Fall is already in the air at my house. Well, at least in my house of recipes. That means soup, stew, slow-cooked menus and all things pumpkin. Pumpkin in scones and muffins, with and without nuts and of course with a little bit of chocolate. Pumpkin in as many recipes as you can imagine and some recipes you never thought of (Pumpkin Sauce Enchiladas coming soon). Which brings me to Pumpkin Cheesecake. Good cheesecake is known for its creamy texture and rich flavor. Adding pureed pumpkin and pumpkin spices to the cream cheese mixture only intensives that rich, creamy taste. I made this for the first time a few years ago, and it has since become one of our favorite desserts for this season and any time of year for that matter.
The crust in this pumpkin cheesecake is a subtle combination of pecans and crystalized ginger. This is a delicious crust but I have experimented with several others and have been happy with them as well. So, use what you like or have on hand for the crust.
The pumpkin cheesecake stands on its own without the sugared pumpkin seeds, but this unique touch pushes the dessert over the top for an elegant presentation. And they are so tasty, you may find yourself making them for a snack on their own. The sugared pumpkin seeds can be made days ahead of time, and stored in an air-tight container until ready to serve. Speaking of making things ahead of time, I recommend making the cheesecake at least a day ahead of serving. The recipe requires at least four hours to chill, but 24 hours makes all the difference.
Topped with classic homemade whipped cream and the sugared pumpkin seeds, you have a special dessert that tastes like it was really hard to make. Though a bit time consuming, it is really easy to make for a wonderful treat any time of the year.
Don’t let the long list of ingredients and instructions turn you off from this recipe. Just read through all the instructions before starting, take your time and have fun! (Also, see notes at the bottom of the recipe for high altitude tips – over 3,000 ft.)
Additional note about cream cheese. Please use only Philadelphia brand cream cheese. All cream cheeses are not created equal and do not perform the same. If you’re going to the trouble for cheesecake, invest in good ingredients. I speak from experience here. And do not use low-fat cream cheese, whatever you do.
- Ginger-Pecan Crust
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup pecans
- ¼ cup crystallized ginger
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon cold water
- Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1¼ pounds cream cheese, softened (Philadelphia brand - yes, it matters. They do not all perform the same)
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch (this helps prevent cracks in the cheesecake)
- 4 large eggs
- Sugared Pumpkin Seeds
- ½ cup hulled raw pumpkin seeds
- 1 large egg white
- Pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- ⅓ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Garnish - Homemade Whipped Cream
- 1½ cups heavy cream
- ¼ cup granulated sugar, more or less to taste
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- Note: Crystalized Ginger can be usually found in the spice aisle of your grocer. However, "candied" ginger is the same thing and usually cheaper.
- Make The Crust
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Cut an 18-inch square of heavy aluminum foil and wrap the foil around the outside of the pan.
- Place the flour, sugar, salt, pecans, and ginger in the bowl of a food processor and process until the pecans are finely ground. Add the butter and process until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Add the water and process until the dough starts to come together. Press the dough into an even layer over the bottom of the prepared pan.
- Bake the crust for 23-25 minutes, until it is just beginning to brown. Place the pan on a wire rack and cool completely. Reduce oven temperature to 325F degrees.
- Make The Filling
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, heavy cream, vanilla extract, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.
- In another medium bowl, beat the cream cheese at medium low speed until creamy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Gradually add the sugars and beat until blended. Add the pumpkin mixture and mix again until blended. Add the cornstarch and mix just until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing just to incorporate after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. After all the eggs are incorporated, continue to beat the filling for an additional minute to ensure the mixture is smooth.
- Scrape the batter over the cooled crust. Place the wrapped pan in a roasting pan or large baking pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come up just 1 inch of the sides on the springform pan. Bake the cheesecake in the water bath for 65-75 minutes, until the center of the cake is set but still slightly wobbly (the cake will set completely as it cools).
- Remove the cake pan from the water bath, place the pan on a wire rack, and carefully loosen the foil. Let the cake cool completely.
- Refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 4 hours before serving, but 24-48 hours is ideal.
- Make The Pumpkin Seeds
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
- Place the pumpkin seeds in a small bowl. In another small bowl, whisk the egg white just until frothy. Add JUST ENOUGH of the egg white (approximately ½ tablespoon) to the pumpkin seeds to coat them. Add the salt, sugar and cinnamon and toss well to coat the seeds.
- Spread the seeds in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake, tossing them occasionally with a metal spatula, for 15 to 20 minutes, until they begin to dry and change color. Place the pan on a wire rack and cool completely.
- With your fingers, separate any clumps of seeds and store in an airtight container for up to a week.
- Make The Whipped Cream
- Add heavy cream, sugar and vanilla in a medium mixing bowl. Beat on high until desired whipped cream consistency is reached. Taste and add more sugar, if needed.
- To Serve
- Remove the side of the pan and slice the cake with a thin-bladed sharp knife, wiping the knife clean between each cut. Garnish each slice with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of sugared pumpkin seeds.
- Store any leftovers in the refrigerator, loosely covered, for up to 4 days.
- For altitudes over 3,000 ft., note the following tips: When greasing the springform pan, grease heavily rather than lightly. Be sure to add the cornstarch step to help prevent cracking, and check your crust and cake at the lower end of the cooking time for doneness.
Adapted from one of my favorite baking books, The Cake Book by Tish Boyle.