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I love cheesecake, and it's also one of my husband's favorite desserts. So why don't I make it very often?

Just making the crust and patting it in the pan takes at least 20 minutes. Then there is the separating of the eggs and beating of the whites. Need I say more?

Fortunately, when a cheesecake craving comes over me, I have a much faster alternative that is almost as satisfying.

Though not exactly "lite," it has a lot fewer calories than its cream-cheese-rich cousin.

Ricotta cheesecake, as its name implies, has as its main ingredient ricotta cheese. Ricotta is a fresh cow's milk cheese similar to cottage cheese but with a much finer consistency. Its name in Italian means "recooked," as it was originally made from the whey remaining after another cheese-making process.

For this recipe, you can use either whole or part skim ricotta. The cheesecake gets its fresh, light taste from the addition of orange zest. If you don't have one already, now is the time to invest in a microplane or zester.

Nothing that comes out of a bottle can compare to the flavor of zest from a fresh orange. The oil from the zest will infuse the whole cake. In lieu of a zester you can use a vegetable peeler to remove the outermost peel and then finely chop it.

The other main flavor is vanilla. Try to avoid store brands, as they dilute the vanilla by adding corn syrup.

The cheesecake goes together in a snap, but the cooking time is over an hour, so it is best to begin early. To keep cooking time to the minimum, take out the ingredients two or three hours ahead of time to allow them to warm to room temperature.

Ricotta Cheesecake

32 ounces ricotta

2/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

6 eggs

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons orange zest

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

Set the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 300.

Grease and flour a 9-1/2-inch springform pan, and tap out excess flour. (I usually use Pam for Baking to speed up this step.)

Place the ricotta in a large mixing bowl and stir in the sugar and flour, being sure to mix thoroughly. Stir in the eggs one at a time. Blend in the cinnamon, orange zest, vanilla and salt.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the center of the oven for about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, until the cake is a light golden color.

Make sure the center is fairly firm and the point of a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack. It will sink slightly as it cools. Remove the springform, cover and chill until serving time.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.

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