I love “The Golden Girls.” Who doesn’t? It’s one of the greatest sitcoms in the history of television, right up there with “I Love Lucy” and “All in the Family.” “The Golden Girls” has a magical quality about it that just makes you feel good. No matter how tough my week has been, or how tired or stressed or bummed I might feel, I can always count on “The Golden Girls” to lift me out of my funk. The characters feel like old friends… Bea Arthur as Dorothy, with her sharp wit and deadpan humor… Rue McClanahan as Blanche, flouncing around with her Southern charm and sassy sexuality… Estelle Getty as Sophia, with her uncensored one liners and tall Sicilian tales…and Betty White as Rose, my favorite character of all. Rose’s wide-eyed innocence, her gullible nature, and her wild St. Olaf stories never fail to make me smile. People like to say Rose is dumb, but I actually think she’s the smartest of the bunch. Her eternal optimism is contagious.
It’s Betty White’s 90th birthday on January 17. I wanted to celebrate this fabulous lady, and one of my favorite shows in the history of TV, by baking a dessert that came up over 100 times throughout the course of the series– cheesecake. But not just any cheesecake. I wanted to bake the ultimate Golden Girls Cheesecake, a delicious confection that would be worthy of the Golden Girls name. I wanted a cake that reflects the series on a symbolic level, a cake that tastes as good as the Golden Girls makes me feel. And I had no idea where to start.
The Golden Girls team. From left: Paul Junger Witt, Susan Harris, Estelle Getty, Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur, Betty White, Tony Thomas
I was fortunate to get an interview with the show’s creator, Susan Harris. Susan produced and wrote many classic sitcoms in the late 70’s and 80’s including Benson, Empty Nest, Nurses, and Soap. She created “The Golden Girls” and wrote most of their early episodes. Susan liked the idea of recreating the cheesecake, though she admitted that she didn’t remember exactly why the dessert became a recurring plot point on the series.
“I do remember that when we did Soap, when the sisters would have their talks, it was always around the kitchen table with food. When you sit down with friends, what better place to gather than in the kitchen? So we probably thought about what we’d done on Soap and decided to make it a running thing on The Golden Girls.”
I asked Susan if she remembered where the cheesecakes on set came from, but she wasn’t sure. That meant I could get creative with my recipe, letting the story and characters influence it. I asked Susan if she imagined that the character of Sophia, who was born in Sicily, might have baked the cheesecakes. “That would be a good assumption,” she said. “And it would most definitely have a New York influence.” In their backstory, Sophia and Dorothy lived in Brooklyn, New York before moving to Miami.
The girls enjoying cheesecake. There were many flavors of cheesecake used in the series. This appears to be a lemon cheesecake with a vanilla ganache.
At the end of the interview, Susan gave me her blessing to create a Golden Girls cheesecake. “You can play. Get creative with the cheesecake, feel free!”
After the interview, my mom bought me the entire Golden Girls series on DVD for my birthday. My sister and I began watching Season 1 from the very beginning, waiting for the first mention of cheesecake to come up.
Side Note: Did you know the girls had a gay chef named Coco in the pilot episode?? Yeah, me neither.
Cheesecake didn’t come up until Episode 25, The Way We Met. Here’s the clip where the cake is first mentioned.
Rose describes this first cheesecake as a Double Fudge Chocolate Cheesecake. The girls ate cheesecake over a hundred times during the series, but this is the very first episode where the dessert is mentioned. Then I saw Season 4, Episode 23: The Rites of Spring. In this episode, Sophia finds out that she’s lost weight, dropping from 99 pounds to 98. She tries desperately to put that pound back on, downing copious amounts of pasta and baking her Petrillo family recipe for cheesecake:
My ears perked up. Double Fudge Amaretto Ricotta Cheesecake, a Petrillo family delicacy. Now that sounded amazing, and totally Golden Girls worthy!
I began to experiment in the kitchen. I started with a family friend’s collection of Italian recipes– Dr. Tedone and his late wife, Grace. The Tedones descend from Italian cheesemakers, and their family cookbook has a couple of different recipes for Ricotta Cheesecake. Italian and Sicilian cheesecake is very different from New York cheesecake; the Italian versions are more dry and cake-like. Taking Susan Harris’ advice to include a New York influence, I decided to add some cream cheese to the ricotta batter for a creamier texture. I added amaretto as a nod to Sophia’s Sicilian heritage, which gave the cake a wonderful depth of flavor. And because it’s a “Double Fudge” cheesecake, I created a rich layer of chocolate fudge on the bottom of the cake before topping it with the chocolate ricotta cream cheese batter.
The result? Holy moly. Amazing! A Double Fudge Amaretto Ricotta Cheesecake for the record books. This is the best cheesecake I’ve ever tasted. Seriously. The ultimate! Sophia would be proud.
Side Note: Did you know Bea Arthur hated cheesecake, and would fake eating it on camera because she couldn’t stand the taste? It’s amazing, the things you learn when writing a Golden Girls Cheesecake blog.
Bake this cake in honor of Betty White, or the Golden Girls, or just because it makes you smile. Happy birthday Betty White! Thank you for being a friend.
Fudge Crust Ingredients
- 5 oz. semisweet chocolate (squares or chips- about 3/4 cup)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 eggs room temperature
- 1/2 cup flour
Ricotta Amaretto Cake Ingredients
- 1 lb. whole milk ricotta cheese, room temperature
- 1 lb. cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup whole milk sour cream, room temperature
- 5 eggs beaten, room temperature
- 1/2 cup half and half, room temperature
- 1/3 cup amaretto
- 1 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup flour
You will also need
- Nonstick cooking oil spray, parchment paper, 9 to 10 inch springform pan, roasting pan, kettle or pot, foil and plastic wrap (if you want to make a bain marie)
- Set one rack in the middle of the oven and one rack below. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
- Place a piece of parchment paper over the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan, then seal the springform pan edge around the base. The base should be covered by parchment paper with edges of the paper sticking out from the sides of the pan. This paper will keep the cheesecake from sticking to the bottom of your pan. Grease the inner sides of the springform pan with butter or cooking spray, making sure the sides are fully coated. Do not spray the parchment paper on the bottom.
- IMPORTANT: Make sure your springform pan is fully locked and secure around the parchment paper! There is nothing worse than filling a springform pan with batter and having the pan fall apart or leak on you. If you have an older or lower quality pan that doesn't lock tightly, you may want to cut the parchment paper into a circle to line the bottom rather than letting the edges stick out, so there is no layer of parchment to interfere with the seal.
- Place the chocolate pieces in a small microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 75-90 seconds till softened. Stir till melted and smooth. Set aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar with an electric mixer till light and fluffy. Beat in one egg at a time.
- Add the melted chocolate and mix till blended.
- Add the flour. Mix on low speed till the batter just comes together smoothly. Do not overmix.
- Use a spatula to spread the batter into an even layer in the bottom of the springform pan on top of the parchment paper. Set springform pan aside. Clean and dry your electric mixing beaters.
- Put a kettle or pan full of water on the stovetop to boil.
- In a larger mixing bowl, use the electric mixer to mix together the ricotta cheese and the cream cheese till fluffy.
- Add the sour cream, beaten eggs, half and half, amaretto, and sugar. Mix on low speed till the batter is smooth. Do not overmix or whip on high speed; this will put air bubbles into the batter and make the cheesecake more prone to cracking.
- Sift together the cocoa powder and the flour. Add to the batter. Mix on low speed till the batter is smooth and evenly cocoa colored. Do not overmix.
- Pour the batter into the springform pan on top of the fudge layer.
- Carefully pour the boiling water from the kettle or pot into your large roasting pan. Place the roasting pan with hot water onto the bottom rack of the oven. Place the filled springform pan on the middle rack of the oven above the roasting pan, as close to the center of the oven as possible. The pan will be very full of batter, take care when moving it.
- Close the oven. Let the cheesecake slowly cook for 90 minutes, until the batter is firm around the edges with a small area wobbly in the center (about the size of a quarter). Turn the oven off and keep the oven door closed. Let the oven slowly cool down for 2-3 hours. Do not open the oven door.
- Take the cake out of the oven and place it on the kitchen counter. Let it sit for another hour till it fully returns to room temperature.
- Place the cake in the refrigerator. Let it chill for 6 hours to overnight.
- Remove cake gently from the springform pan. Cake should be solid enough to lift in one piece. Gently lift the cake and remove the parchment paper from the bottom by sliding it out from under the cake. Place the cake on a plate or stand. If the cake seems too delicate to move, you can slice and serve it directly from the springform pan-- no need to remove the cake or the parchment paper.
- Serve cake chilled. Use a knife dipped in hot water to slice; dip the knife between slices to keep the cuts neat and clean.
- A few baking tips for this decadent, awesome cheesecake…
- Take everything out of the refrigerator a few hours before you preheat the oven, so the ingredients truly have a chance to come to room temperature before you begin. If the weather’s not too hot, I sometimes take the ingredients out of the fridge the night before so they’re at perfect room temperature in the morning when I start to bake.
- Cheesecakes are notorious for cracking. A cracked cake surface results from extreme temperature shifts during and after cooking. A bain marie (water bath) is the traditional way of regulating cake temperature; surrounding it in a water bath keeps the temperature more even, and the steamy environment it creates also helps the cake to cook more evenly. I don’t like fussing with the bain marie, though. No matter how tightly I wrap the base of the pan, a little water always seems to leak into the pan, making the bottom of the cake soggy. Luckily this cake is pretty stable, so you won’t really need a bain marie if you put a roasting pan of hot water in the oven with it– the steam won’t help regulate temperature, but it will create a nice moist environment that will help the cake cook more evenly. If you follow the instructions here carefully you should end up crack free. If you want to be extra cautious, go ahead and bake it in a bain marie. And remember, a cracked cake is not the end of the world– it will still taste delicious!
- Using full fat ingredients is also important. That’s the way Sophia Petrillo would have done it (especially if she was trying to gain that missing pound!), but it also helps keep the top of the cake from cracking. If you’re not worried about the way the cake looks, you can use lowfat cream cheese, sour cream and/or ricotta. It will taste okay, but I make no promises about how the cake will look.
- Store cake in the refrigerator. This cake can be topped with ganache or drizzles of chocolate for extra decadence, if desired. Enjoy!