Simply curdling milk with an enzyme and then draining off any liquid is the standard method of creating cheese. However, that precious whey-filled liquid is not discarded, but rather used to create fresh cheeses. Ricotta cheese is created by this method, and is the perfect moist vehicle for texture and flavor in baking. Although readily available in almost every grocery store, ricotta cheese can easily be substituted by other fresh cheeses or vegan alternatives if you prefer.
1. Fresh Cheese Substitutions
Substitute ricotta cheese with other fresh cheeses for the best results. This is due to the similar moisture content found throughout fresh cheeses. The best fresh cheeses to use are queso fresco, cottage cheese or buttermilk cheese. These have a similar flavor and cottage cheese is generally a lower-fat alternative. For an alternative with a stronger flavor, choose fresh goat cheese. Use all these cheese in a 1 part substitution for every 1 part ricotta cheese called for in a recipe.
2. Lactose-free Cheeses
Choose a lactose-free cheese alternative, widely available in natural food specialty stores or even alongside cheeses in larger supermarkets. These are created to contain a similar texture to fresh cheese but without the lactose that is problematic for many with either allergies, Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome. They are also created to have a similar moisture content, allowing them to be substituted in a 1-to-1 ratio with ricotta cheese in a variety of baking recipes. They also work well when substituting for ricotta in cheesecake, providing a similar texture when baked.
3. Vegan Substitutions
Blend silken tofu until slightly frothy and creamy and use in lieu of ricotta cheese in an equal amount in baking. If desiring a similar texture to ricotta, crumble the silken tofu between fingers to create a similar consistency. If using ricotta to add body and moisture to certain baked goods, such as muffins, pureed fruit, such as applesauce or ripe bananas, can be used instead. Use in a 1-to-1 substitution ratio with any fresh cheese called for in a bread baked good.
Be aware that when substituting for a main ingredient in a recipe, the final result will be different than the original texture and flavor. This is especially true when an alternative to fresh cheeses is used, such as with bananas or applesauce. Recognize the different flavors that these substitutions can impart, and use them accordingly. For example, substitute vanilla-flavored cottage cheese for ricotta in a baked good to add a sweeter, more fragrant vanilla flavor to the overall final product.