Be sure to use whole-milk ricotta for this airy, Italian-style cheesecake, an ideal dessert for the winter holidays. Make it with Meyer lemons for a sweeter flavor, or Lisbon or Eureka lemons for more tartness.
For the crust:
6 oz. (185 g.) gingersnaps, plus more if needed
1 1/4 cups (5 oz./155 g.) walnut halves
1/4 cup (2 oz./60 g.) sugar
5 Tbs. (2 1/2 oz./75 g.) unsalted butter, or as needed, melted
For the filling:
1/2 lb. (250 g.) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (8 oz./250 g.) fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 cup (8 oz./250 g.) sugar
4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
2/3 cup (5 fl. oz./160 ml.) heavy cream
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons, plus 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./65 ml.) fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)
To make the crust, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). In a food processor, pulse the gingersnaps until finely ground. Transfer to a bowl. Add the walnuts to the work bowl, process until finely ground, and add to the cookie crumbs. (Alternatively, for a nut-free crust, omit the walnuts and add an additional 4 oz./60 g. of gingersnaps.) Add the sugar and 5 tablespoons melted butter and mix well, adding more butter if the crumbs don’t cling together. Transfer to a 9-inch (23-cm.) springform pan and press over the bottom and 1 1/2 inches (4 cm.) up the sides (it is fine if the edges are uneven). Bake until lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Let cool, then place in the freezer until ready to use.
Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). To make the filling, in the clean food processor, combine the cream cheese, ricotta, sugar, egg yolks, cream, lemon zest and juice, vanilla and salt and process until cream, 4-5 minutes. Pour into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whites into the cheese mixture just until combined. Pour the mixture into the reserved chilled crust, smoothing the top.
Place the pan on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) and bake until golden brown on top, the edges are firm, and the center still jiggles, 30-35 minutes. Turn off the oven, open the door and leave the cake in the oven for about 3 hours (the center will fall slightly). Cover tightly with plastic wrap (do not let the wrap touch the surface) and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours. To unmold, run a knife around the sides of the cake to loosen them from the pan, then remove the pan sides. If desired, dust the top with confectioners’ sugar. Serve cut into wedges, dipping a knife into hot water and wiping it dry before each cut. Serves 12-14.