Recently I went out to lunch with the women in my office and we ended our meal by sharing a remarkably good dessert of pumpkin cheesecake. One of my coworkers was so smitten that she wanted to make a pumpkin cheesecake for her family's Thanksgiving and asked me if I had a recipe. I didn't but I am always happy to have a research project of this sort.
I immediately began looking for a pumpkin cheesecake recipe by Rose Levy Beranbaum who is a cheesecake baking heroine of mine. The first baking book I ever bought was The Cake Bible (this was in 1988 when it was first published) and following its meticulous instructions I was able to make cakes and buttercreams that were far more sophisticated than anything I'd ever imagined being able to make.Among the recipes were cheesecakes which were of a completely different texture than any cheesecake I'd had up to then -- they were creamy and smooth as opposed to dry and dense. Almost every cheesecake recipe I see the days involves baking a cheesecake in a water bath in order to ensure a creamy texture but the Cake Bible was the first place I remember seeing this.
I was thrilled to find a pumpkin cheesecake recipe by Rose Levy Beranbaum in Fine Cooking and delighted when I tasted it. There's a a delicious crust of pecans and gingersnaps and the cheesecake itself has a wonderfully creamy texture.
You'll also find the same recipe on Leite's Culinaria and Rose's own website. The Fine Cooking version is a simpler version but on the other two sites you'll find a recipe for caramel sauce to serve with the cheesecake, and pointers to guide you in the making of the cheesecake.
Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pumpkin Cheesecake With Gingersnap and Pecan Crust
4-1/4 oz. gingersnap cookies (about 17 two-inch cookies), broken into pieces
2 oz. (1/2 cup) pecans, toasted
1 Tbs. granulated sugar
2 pinches table salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)
4 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1 cup unsweetened pumpkin purée (Rose recommends Libby's)
1 cup granulated sugar or turbinado sugar
2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1 lb. cream cheese at room temperature
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
To garnish: about 24 toasted pecan halves
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Grease the bottom and sides of a 9x2½-inch or higher springform pan. Wrap the pan in a double-layer of heavy duty aluminum foil (the kind that comes in the 17" width) to keep the cheesecake dry while it bakes in the water bath.
Make the crust:
In a food processor, process the cookies with the pecans, sugar, salt, and cinnamon (if using) until the cookies become fine crumbs, about 20 seconds. Add the melted butter and pulse about 10 times, just until incorporated.
Press the mixture into the base of the prepared pan and partway up the sides. The easiest way to do this is to use a flat-bottomed, glass to press the crumbs over the bottom and then use the back of a spoon to press them into the edges and part-way up the sides of the pan. Keep pressing until you have a thin even layer. Cover the crust with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
Make the filling:
In a small, heavy saucepan, stir the pumpkin purée and sugar together. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a sputtering simmer, stirring constantly, about 5 min. Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture has darkened and thickened to the consistency of applesauce, about 5 min.
Scrape the mixture into a large food processor and process for 1 min. with the feed tube open (so steam can escape), scraping down the sides. With the motor running, add the chilled cream. Add the softened cream cheese and process for 30 seconds or until smoothly incorporated, scraping down the sides two or three times. Add the eggs and yolks and process for about 5 seconds, just until incorporated.
Bake the cheesecake:
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Set the pan in a larger pan (a 12x2-inch cake pan or a roasting pan) and surround it with 1 inch of very hot water. Check that the oven is at 350°F and bake the cheesecake for 45 min. Turn off the oven without opening the door and let the cheesecake cool for 1 hour. Transfer the cake to a rack (the center will still be jiggly) and cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight. .
Umold, garnish, and slice:
Be sure the cheesecake is thoroughly chilled. Have ready a serving plate and another flat plate or clean plastic cutting board that's at least as wide as the springform and covered in plastic wrap. Wipe a hot, damp cloth around the outside of the ring (or use a hair dryer). Run a metal spatula or a thin knife inside the ring. Release and gently loosen the ring and then lift it off. Set the plate with the plastic wrap on top of the cheesecake and carefully invert the pan. Heat the base of the springform with a hot, damp cloth or hair dryer and lift it off. Set the serving plate lightly on the bottom of the cheesecake (which is now facing up) and reinvert the cake. Lift off the plastic-wrapped plate.
Arrange the pecan halves around the perimeter of the cake. To cut neat slices, use a sharp, thin-bladed knife dipped in hot water (shake off excess drops) between each slice.