25 November 2013

Eats: the traditional pumpkin cheesecake

I’m going to tell you a secret: I’m already over Thanksgiving. I just want to move on to Christmas!

I know! I sound like one of those awful people who throws up decorations in mid-October! I was always annoyed with those people too! And yet here I am this year, just itching to get this whole turkey-football-blah-di-blah over with so we can get to Christmas.

At least I understand why I’m rushing Thanksgiving. For one, Thanksgiving is super duper late this year. Both the retailers and me are freaking out about how few shopping days there are in the “official” holiday shopping season (and yet, no, I haven’t bought a single gift). The other reason is that I’ve already made and ate my annual pumpkin cheesecake.

For all my derision over pumpkin spiced enthusiasm, the one Thanksgiving tradition that defines the holiday for me is pumpkin cheesecake. My mom made one years ago, she passed the recipe on to me, I’ve modified it to my liking, and Mr. P’s family has politely accepted my Thanksgiving offering every year since. Because we’re traveling this year (on an airplane, over the holidays, GOD HELP US), I can’t make and transport the usual pumpkin cheesecake. But I couldn’t let the season go by without making one!

So, a few weeks ago, I made a pumpkin cheesecake for a party. And along the way, I documented it so you, too, can have a pumpkin cheesecake at your Thanksgiving dinner! It’s a lot of work, and you have to START EARLY, but it’s worth it in the end.

We start by softening our ingredients. I needed this cheesecake ready to serve (i.e. chilled) by that evening, so I got started early by setting these ingredients out by 8 AM.

You don’t have to get them out quite that early, but the sooner they come to room temp, the sooner you can start.

Once they’re ready to go, it’s time to make the crust. For that, you need storebought gingerbread cookies (about 50, or 2 cups crushed) and chopped pecans (two-thirds of a cup).

Oh, and BUTTER. That whole softened stick of it!

The cookies need to be crunched-up as much as you can stand. I like to put them in a Ziploc bag and break them up with my rolling pin. The sharp edges of the broken cookies sometimes punch tiny holes in the bag that let crumbs leak out, but I’ve been doing it like that for so long that it doesn’t bother me anymore.

I suppose you could pulse them in your food processor instead. Whatever works!

However you get them crunched-up, mix the cookies, pecans, and butter together until thoroughly combined.

Press this mixture in the bottom and up the sides of a greased 9 or 10” springform pan (mine is 10”, but I think 9” would work just fine too). I just spray the pan with cooking spray before pressing in the crust, although it’s probably not necessary with all that butter.

Then it’s time to bake! Pop it in a preheated 350-degree oven for ten minutes, then set it aside to cool.

While the crust is baking, I start assembling the batter for the cheesecake (is it called a batter? I am not a real baker so I have no idea). To start, three 8-oz. blocks of room-temperature cream cheese are mixed with half a cup of sugar and two teaspoons of vanilla.

Oh, and PS, if you’re cooking for diabetics (like I often am for the holidays), I’ve subbed in Splenda for the sugar throughout this recipe, and it’s baked just fine. Of course, the taste is a bit different. Still, I feel like a jerk when I bring a dessert that some people can’t eat, so this way we can all enjoy it!

Now. Here is where I deviated from my standard cheesecake-making plans and tried something a bit new. Normally, I mix this batter (?) in my stand mixer. But this year I was all “For once my cheesecake will have NO CRACKS when it bakes!” and I decided to hand-mix it instead, because I read that hand-mixing is better for avoiding cracks. I do not recommend this. While you still shouldn’t over-mix the cream cheese and sugar, my cheesecake was much, MUCH more lumpy than it should have been. Cracks are aesthetic but lumps affect the texture. So please, use a stand or hand mixer to combine these ingredients. I’ll be going back to that method next year!

Ok, So WITH YOUR MIXER (and not the rubber spatula I was using), add in the eggs one or two at a time, mixing completely between additions.

You won’t be able to eliminate all the lumps (if you do, you’ll have beaten the eggs too much) – so aim for less than I’ve got, but not over-mixed.

Once this basic batter is assembled, it’s time to pumpkin-ify it. But before we do that, reserve 1/2 to 3/4 c. of this batter in a separate bowl and set aside. To the rest, add 1 1/2 cups of canned pumpkin (about 2/3 of a can), an additional 1/4-cup of sugar, and two teaspoons of “pumpkin spice” seasoning.

If you’re not lazy like me, purchasing “pumpkin spice” seasoning, you can add one teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of nutmeg, like the original recipe called for.

Mix the pumpkin, sugar, and spices into the batter until completely combined (again, using a mixer would be great). Now you’ve got a bunch of orange-y colored batter, and the plain white batter. Add the pumpkin-orange batter to the crust in the springform part, then use a spoon to drop the white batter on top.

I’ve found that lines of drops work better than random drops, FYI.

Then take a butter knife or blade edge of a rubber spatula and slowly swirl the batter to make a marbled effect.

Don’t over-swirl or you’ll end up with what looks like a muddled, under-mixed cheesecake. It’ll taste just fine but look a little weird. It’s taken me a few years to learn the best technique, and very subtle waves seem to make the best effect!

All right, now it’s time to bake! And this is where I tried “NO CRACKS FOR ME” experiment #2: the bain-marie. In other words, the water bath. Since we weren’t using our roasting pan to cook a turkey at our apartment this year, I used it to make the water bath for this cheesecake.

I was skeptical at best, but I read a lot about it and thought I’d give it a shot. Thus, instead of baking at 350-degrees for 55 minutes like I had every other year, I tried baking this cheesecake in the bain-marie for fifteen minutes at 450-degrees, then reducing the heat to 200 degrees and letting it bake for the rest of the hour.

After forty minutes at 200 degrees, it was not done.

After an additional fifteen minutes, it was not done.

After an additional fifteen minutes at 300 degrees, it was not done.

After an additional fifteen minutes at 250 degrees, it was not done and I was exceptionally irate.

I finally pulled the whole shebang out and saw what I thought might happen but nobody mentioned: the water was leaking in to my cheesecake. The crust was getting soggy and the batter wasn’t setting.

At this point I had less than three hours until the party – and remember, it still had to chill! So I said SCREW IT (actually I said things that were a lot less family-friendly), retrieved my soggy cheesecake from its stupid water bath, and stuck it straight on the oven rack at 350 degrees like I should have all dang along.

After a little more time, finally, FINALLY it was done! And hey, look. No cracks.

It only took twice as long to bake as it should have and the texture was lumpy, but no cracks, so... success?

Lesson learned: just stick that sucker in the oven at 350 degrees. You’re good. If it cracks, it’s still going to taste amazing and your family will love you forever. Plus the cracks will just show how totally homemade it is!

Since this is a recipe passed down to Casa P without an internet source, here’s the handy recipe summary! It should be easy enough to print out and use when you’re making this later this week for your Thanksgiving dinner.

The Redheaded Stepchild’s Pumpkin Cheesecake

Crust ingredients:
2 cups crushed gingersnap cookies (approx. 50 cookies)
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

Cheesecake ingredients:
3 8-oz. packages of cream cheese, softened at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar, divided
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
2 tsp. pumpkin spice seasoning


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix together crushed cookies, pecans, and butter. Press into the bottom and ~1 inch up the sides of a 9-10” springform pan. Bake for 10 min. and set aside to cool.

In another bowl, mix together the cream cheese, 1/2 cup of sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer until just smooth. Add eggs, one or two at a time, blending well after each. Set aside ~1/2 cup of the mixture. Add 1/4 cup of sugar, pumpkin, and pumpkin spice to the remainder, mixing well.

Spread the pumpkin batter into the crust, and drop the plain batter onto the top by spoonfuls. Swirl to create a marbled effect.

Bake 55 minutes or until filling is set. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and allow to cool before removing pan rim. Chill at least four hours before serving.


There you have it! If you want to serve this at your Thanksgiving dinner, you’d better hurry to the store and get canned pumpkin and cream cheese before they’re all out – you don’t want to have to visit multiple grocery stores for those popular ingredients (believe me, I KNOW).

Hope you have a great feast planned for this week, dear readers! Enjoy and have a wonderful holiday!


Heather D. said...

I made this with my kitchen aid for my small group Bible study. It had several cracks, but it was smooth and delicious! Thanks!