With the temperatures peaking at the unbearable level of the mid 80s in the Southbay area (I know, boohoo), I'm subconsciously stepping away from certain types of recipes. Mostly those that require my presence by the oven for too long of a time. I admit I'm being a bit dramatic, but I really don't know how I'll ever live the dream of trekking through the blistering heat of Africa--if not by the grace of God--or wandering through the most seducing and cozy little scene in Japan like Cynthia did, or re-visiting Myanmar and India in the prooobably distant future. Because you can't blame a girl for having a strong--and I mean a very strong affinity for cold, rainy days. Greg always teases me that I'm the opposite of most people. When the clouds are looming for days with something ominous, and everyone is snuggling by the fire in hopes to sleep the blues away, I'm the crazy one laughing with the cheesiest smile. And I always, always say a prayer that the rain will stay for another day or two.
Though I love cake and pies in literally every form, and Pho with extra sriracha never tasted better than in the upper 90s, I've been equally appreciating cold desserts lately. It's not that I prefer eating one over the other really, it's just that I much more enjoy standing by the oven while anticipating what my "genius" recipe is going to taste like, sort of like a kid asking her exhausted mom, "is the cake done yet?"
That brings me to this ricotta cake which is really more of a tart! And with an ultra tender and buttery sugar crust! In Argentina we lovingly call it Tarta (or Torta) de Ricota and it is found in pretty much every local bakery. I recall bakeries there being the kind that make you feel French in every way. You first make a pit stop by the deli store to pick up queso y fiambre, then say hi to the sweet elderly lady who's found ritualistically sweeping her part of the sidewalk, and then walk down a block to snatch yourself one of these beauties. French in lifestyle--very roughly--but so Italian in taste.
This ricotta tart is one of the most beloved desserts in Argentina and quite different from American cheesecake. Instead of boasting a tang and a pliable smoothness to the batter, ricotta filling is a bit more grainy in texture in the best way. It is velvety enough to melt at first bite and sweet enough to tease the taste buds. I will say though, do not expect it to be extremely sweet. The sweet factor comes from a little bit of sugar in the filling, a hint inside the crust, and a swift dusting of powdered sugar as some people prefer it. Here I opted for a messy swirl of dulce de leche which adds a fun depth of flavors to the filling, so feel free to make your own version of swirls.
Tarta de Ricota is easily one of my favorite desserts and the best kind of cake to eat in the middle of summer. In my opinion, this is a good dish to get yourself acquainted with Argentinean cuisine so I hope you give it a try and enjoy!
Tarta de Ricota con Dulce de Leche
Makes one 9 inch round tart/cake
Time: Approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes including baking and refrigerating the crust
Equipment: 9 inch round pan (or smaller is fine), box grater if possible, stand mixer or electric beater
Ingredients for sugar crust
5 tbsp very cold unsalted butter
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or all purpose flour+1 tbsp extra)
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp white sugar
1 large egg yolk
2 tbsp milk (or whipping cream)
Ingredients for filling
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/4 cups full fat ricotta
1/4 cup milk
2 large egg yolks
3 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup dulce de leche
juice of half a lemon
confectioner sugar for dusting (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375 F (191 Celsius). For the sugar crust, grate cold butter with the largest holes into a large mixing bowl. Add both flours, salt, and sugar. Mix and knead with your hands to incorporate some of the butter so mixture is still a bit crumbly. Make a well in the center with your first and pour milk and egg yolk. Fold it in with your hands and mix just enough to get rid of large clumps, but do not over knead or it will rend a tough crust! Form into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and freeze for 10 minutes.
For the ricotta filling, use a stand mixer or electric beater. Whip the egg whites for about 1 minute or until foam beings to form. Beat in the sugar a few minutes, until peaks begin to form and mixture is a bit glossy. Mix the ricotta, egg yolks, and milk with a fork in a small separate bowl and set aside.
In another small bowl, stir the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add this dry mixture into the stiffened egg whites followed by the ricotta mixture. Fold in with a rubber spatula carefully until evenly incorporated. Be careful not to beat the air out of the egg whites too much.
Place the sugar crust ball in a 9 inch cake pan and begin to knead with your fists, so as to cover the entirety of the bottom of the pan, but not the sides. Pour in the filling. Mix dulce de leche with lemon juice, dip it with a fork or knife and run through the filling in swirled motions. Bake for approximately 45 minutes until the center is firm but jiggly. Let it cool, then refrigerate, and serve it cold with powdered sugar on top if desired.
What desserts do you usually make during summer time?
Have you tried ricotta cake/tart before? How do you compare it to American cheesecake?