innermost ring of cheesecake will wobble when you shake the pan. This softer zone should be no more than 3 inches across. The cheesecake will be done when the very center registers 155°F (68°C) on a digital thermometer inserted into the very center of the cheesecake. Testing with a thermometer will not cause the cheesecake to crack; cracking is the result of over-baking and nothing more. In an accurate oven, with an 8- by 4-inch aluminum pan, the cheesecake will bake in about 3 1/2 hours. Please be aware the bake time will vary, perhaps substantially, according to the accuracy of the oven's temperature, pan style, batter temperature, and other factors. Cool the cheesecake at least 1 hour (or up to 4) before covering it to refrigerate until cold to the core, at least 12 hours.

  7. Unmolding the Cheesecake From a Loose-Bottom Cake Pan: Loosen the sides of the cheesecake from the pan with a thin knife or offset spatula. Place the pan on a large can of tomatoes or a similarly sized object; something tall enough to lift the cheesecake 4 inches from the counter, and wide enough to form a stable base. With both hands on the sides of the pan, pull downward to drop the outer ring away from the bottom. Place the cake onto a flat work surface, loosen it from the bottom of the pan with an offset spatula, and transfer to a large, flat serving plate. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until needed, up to 10 days.

    The baked cheesecake being loosened from the pan with a large offset spatula, which is being run along the interior edge of the pan.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

    Unmolding the cheesecake from a loose bottom cake pan.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  8. Unmolding the Cheesecake From a Traditional Cake Pan: Loosen the sides of the cheesecake from the pan with a thin knife or offset spatula. Stand the cake in a few inches of scalding hot water until the pan feels warm (a roasting pan works well for this). Drape the cake in plastic wrap to protect its surface and then invert onto a large, flat plate. Lift the pan to pull it away. It should slide free without any resistance; if not, continue standing in hot water a few minutes more. After removing the pan, peel the parchment from the crust, and re-invert the cheesecake onto a serving plate. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until needed, up to 10 days.

  9. To Serve: Top with candied lemon rind, jam, or homemade fruit syrup. Cut the cheesecake with a large chef's knife dipped in hot water; for clean and tidy portions of cheesecake, pause to clean the blade under hot running water between each slice.

    Detail of a lemon cheesecake with a single slice being lifted from the whole cake.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Notes

The lemony flavor of this cheesecake pairs nicely with many types of cookie crumbs, whether homemade (recipe suggestions follow) or store-bought, particularly those with a strong note of ginger or spice to balance the bright lemon. Suggestions include gingersnaps, gingerbread, and lemon-ginger creams (wafers only), or options like Biscoff-style speculoos cookies or homemade graham crackers. Gluten-free alternatives to any of these options will work equally well.

The flavor, texture, and appearance of this cheesecake can vary substantially depending on the composition of the ricotta itself, so expect deviations from brand to brand and style to style, depending on factors such as fat, protein, and moisture content. These variations will all produce an enjoyable cheesecake, so long as the ricotta has a good flavor and texture to start. A grainy, gritty ricotta will make a grainy, gritty cheesecake.

Special Equipment

One 8- by 4-inch non-reactive loose bottom pan, food processor, flexible spatula

Make-Ahead and Storage

In an airtight container, the cheesecake batter can be refrigerated up to one week and used straight from the fridge. Wrapped in plastic, the finished cheesecake will keep well for about 10 days in the fridge.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
523 Calories
31g Fat
46g Carbs
16g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 10 to 12
Amount per serving
Calories 523
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 31g 40%
Saturated Fat 17g 84%
Cholesterol 202mg 67%
Sodium 421mg 18%
Total Carbohydrate 46g 17%
Dietary Fiber 1g 3%
Total Sugars 31g
Protein 16g
Vitamin C 1mg 5%
Calcium 245mg 19%
Iron 2mg 9%
Potassium 231mg 5%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)