Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

In the sixth grade I knew exactly how my life was going to pan out. I was going to be a famous musician.  I joined the orchestra, never having played an instrument before, and they gave me a cornet.  It was the only instrument left so really I didn't have a choice; if I wanted to be in the orchestra I would have to play the cornet. I didn't care what I played I was just happy to be in the group. I took that cornet home and practiced every day in my bedroom. I blasted out Mary Had a Little Lamb until Mary was about to slaughter the lamb just to get me to stop playing. I also practiced the scales over and over, up and down, down and up, and then I would lovingly pack the instrument into its well-worn case until the next day. It wasn't very long after I had joined the orchestra though that my career came to an abrupt end. I had been swimming in the pool one day and that night I got a little sick, and somehow due to pressure build-up in my ears, I ended up with a perforated eardrum. This ended my cornet career and truth be told, everyone was happy about that.  I just wasn't that great at it.  Actually… I stunk. I mean I was horrible. When I played, everything sounded great to me, but as anyone in my family will tell you, and quite possibly the next door neighbor... nope, it wasn't great at all.  So... I joined the glee club.  I was going to be a singer. I could feel it. It was a done deal. I was a little late in joining but they let me in anyway. I was placed on the second step right in the middle of the group. Of course, where else would the star be placed? Once a week after school we would gather on the steps to practice and I would stand there swinging and singing like it was a gospel choir. I read and re-read the lyrics during every spare moment I had, committing them to memory so I didn't have to hold the papers like some of the other kids. One day after glee club practice the teacher asked me to stay behind and after all the kids were gone she brought me over to the piano, played a single note and asked me to sing that note.  She plunked at several other keys and in turn I belted out the notes.  When she finished, she congratulated me and told me she had a very special job for me in the upcoming Christmas show.  In fact she was going to give me a solo! Now this wasn't just any solo, because it was extremely important that the line be clearly heard and said correctly.  The line was “and he came down the chimney again” but again needed to be pronounced as “A Gain” so that it rhymed with the previous line that must have ended with “Train” or something.  She instructed me that as my line came up, I was to step forward from my spot and deliver this line as a plain sentence – there was no need to sing it, just deliver the line right on cue so the audience could understand. I was so pleased with myself I could not wait to get home and tell my mom the news. As I turned to go though, the teacher had a thought, “hey”, she said to me, “I have an idea…” since it was so important, this one line, she told me, I should really concentrate on making it perfect and to do so, I should just pretend to sing on all the other songs, to save my voice.  I was ecstatic, and ran home to tell everyone I got an important solo.  I really was going to be a singer.  Look out Elton John… (by the way Elton, if you want to come by the house feel free anytime). The night of the concert I did just as I was told. I was up there on that stage moving my lips to all the words like I was a pro, and when my solo came I stepped forward to the floor, the choir got quiet, I spoke my line, and just as quickly, stepped back into my spot and resumed my lip-sync, basking in the thought of all the glory that was sure to follow.  Indeed the teacher, and my mother complimented me after the show, and my career was surely solidified.  I was 18 years old before it dawned on me that my glee club teacher had made the realization that I could not carry a tune to save my life long, long, long, before I ever did. 

Mind you there were so many clues along the way. As a kid every time I would sing Happy Birthday, our dog would bark loudly while running back and forth until the song was over. I have come to think that this wasn't her way of joining in as we all imagined, instead the only way she could try to get me to stop. I can remember sitting at some camping event with a bunch of other kids and there was a guy playing the guitar and singing and everybody was clapping along. As I tried to join in on the clapping I could never seem to clap at the same time everybody else did, I just couldn't time it right. The realization I might not have a career as a singer at this point was starting to sink in. Oh, and one time while I was out at a club dancing with a group of friends I asked the person I was dancing with why she clapped her hands as she danced... "James" she said as she clapped loudly, "this... is the beat". From then on, whenever the group would go out dancing I sat at the table and guarded everybody's belongings. Ok, so I have no rhythm and I am tone deaf. So, I'll never be on American Idol. So, I'll never be the next Elton John. There are worse things… right?

Perhaps had I become a world famous singer I would have never come across this pumpkin cheesecake recipe and that would have been a tragedy befitting Shakespeare (remind me someday to tell you how for a long while I was convinced I was going to be an actor or the brief time that I thought stand-up comedy was in my cards)

In any case, since it's autumn here where I live, it seems the perfect time for this pumpkin cheesecake. And I have to tell you I am a big, big, fan of cheesecake. If you follow the blog long enough you'll come to see that eventually. This recipe comes directly from the author of The Cake Bible and The Baking Bible (among others)... Rose Levy Beranbaum.  I have never met Rose, which I find to be very odd since we both live on the same planet, but that doesn't stop me from baking her cakes. I suppose if she wanted to stop by the house, introduce herself, and bake me something, I would be open to that, no need to twist my arm at all. I would even offer to make the coffee. In any case, this cheesecake is so creamy and smooth you might not think it is a cheesecake at all. The pumpkin flavor is fantastic and is complimented by an equally good gingersnap crust and if that wasn't enough, a caramel sauce is drizzled on top that adds even more goodness! This recipe comes from the cookbook Rose's Heavenly Cakes, which is one of my personal favorites (check it out here). And by the way, if you like to bake and want to create some fantastic things, pick up any of her books, I am so happy I have a few in my collection, but I will admit the first time I looked through one I thought there would be no way I could make any of the recipes she had, with any kind of success. Then I came across this pumpkin cheesecake and since I was already familiar with making cheesecakes, and I also had experience making caramel before, it seemed like a nice place to start. After that the rest didn’t seem so scary at all. If you have been reading along these past few months you too should have a basic knowledge of cheesecake and caramel so how nice that you too can put the two together now, right? As with all cheesecakes you’ll want to make this at least one day ahead of when you want to serve it so it has time to properly set. You can find this recipe online here but as always I'll walk you through how I made it and include some tips that I think might help you (as much as I admire Rose's recipes I have modified this one just a little).

I know it looks long and it might sound complicated but it really isn't. Take your time reading through the recipe and you'll find it's actually very simple. And the result is a stunning dessert you can proudly put on your thanksgiving table.

Here are a few things you should know right off the bat...

First off, this cheesecake is baked in a water bath. This simply means that the cheesecake is made in a wrapped springform pan, then that pan is placed into a larger pan that is filled with boiling water before going in the oven. This method is used because the hot water will ensure even baking and lessen the likelihood of the top of the cake cracking.

Second, when it comes to the gingersnap crust the type of gingersnap you use can really make a difference. Rose recommends using a Swedish gingersnap. I used Lars Own Swedish Ginger Snaps (aka Pepparkakor), which I really like.  You can probably find other Ginger Snaps in the cookie section of your grocery store but if not, a quick search on amazon should provide you with results, albeit at a slightly inflated price.

Finally (for now), this recipe also calls for turbinado sugar, which is an absolute must. Don't be tempted to substitute brown sugar here. You can usually find turbinado sugar in any grocery store, but if not check out Trader Joe's or Amazon.

You will need a few “special” things to make this cheesecake:

  • a 9 x 3 inch springform pan

  • a roasting pan that is large enough to hold the springform pan

  • a slow cooker liner bag (or Reynolds Turkey bag)

  • heavy-duty aluminum foil

  • Food processor

  • Heatproof 1-cup (or larger) glass measuring cup

  • Non-stick Cooking spray

  • Parchment paper

Here is the ingredients list. 

For the Gingersnap Crust:

  • ½ cup pecan halves (50 grams)

  • 5 1/4 ounces gingersnap cookies, preferable a Swedish brand, (150 grams)

  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (12 grams)

  • 2 pinches salt

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (42 grams)

For the Pumpkin filling:

  • 1 cup unsweetened pumpkin' preferably Libby's, (243 grams)

  • 1 cup turbinado sugar (200 grams)

  • 2 cups heavy cream, cold (464 grams)

  • 1 pound cream cheese, 65° to 70°F, cut into 1-inch chunks (454 grams)

  • 2 large eggs, room temperature (100 grams)

  • 2 large egg yolks, room temperature (37 grams)

For the Caramel Piping Glaze:

  • ½ cup granulated sugar (100 grams)

  • ½ tablespoon corn syrup (10 grams)

  • 2 tablespoons water (30 grams)

  • ¼ cup heavy cream, room temperature (58 grams)

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 65° to 70°F (14 grams)

  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Start by preheating your oven to 350°F with the rack in the lower third of the oven.

Assemble the springform pan and lightly spray the bottom and sides with nonstick cooking spray, then line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

Now place the assembled and lined pan into the bottom of a slow cooker liner bag and gather up the excess bag, pulling and twisting the bag tightly around the outside of the springform pan. Twist the excess and tie it into a knot, keeping the top of the bag as close to the upper lip of the pan as possible. The basic idea here is to prevent any water from seeping in through the spring area of the pan and making the crust soggy

Wrap the outside of the pan in two layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil, and set aside. This is just extra insurance against water seepage.

Now we make the crust:

Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and when the oven is heated, bake them for seven minutes, stirring them a few times to make sure they toast evenly. Leave the oven on, still at 350°F, when the pecans are finished.

Now take out your food processor and crumble the gingersnap cookies into the bowl. Also add in the toasted pecans, the sugar and the salt and process to a fine crumb, about 20 to 25 seconds.

Add in the melted butter and just pulse the machine 5 to 10 times just enough to get it incorporated.

Put the gingersnap mix into the prepared springform pan and press it evenly along the bottom and up to about 1 inch up the sides of the pan. Use a flat bottomed, straight edged measuring cup or glass to help smooth the crust, making sure to press the bottom and sides thoroughly so the crumbs are evenly distributed.

Bake the crust for 8 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Leave the oven on, still at 350°F, when the crust has finished baking.

Rinse, dry, and reassemble the food processor.

Now, let’s get some water hot… Place a large teakettle filled with water (which will make pouring the water into the roaster much easier) on the stove and bring to a boil. Once boiling lower the heat to keep the water really hot until ready to use.  Alternately, place a large pan of water on the stove and bring to a boil, once boiling lower the heat slightly to keep it really hot until ready to use. The amount of water you will need will depend on the size of the roasting pan used to hold the springform pan. You want enough water to fill the roasting pan up with about 1 inch of water.

Now for the filling:

Stir together the pumpkin and the sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture comes to a sputtering simmer, about 5 minutes or so.

Reduce the heat to medium low and continue cooking, again, stirring constantly until the mixture is thickened and shiny, which takes about 5 minutes more.

Put the pumpkin mixture into the food processor and process for 1 minute with the feed tube open.

With the machine running, pour in the cold heavy cream.

Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Next add the cream cheese to the bowl and process 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl once or twice as needed.

Finally, add the eggs and egg yolks to the bowl and process just until combined, about 5 seconds is all it should take for this.

Pour the filling on top of the crust in the springform pan.

Now just fill the roasting pan with enough boiling hot water so that it comes up about 1 inch on the side of the springform pan.

Carefully put the roasting pan in the oven and bake the cheesecake for 55 minutes total, turning the pan around after 30 minutes has past.

Without opening the oven door, turn off the oven and allow the cheesecake to cool inside for 1 hour.

At the end of the hour remove the roaster from the oven, and carefully take the cheesecake out of the water bath, peel back the aluminum foil, and remove the cheesecake from the slow cooker bag.

Set on a wire rack and allow the cheesecake to continue cooling for 1 hour more.

When that hour is up, you’re going to simply invert a large bowl over the pan and place it in the refrigerator to chill overnight. If you don't have a large enough bowl, cover the pan with plastic wrap (but be sure the cake is completely cool).

Several hours before serving you can make the caramel:

In a medium saucepan stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water until the sugar is completely moistened.

Place the saucepan over medium heat, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup starts bubbling.

Stop stirring and allow the sugar to boil undisturbed until it turns a deep amber and registers 360°F on an instant read thermometer.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat and slowly and carefully pour the cream into the caramel, it will bubble up violently, don't let that freak you out.

Using a heat proof spatula stir the caramel until it is smooth. If lumps develop put the pan back over low heat and stir until they dissolve and the caramel is smooth.

next, gently stir in the butter. If it is a bit streaky that's ok.

Pour the caramel into a glass measuring cup that has been very lightly sprayed with cooking spray.

Allow the caramel to cool for 3 minutes and then gently stir in the vanilla.

The caramel can remain at room temperature for up to 3 days or you can refrigerate and keep it for 3 months.

To reheat: microwave room temperature caramel for 1 minute stirring once or twice, or place your container in a small pan of hot water and heat until pourable, about 5 to 6 minutes. Avoid over stirring the caramel as that can cause crystals to form.

Just before serving drizzle the caramel over the cheesecake in a decorative pattern of your choosing and decorate with extra pecans if you like.  For easy drizzling transfer the caramel to a squeeze bottle or use a pastry bag fitted with a small round tip (a plastic ziplock bag also works with one of the corners nipped off)

However, and this is slightly important... I find that the caramel once applied to the cheesecake does dissolve over time so if you are not expecting to serve all the cheesecake in one sitting it is better to drizzle caramel on top of each piece only as you serve it. Decorate the top instead with perhaps a bit of whipped cream and/or pecan pieces for presentation though, however you like.

So that brings us to the end of this post and I leave you with this thought... I may not be able to play a musical instrument, I may not be able to sing, or even clap to the beat of a song, but I can make a cake out of cheese and that is truly one of the best things about food.