Sunday, April 10, 2011

Limoncello Lemon Cheesecake Squares in Yosemite


The natural wonder of the Yosemite Valley has held my rapture since my dad took me there on my first visit as a child.  In the beginning I simply loved the raging of the waterfalls, but as I studied geology in college (I'm a bit of a rock geek - Geology Minor) I began to look at the Valley in a new light with an understanding of how the glaciers, rock falls and avalanches, and water have carved and eroded the Valley to its present day beauty.

Even as a wee-one I was thrilled to come home with photos of the falls, the sheer granite faces of El Capitan, and the stunning views of Half Dome.  With a stop at Tunnel View being somewhat of a tradition, I've always yearned for that dazzling clear Valley shot, you know the one... with the cerulean blue skies, perfectly lit rocks and crystal clear air.  Unfortunately Mother Nature has not been on my side and all of my visits have also included haze, fog or rain.  With spring currently shining down on us I brought high hopes for my "perfect shot" of the immense Valley on this Spring Break trip.

Leaving San Diego early Wednesday morning had us dressed warmly and driving through a chilly out of season rain storm.  Arriving at our host destination in Oakhurst (we stayed with friends about an hour outside the Valley) some 6 hours later we all felt overdressed in the 74 degree weather, and we doubted the weather guy's forecast of snow within the next 24 hours.

This weather guy, however, was right!  Some 16 hours later we were back in the car, dressed in the warmest clothes we had with us along with borrowed gloves, hats and jackets.  Heading into the Yosemite Valley for our lunch reservations at the esteemed Ahwahnee Hotel the snow covered trees flew by.  Branches heavy with a few hours of snow glistened in the sun that occasionally popped through the stormy clouds.  Moving up and down in elevation our views ranged from brilliant blooming Red Buds to more snow laden trees and vistas.  The Merced River raged alongside of us in places and meandered in others providing stunning scenery for our hour plus drive.

Lower Yosemite Falls
Dazzling vistas greeted us upon our entrance to the Valley with El Capitan soaring above our car.  Bridal Veil Falls fell gracefully over the granite walls and the snow covered meadows entertained squirrels and deer, the bears however did not show themselves.

A stop at the Yosemite Falls provided us with a rare sight in the lava-like flowing Frazil Ice.  Frazil Ice provides dramatic natural ice flows which begin in the falls of Yosemite, but only during proper weather conditions and usually only in March and April.  Our friends who have had literally hundreds of days in the Valley had never seen the incredible Frazil, but on this day we were all excited to view this rare treat.

The Ahwahnee Hotel, our lunch destination, holds beauty, history and a most perfect location in Yosemite Valley in that the site for the Ahwahnee, once a village of the native Miwoks, was chosen because of its exposure to the sun and stunning views of Yosemite's icons – Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and Glacier Point.  Giant fireplaces are available for guests to warm their chilly fingers in addition to the magnificent dining room lined with floor to ceiling windows providing stunning views of the gushing Yosemite Falls.  Described as the "crown jewel of Yosemite dining", the dining room boasts a 34-foot-high beamed ceiling with large sugar pine trestles that complement the room’s granite pillars.  The exterior of the hotel was designed to reflect the natural beauty of the Valley and to blend in with its beautiful surroundings.

The Ahwahnee Hotel with a Bacon Burger and French Onion Soup
Ahwahnee Dining Room on Urbanspoon

While the room is indeed magnificent, the food was "fine".  Nothing special, however I do believe it tasted just a bit better sitting in front of one of those floor to ceiling windows while watching the snow fall in front of the ravishing Yosemite Falls.  Basic restaurant fare included burgers, sandwiches, soups and salads with a few more substantial entrees including beef, lamb and pasta.  A child menu is available which happily includes ice cream.  Aggressively priced (burgers are $17), the meal is worth it simply for the view and surrounding ambiance.  Our hosts frequent the dining room often and have had what they described as incredible meals (especially breakfast) in addition to the so-so meals that we experienced on our visit.  Service was impeccable, the views were beyond belief and the room itself was breathtaking.

Snowy view from Tunnel View
Heading back out for our Valley Tour we entered lightly falling snow which lent a somewhat magical feel to our surroundings.  The trees were covered and glistening, the falls were gushing, and the fog meandered about the tops of the giant granite monoliths, hiding Half Dome from our view.  While our trip to Tunnel View provided an exquisite elevated view of the entire Valley, the cerulean blue, crystal clear skies once again eluded me, providing instead a different but no less incredible frozen wonderland.

Back home, dinner was filled with the laughter of good friends reminiscing about our day in wintery Yosemite with jabs between my kids of who threw the best snowball.  We set our faux Ugg boots by the fire to hopefully dry by morning (note:  Ugg boots are NOT waterproof!) and as we thawed out our frozen and very wet toes we enjoyed a ray of sunshine in the Limoncello Lemon Cheesecake for dessert.

Giada has once again provided a luscious finish to our meal, this one bursting with lemon flavors and with an excuse to use our freshly made Limoncello.  The addition of ricotta added a slightly different and lighter texture from the traditional all cream cheese cheesecakes and the lemon biscotti crust urged the lemon flavors even higher.  Bringing smiles all around the table, Limoncello Lemon Cheesecake was the ideal finish to our awe-inspiring day.

Limoncello Lemon Cheesecake Squares
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

Nonstick cooking spray
8 ounces purchased biscotti (we used Cooking Light's Lemon Biscotti without the glaze)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1 (12-ounce) container fresh whole milk ricotta, drained, at room temperature
2 (8-ounce) packages lower in fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cups sugar (use an extra 1/4 cup for a sweeter cake)
1/2 cup limoncello liqueur
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature (we used 3 extra large)

Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Line a 9 by 9 by 2-inch baking pan with foil allowing the foil to lay over the edges for easy removal and spray with cooking spray.

Finely grind the biscotti in a food processor. Add the melted butter and 1 tablespoon of lemon zest, and process until the crumbs are moistened. Press the crumb mixture over the bottom (not the sides) of the prepared pan. Bake until the crust is golden, about 15 minutes. Cool the crust completely on a cooling rack.

Blend the ricotta in a clean food processor until smooth. Add the cream cheese and sugar and blend well, stopping the machine occasionally and scraping down the sides of the work bowl. Blend in the limoncello, vanilla, and remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon zest. Add the eggs 1 at a time, and pulse just until blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Pour the cheese mixture over the crust in the pan. Place the baking pan in a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the baking pan. Bake until the cheesecake is golden and the center of the cake moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour (the cake will become firm when it is cold).

Transfer the cake to a rack; cool 1 hour. Refrigerate until the cheesecake is cold, at least 8 hours and up to 2 days. Cut the cake into squares and serve. 

Note:  we preferred the cheesecake more on the second day, this is one that I would make ahead of time and allow the flavors and textures to meld before serving!

Frazil Ice in Yosemite Creek


  1. Amazing photos! And, the dessert bars look tasty!

  2. Gorgeous pictures! Yosemite is a place I have always wanted to go. I imagine the pictures hardly do it justice. Your day and dessert sounds beautiful and perfect!

  3. What an incredible experience! Your photos are stunning and the food looks fantastic. Color me green ;)

    Lovely recipe as well. Yummy cheesecake!

  4. Your pics are just gorgeous! And your food pics leave me wanting more! Thanks Kim!

  5. Your pictures are just gorgeous Kim! What a lovely time...I could look at your posts all the time just to see at the gorgeous things you take pictures of. The cheesecake looks to die for! I have been craving cheesecake lately, and once Lent is over I plan to make one...we shall see how that goes. Yours look delightful!

  6. How beautiful! Both your Yosemite pictures *and* the cheesecake, of course. :) I'm excited - my father, cousin and I are actually going backpacking in Yosemite this September on the John Muir trail, including Half Dome! Can't wait to see the beauty you've described. ^_^

  7. What beautiful photos! I've always wanted to go to Yosemite... Wow...
    Oh, And your cheesecake squares look delectable!

  8. What a lovely post. Yosemite is such a gorgeous place and those cheesecake!

  9. Don't you just love yosemite? It so amazing to visit. beautiful pictures too!

  10. These pictures are spectacular! I would certainly love to visit Yosemite one day. Until then, I will just eat your delicious limoncello cheesecake squares and dream! Great post.

  11. Kim, I love the photos and of course the cheesecake squares. It's been a few years since I visited Yosemite last and you've just reminded me that I'm overdue for a visit. Its beauty never ceases. I hope you have a great week this week. :-)

  12. Your photos are beautiful and make me miss California so much. I haven't had the chance to go back to Yosemite since I was about 5, but it is one of my favorite places. Thanks for the little trip down memory lane :) And of course, nothing could be better then sitting a looking at the natural beauty of half dome while munching on a cheesecake square!

  13. Sounds like you had a wonderful Spring Break. Your pictures of Yosemite are gorgeous, and I hope to get there one day. Also, your limoncello cheese cake looks delicious, and I love lemon:)

  14. Beautiful pictures Kim and certainly a wonderful way to spend spring break. We've been wanting to visit Yosemite for the longest time and seeing your pictures makes me want to go even more.
    You know that my obsession with lemon is pretty big as well and your cheesecake squares are making my mouth water! They look delectable :o)

  15. Wow! What beautiful pictures of a great trip! The views were spectacular even with the haze and fog! That is big country out there!

    I love the idea of using limoncello in recipes! Perfect way to zing up a cheesecake recipe!

  16. Beautiful pictures and a fantastic cheesecake square.

  17. What a lovely post. We are planing to visit this gorgeous park in a's on the list
    Dessert looks amazing:)

  18. Great pictures from your trip and this cheesecake looks gorgeous!

  19. I'm not sure what I enjoyed more, the photos of Yosemite or of your cheesecake, they are all wonderful! My husband goes camping in Yosemite every year with his brother for some guy bonding time, but I haven't been since a child and I am itching to go, now even more, beautiful!

  20. What memories your post has brought back. I spend a glorious few days in Yosemite back in 2009 and had lunch at the Awhanee Hotel. The scenery is magnificent! I can't wait to go back.

    Kim, your limoncello cheesecake is also stunning too. I am going to have to get myself a lemon grove :D

  21. Kim, I'm not sure what's prettier: nature or those lemon squares! I think I need to make some limoncello just so I can make these bars. Mercy, do they ever look GOOD!!

  22. Those cheesecake squares look amazing Kim! I love lemon cheesecake, possibly my favorite flavor. Can't wait to try these for my next dinner party!!

  23. Beautiful pictures! And the cheesecake looks delicious!

  24. Gorgeous photos and beautiful presentation of the cheesecake - I'll definitely give this a go!

  25. What a beautiful place! I hope to visit one day. The squares are so scrumptious and refreshing looking - love Giada!

  26. I'm a shamed to say that I've never been to Yosemite yet, despite being relatively closed. Your beautiful pictures are enticing me to go soon. And of course, I will want some of these squares with me. Maybe I should just head over to your house during spring break :)

  27. Wow! Yosemite looks fantastic... it's like dreamland.
    And that cheesecake...oh my goodness... amazing!

  28. I love it there, but have never been in Winter. I thought some of the roads were closed up there. Love all the shots you got. Those bars would have taken the chill off for me too, that and a double shot of that limoncello. Hope you guys are all warmed up.

  29. I love cheesecakes! Color of this one is very cute and sunny and Im sure taste is fresh and nice.. :) Great cheesecake!

  30. Man, do those squares look delectable! We took our first family trip to Yosemite a couple summers ago...your beautiful photos bring back wonderful memories :)

  31. Looks great! Your pics are amazing!

  32. I have a friend making limoncello from her tree- maybe she'll share and I could make this for her!

  33. sounds and looks like you had a wonderful trip. wonderful photos.

    the bars are so refreshing, perfect for a sunny day.
    thanks for sharing

  34. These are such beautiful pictures, makes me want to head west and travel through the park! Even though it was cold, I'm sure it was a wonderful trip. Great looking lemon bars as well, I love lemon desserts!

  35. I love Yosemite. I haven't been in so long, this makes me want to pick up and move there! Great pics :)

  36. Yum to the squares, and double yum to the scenic photos. Love it!

  37. My stepsister has been harassing me for a lemony dessert - perhaps Ill make these for her! Im sure she'd love them. (Omg look at those pics of Yosemite - reminds me how in need of a vacation I am).

  38. I've always wanted to make limoncillo ...might just try next week...I know it takes a while...your limoncillo cheese cake is making me break my diet...but I still buzzed it!

  39. You take such stunning photos! I love every single one and the cheesecake looks delicious!

  40. Yosemite is just breathtaking. The lemon bars are too!

  41. This brings back all the memories of my trips to Yosemite! The pictures are wonderful! As for the Limoncello lemon cheese cake...I'll give a whirl and see!

  42. Your photos are stunning. It brought me back to Yosemite when we first visited in the late 80's. I was newly married and barely 21 and I still lived in the Philippines then, and I remember quite vividly how I was enchanted by its beauty. I knew I was going back to this place again.

    More than 20 years later 3 kids after and over 10 years of living here with my family in the US... we haven't been back since... but your pictures took me back for a moment. Thank you!

    I am new to your site... loving the stories and your food. I am happy to follow you!

  43. Kim-I love your post, and the beautiful photos of the Yosemite National Park. What a lovely place to visit, even if the weather is still cold!
    Your Limoncello cheesecake bars are "heavenly"...glad you didn't spare on the amount of the Limoncello. I can just smell the refreshing lemony aroma, and could taste the smooth luscious cheesecake, which I'm sure was a huge hit!
    Hope your mom is getting better now!
    Thanks for sharing your amazing trip, and recipe:DDD

  44. Your pics of Yosemite are amazing....I planned a trip there a few weeks ago, and the entire park was shut down due to a massive snow storm, so I never made it. At least I can feel like I visited looking at your beautiful photos.

    The limoncello cheesecake bars look divine.


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