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This Italian cheesecake makes a great holiday dessert

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After a delicious holiday meal, there’s a good chance guests will be looking forward to a sweet treat. Many families have their go-to desserts on special occasions, but holiday meals can be made even more memorable, and flavorful, by taking a chance on new recipes.
A decadent cheesecake is on the menu in many Italian American families, who may dive in after enjoying a bowl of fruit, fennel and chestnuts. Italian cheesecake does not typically contain the cream cheese or graham cracker crust found in many commercial cheesecakes. Rather, Italian cheesecakes are full of citrus flavor and made with modified pie crust. Dig into this recipe for “Torta Dolce di Ricotta” from Daniel Paterna’s “Feast of the Seven Fishes: A Brooklyn Italian’s Recipes Celebrating Food & Family” (Powerhouse Books).

Torta Dolce di Ricotta
Serves 10 to 12

Crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra to dust board and pan
3⁄4 cup sugar
Zest of one lemon
1⁄2 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus extra to grease the pan
2 large eggs

Filling:
8 large eggs
3 pounds ricotta cheese, drained of excess water
2 teaspoons vanilla
11⁄2 cups sugar
Zest of 2 oranges
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1 lemon
1⁄4 cup candied pear, chopped (optional)

To make the crust, place the flour, sugar, and zest on a pastry board or clean, dry, flat surface. Mix thoroughly to combine. Add the butter and work it into the dry ingredients. Gather the mixture into a round and create a well in the center. Drop eggs into the well, beat with a fork while gathering the dry mixture, then knead once the dough completely forms. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter and flour a 10-inch springform baking pan. Set aside.
Meanwhile, to prepare the filling, combine the eggs, ricotta cheese, vanilla, sugar, orange zest, orange juice, lemon juice, and candied pear (if using) in a large mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
After the 30 minutes, remove the dough from the refrigerator and place it on a large board or clean, dry, flat surface, lightly dusted with flour. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out into a large circle, approximately 14 inches in diameter. Now roll the dough over the rolling pin and carefully unwind it over the baking pan, gently easing it to fit evenly in the bottom and up the sides of the pan.
Pour or spoon the filling mixture into the crust, leaving about 1⁄4 inch below the rim of the pan. Place the pan in a preheated oven and bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes, until the center is slightly firm. Cool for at least 2 hours. Author’s note: I have left it unrefrigerated overnight when I have baked it the night before to save time.
Carefully run a plastic knife or rigid spatula around the sides of the pan to remove it, so that no crust is pulled away when you release the spring of the pan. Serve at room temperature.

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