Cheesecake is quite possibly one of my favorite things to make, for many reasons. First and foremost, I’m good at it. But a very close second is that it’s versatile. You can make almost any flavor you want, except raspberry. Just a word to the wise, if you want a raspberry cheesecake don’t mix a raspberry puree into the cheesecake filling, the acidity of the raspberries does something awful to the texture, and when raspberries are baked- they turn an unappetizing brownish color. Stick to a raspberry topping.
Anyway, back to the topic, cheesecake is very easy to adapt. Today I will be telling you about the pumpkin cheesecake my friend requested for her birthday, but I assure you there will be many more cheesecakes to come, and feel free to make requests.
3 cups gingersnaps, crumbled
¼ cup brown sugar, packed tight
½ stick of butter, melted
4 8-oz packages of cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 15-oz pumpkin puree
4 large eggs
1 ½ tsp good quality cinnamon, such as Vietnamese Saigon cassia cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
¼ tsp allspice (ground cloves will also work)
2 Tbs vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Crust – Preheat oven to 325. Grind cookies down to a fine crumb in a food processor, pulse in brown sugar. Slowly pour in melted butter while pulsing the food processor. This can also be done by crushing the cookies in a zip top bag with a rolling pin and adding the butter slowly while incorporating with a fork. The food processor is just easier. Press into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan. I find the most useful tool for this is a pint glass, or something of a similar shape. Start with the sides and create a uniform edge, which will leave you with enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Don’t worry about getting them perfectly even (height wise) I personally think a slightly rustic looking cheesecake is the most beautiful. Bake for 10 mins and set aside to cool while you make the filling.
Filling – Make sure the cream cheese is at room temperature (this is what will ensure a smooth texture). In the bowl of a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, blend the cream cheese until smooth. Scrape down the edges of the bowl. Add the sugar and blend until smooth and fluffy (about 2 mins). Add the pumpkin puree and blend. Add all the spices, the vanilla, blend until smooth. Scrape down the edges of the bowl, including the bottom of the bowl to make sure all the cream cheese is incorporated. Add eggs one at a time, it is important to thoroughly blend in each egg. DO NOT scrape the bowl after this, you will have plenty of filling to just pour it into the shell, and this will make sure any little stray chunks stay stuck to the side of the bowl and will not compromise the texture of your cheesecake.
Baking method – Some people swear by a water bath- I think it’s a pain in the butt. I find that if you put another pan of water in the oven (either behind, or on a shelf underneath) you get the same results. The idea is the steam helps the cheesecake to stay moist and not crack. Your cheesecake will probably crack, they almost always do, but they still taste delicious. Plus, that’s a good reason to top it with a streusel. Bake your cheesecake for 1 hour and 10 mins. DO NOT open the oven door, ever. At the end of the 1 hour and 10 mins, turn off the oven, without opening the door. Set a timer for 45 mins and just let it sit in the oven. After the resting period, take it out of the oven and put it in the refrigerator uncovered. The uncovered part is extremely important, if you cover it while it’s still warm, it will continue to bake the cheesecake making your end result crumbly instead of creamy. Let the cheesecake cool for at least 8 hours.
Making a good cheesecake is more about the details of the construction and the preparation than anything else. If this is your first cheesecake it might not be perfect, but that’s ok, it will still taste delicious and you learn a little more from each one you make. Another thing I would like to note is the importance of quality spices. The pumpkin pie flavor isn’t going to come from the pumpkin, it comes from the spices. So the better the quality, and the fresher the spices are, the better your cheesecake is going to taste.
My cheesecake turned out with a little brown on top, (it happens people, it’s ok) so I decided to top it with a simple pecan streusel.
½ stick of butter
½ cup pecans, chopped
½ cup brown sugar, packed tight
2 Tbs all purpose flour
Blend all the ingredients together with a pastry blender, or a fork if you don’t have one. Crumble the mixture evenly onto the top of the cooled cheesecake and place under the broiler for 6-7 mins. Watch carefully, as soon as the pecans start to brown, it’s time to take it out.
Ready. Set. Enjoy.