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Better Than Pie: Pumpkin Cheesecake

Even though I love pumpkin in nearly every incarnation, I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin pie. I'd rather have pretty much any other pumpkin dessert. This cheesecake has graced my Thanksgiving table for the last couple of years. It's delicious, and so much more satisfying than plain ol' pie.

The recipe comes from the November/December 2003 edition of Cook's Illustrated magazine. The only adjustment I've had to make is in the equipment: CI instructs the cook to wrap the springform pan with foil to protect it from the water bath as it bakes. But they use 18-inch square foil, which is only available at restaurant supply shops in my area. After a couple of trial-and-error attempts to use standard 12-inch wide foil, I've taken to using an inexpensive, thin foil roasting pan and bending it around the outside of the springform pan. This provides enough protection for the cake while in the water bath, and keeps the water from seeping in.

Another bonus: the recipe can be made up to 3 days in advance, giving you plenty of time for your other Thanksgiving projects. Brown Sugar and Bourbon Cream is the suggested accompaniment for the cheesecake, and I give the recipe below. I've never tried it; the cheesecake all by itself is plenty yummy to me. But a bit of whipped cream topping surely can't be bad.

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Bake Time: about 1 1/2 hours
Yield: one 9-inch cake, about 12 to 16 servings

Crust
5 ounces graham crackers (9 whole crackers)
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Filling
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp salt
15-oz. can pumpkin
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, cut into 1-inch chunks and left to soften at room temperature
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
5 large eggs, left at room temperature about 30 minutes
1 cup heavy cream

For the crust: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Spray bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pulse graham crackers, sugar, and spices in a food processor until evenly and finely ground, about fifteen 2-second pulses. Transfer crumbs to a medium bowl, drizzle melted butter over, and mix with a rubber spatula until evenly moistened. Turn crumbs into prepared pan; using your hand, spread crumbs into an even layer. Using a flat-bottomed ramekin or drinking glass, press crumbs evenly into pan bottom, then use a soup spoon to press and smooth crumbs into edges of pan. Bake until fragrant and browned about the edges, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while making the filling.

For the water bath: Bring about 4 quarts of water to simmer in a stockpot.

To remove excess moisture from the pumpkin, line a baking sheet with a triple layer of paper towels. Spread the pumpkin on the paper towels in a roughly even layer. Cover the pumpkin with a second triple layer of paper towels and press firmly until paper towels are saturated. Peel back the top layer of paper towels and discard. Grasp the bottom towels and fold pumpkin in half; peel back the towels. Flip pumpkin off the towels onto the baking sheet: it should flop right off in a solid mass. Do not skip this step! The excess moisture in the pumpkin will make the filling taste watery if it's not removed.

For the filling: Whisk sugar, spices, and salt in a small bowl; set aside. In a standing mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat cream cheese at medium speed to break up and soften slightly, about 1 minute. Scrape beater and sides of bowl well with a rubber spatula. Add about one third of the sugar mixture and beat at medium-low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape bowl and add remaining sugar in two additions, scraping after each addition. Add pumpkin, vanilla, and lemon juice and beat at medium speed until combined, about 45 seconds; scrape bowl. Add 3 eggs and beat at medium-low until incorporated, about 1 minute; scrape bowl. Add remaining 2 eggs and beat at medium-low until incorporated, about 1 minute; scrape bowl. Add heavy cream and beat at low speed until combined, about 45 seconds. Using rubber spatula, scrape bottom and sides of bowl and give the mixture a final stir by hand.

Set springform pan with cooled crust inside a thin foil pan (I found that a small roasting pan fits the best). Bend the foil pan up and around the sides of the springform pan, making as tight a seal as you can (there will be gaps). Set the wrapped pan into a metal roasting pan or a Pyrex baking dish. Pour the filling into the springform pan and smooth the surface. Set the pans into the oven and pour the simmering water into the roasting pan or Pyrex dish; enough to come about halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake until center of cake is slightly wobbly when pan is shaken and center of cake registers 145 to 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours (start checking at 1 hour). Run a paring knife around the sides of the cake to loosen; set roasting pan or Pyrex on a wire rack and cool until water is just warm, about 45 minutes. Remove springform pan from the water bath and discard the foil wrapper. Continue to cool on wire rack until barely warm, about 3 hours. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.


Brown Sugar and Bourbon Cream
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
2 tsp bourbon

Whisk heavy cream, sour cream, brown sugar, and salt until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve cheesecake, at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours. Stir once or twice during chilling to ensure that the sugar dissolves.

When ready to serve cheesecake, add bourbon and beat mixture until fluffy and doubled in volume, about 2 minutes. Spoon cream on top of cheesecake slices.

 

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©2005 Colleen Flippo. All rights reserved. Contact the author.