Mini Banana Ricotta Cheesecakes

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Although I never need an excuse to enjoy cheesecake, now the time’s especially ripe for it. If you’re minding the Jewish calendar, you know the holiday of Shavuot (commemorating the spring harvest and the giving of the Torah) is coming up June 3-5. And for this holiday, we typically roll out our cheesiest, creamiest recipes, because celebrations traditionally feature dairy foods. On the savory side, I favor a cheesy fish dish, but on the sweet side, you can’t really get any more luscious than cheesecake.

I have several cheesecake recipes I love, but this time around, I wanted to create something that honors several aspects of the holiday. So I started with size. Given that the Jews were on their historical journey after leaving Egypt during the biblical time commemorated by Shavuot, I went with a miniature, or travel-sized, version. Then, on to flavor. I sought a light-colored fruit because white is also traditional for the holiday. There’s always lemon, but I was leaning toward banana…and then came a surprise by way of a sidebar in Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America (a book I highly recommend).

That now ubiquitous tropical fruit? Americans actually have a Jewish banana grower named Solomon Marks to thank for shipping the first bananas to the United States from the West Indies. And I had to smile reading how new Jewish immigrants to America reacted to this exotic, never-seen-before-specimen—they were perplexed (eating the skin) and smitten (integrating it into creative new recipes). So I had my fruit, one that not only sports the right color but also comes with a little Jewish storyline complementing Shavuot, a holiday of new beginnings.

In a nod to my own Jewish and Italian journey, I opted to make my mini banana cakes with ricotta, like Italians often do for their cheesecakes. Ricotta also appeals here because it is lighter-bodied than cream cheese (it’s also lower in fat, cholesterol, and sodium for those of you counting) and produces a less-dense cheesecake—which seems just right for a cupcake-sized portion.

I love every part of this recipe. The graham cracker crust spiked with banana creates a flavorful, slightly chewy foundation for the delicate, fruit-laced filling, topped with a smattering of crust crumbs. A final topping of fresh whipped cream, a banana slice, and a sprinkle of nutmeg completes the cakes and makes them festive (but you can eat them without it). One more thing to make me happy, especially in the warmer months when I might not want to spend so much time baking—these come together more easily and much faster than does a traditional cheesecake.

Whether for Shavuot or summer entertaining indoors or out, I hope you enjoy this little sweet something for celebrating.



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