Brown-Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate-Shortbread Crust

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Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse


Wheeee! Every year at the beginning of fall, I think the same thing: It’s Baking Season. It makes me more than a little giddy.

Now, you guys know that I bake year-round. But when the first autumn chill winds its way through the air, I get an irresistible urge to grab my apron, camp out in the kitchen, and keep the oven running for days on end. I know a lot of folks who are struck with a similar madness when it comes to baking pumpkin treats.

With Halloween just around the corner (a big deal here in the city of Salem), the timing couldn’t be better. We’ve already busted out our spooky kitchen gear. Plus, I just got my wisdom teeth out, so I have a serious need for soft food in my life right about now.


So, this cheesecake is like pumpkin pie dressed up in velvet. It has all the delicious, spicy autumn flavor of traditional pumpkin pie—coupled with the dense creaminess of cheesecake.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

This recipe is a happy amalgamation of my traditional cheesecake filling and thick, orange pumpkin puree—served up in the crisp and buttery shortbread crust from that Chocolate Caramel Tart I made a few weeks ago.

I used all brown sugar (not a mix of white and brown, like many pumpkin cheesecake recipes), which adds faint notes of molasses. A heady drizzle of cognac replaces traditional vanilla extract and makes the whole thing just that much more deliciously fragrant.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Oh, and…pumpkin and chocolate? You better believe it. It’s not a combination that I’d normally think of right off the bat, but the flavors are great together. Serve it topped with whipped cream and fresh chocolate shavings. (Or skip the chocolate and go a la mode with a fat scoop of ginger ice cream.)

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

This is the kind of dessert you want when you’ve spent the whole afternoon trouncing through an orchard, picking apples. (Or, you know, for breakfast the next day.)

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

In a word: Yum!

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Canned pumpkin versus fresh pumpkin puree

It’s not often that you’ll hear me say this about stuff that comes out of a can, but: I love canned pumpkin. I’ve gone through the trouble to break down a fresh pumpkin before for baking, and honestly? I think the canned stuff tastes just as good. Plus, it’s just so convenient.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

When you’re shopping, be sure to buy 100% pure canned pumpkin—not pumpkin pie mix, which is already doctored up with sugar and other ingredients. Pure, canned pumpkin is also sometimes labeled “pure pumpkin puree” or “solid pack pumpkin.” When in doubt, just double check the ingredient list.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

How to make your own pumpkin pie spice

If you can’t find it (or don’t want to buy a bottle just to make a cheesecake), you can make pumpkin pie spice yourself out of ingredients you probably have sitting in your larder.

The proportions below yield more than enough for this cheesecake. Store leftovers in a tightly sealed jar, as you would any spice. If you like, you could toss in a little allspice, too.

Pumpkin Pie Spice
2 Tbls. ground cinnamon
1 Tbls. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cloves

Yields 3 Tbls.

A note on cheesecake timing

Make this cheesecake the day before you want to serve it. This recipe is in two parts. Three, if you count the final chilling.

It takes a few hours to bake. First, make and bake the crust and let it cool. Then, make the filling and bake the cheesecake. When it’s done, it needs to cool to room temperature, then chill for at least 6 hours to set up properly.

Let the baking begin!

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust

Crust (See the original Chocolate Caramel Tart here.)
1 1/2 cups flour
5 Tbls. unsweetened cocoa powder (not sweetened hot chocolate mix)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
10 Tbls. butter, diced and softened
1/2 cup + 2 Tbls. confectioner’s sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Filling
1/4 cup flour
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 Tbls. cognac
1 15-oz. can 100% pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
24 oz. cream cheese (that’s 3 8-oz. bricks), at room temperature
1 3/4 cups dark brown sugar
4 eggs

Makes 1 9-inch cheesecake

Make the crust for the cheesecake

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter or oil and set it aside.

Put the powdered sugar and butter in the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl if you’re mixing by hand).

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Beat together until well combined.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Toss in the egg yolks and vanilla. Beat until well combined.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

The mixture will be thick, fluffy, and a pale, buttery yellow.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Add the flour, cocoa powder, and salt.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Beat until the dry ingredients are well combined. You want the mixture to be a uniform color and texture. It will feel kind of like Play Doh.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Scrape the dough out and plop it into your pan. With your hands, press the dough so that it lines the bottom and sides of the pan (stop maybe a half an inch from the top edge).

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

You want the dough to be relatively even in thickness, but don’t make yourself nuts.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Prick the dough in several places with a fork. The butter in the dough will release steam as it bakes, and those holes allow it to escape—and keep your crust from getting big air bubbles.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Pop the pan into your pre-heated, 350-degree oven. Bake it for about 20 minutes, until it’s completely opaque in color and the edges are starting to brown.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

When it’s done, yank the pan out of the oven and set it on a wire rack to cool. If you do have air bubbles under the crust, poke one or two very small holes in the crust and gently press the air out to deflate it.

Make the pumpkin cheesecake filling

When your crust has cooled to room temperature, make the filling.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. (If you left your oven on, don’t forgot to drop the heat. The cheesecake itself bakes at 25 degrees cooler than the crust.)

Put the cream cheese in the bowl of your mixer. Beat it to break it up.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Add the brown sugar.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Beat until light and fluffy.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Toss in the eggs. (I like to break them into a separate bowl before adding them to the mixing bowl. It’s easier to fish out any little bits of shell that wind up in there by accident.)

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Beat well to incorporate the eggs. The mixture will be a thick, soupy light brown, kind of like melted chocolate ice cream.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Toss in the pumpkin.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

And the cognac. (I keep a bottle of cognac in the house for baking, but if you don’t want to bother with it, you can totally substitute vanilla extract.)

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Beat to combine. The filling will be thick and creamy.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Toss in the flour and pumpkin pie spice.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Beat gently to combine.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Bake the cheesecake!

Pour the filling into your cooled crust.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Pour it just until it fills the crust. Depending on how high up the sides of the pan your crust comes, you may wind up with a little extra filling.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

If that’s the case, grease a few ramekins and bake the leftover filling by itself, as a pudding. It’ll be just delicious. (Serve garnished with a couple of shortbread cookies.)

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Pop the pan into your pre-heated 325-degree oven. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, until it *looks* set (i.e. firm and opaque) but the center jiggles a little when you move the pan.

Turn the heat off, crack the oven door about 4 or 5 inches. Leave the cheesecake in there (with the door cracked open) for an additional 3o minutes.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Cheesecakes are fickle creatures, and are incredibly sensitive to changes in temperature, which can cause big cracks on the surface of the filling. Leaving the oven door open like this lets the cheesecake cool gently, and will help you minimize (or even avoid) cracking.

Now, no matter how hard I try, my cheesecakes always crack. (Looks a little like the Grand Canyon, eh?)

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Luckily, this is strictly an aesthetic issue—and one that’s easily remedied with any kind of topping. A dollop or two of whipped cream, and no one will be any wiser.

Yank the cheesecake out of the oven when that last 30 minutes is up. Then, cool it in the pan on a rack for another 30 minutes. Then, pop in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight before serving.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

When the cheesecake has chilled, slice, serve, and enjoy!

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Shortbread Crust at The Hungry Mouse

Reader Cheesecake Photos!

October 14, 2009—Here’s the last piece of the pumpkin cheesecake that Dave made from this recipe, which he brought over to his friend Tina’s house (she’s the gal behind Carrots ‘N’ Cake). According to Dave, the filling recipe filled two store-bought pie crusts (one Oreo and one graham cracker) perfectly. Thanks for sharing!

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Cheesecake in an Oreo Crust

Photo courtesy of: Carrots ‘N’ Cake

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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie serves as an Associate Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons, a boutique ad agency in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.

107 COMMENTS

  1. I am drooling, like you I love the fall season because it marks the beginning of baking season. I am in awe by how amazing the cheesecake is. I’m totally feasting my eyes on that last photo! I just want to nibble away on that fat slice of pumpkin cheesecake

    • Thanks so much! And thanks about the new design. I haven’t gotten around to posting about it, but we did it to speed the site up and make our content more accessible.

      Cheers!
      +Jessie

  2. Delicious!!! I do many many things to keep my cheesecake from cracking. The most popular one is to wrap the cheesecake w/ foiled and let it bake in a water bath, but that takes a bit longer for it to bake and you have to double, or triple wrap it to keep from water getting into the pan. The other trick someone taught me, but I have yet to do since I haven’t made one in a while, is to put the pan of water at the bottom of the oven and the cheesecake above it, not in it. I think when I make this (b/c I most certainly will), I will try that!

  3. Oh, I looove fall baking and canned pumpkin too! This recipe looks delicious and I can’t wait to try it for Canadian Thanksgiving…

  4. Oh wow that looks so good. I love all these fantastic fall recipes!

    The last time I made cheesecake I did the oven door trick AND the water in the rack below the cake and it STILL cracked! Some of us were just not meant to have perfect cheesecakes.

  5. do you think substituting an oreo pie crust shell for the chocolate shortbread one will work? I only ask because it’s my father favorite pie crust. Thanks! Can’t wait to try the recipe

    • Hey!

      Oh, I’ll bet that would be delicious!

      Question. Are you talking about using your own Oreo pie crust shell, in a springform pan? Or one of those pre-made ones you get at the market?

      If you use a pre-made crust from the market, I’m guessing that you’ll have a ton of extra filling, so you might actually want to get two of them. A springform pan will be much deeper than a regular pie crust. Also, keep an eye on the baking time. A store-bought crust probably won’t take as long.

      Let me know how it turns out!

      +Jessie

  6. Wow! Thanks for the step by steps. I’ve tried cheesecake before from Betty Crocker and could not get in down. But with your pictures and tips this is the first time in 10 years I am willing to try again. I love your site. It’s like a cooking school – great procedures, tips, and photos. Thanks again-

    • Oh goodness, thanks so much! That means a lot to me. 😀

      Let me know how it goes! Hit me up via email ([email protected]) if you have questions as you go. My iPhone is practically always in my hand…

      +Jessie

  7. I drooled looking at the pictures of this. No, seriously I drooled just a bit lol. Thanks so much for posting. I love cheesecake, and I love pumpkin pie, and this recipe is the best of both worlds! I actually work with Del Monte, and if you’re looking for more dessert recipes we have a really yummy tropical upside-down cake. Our citrus bowls and Superfruits really enhance the sweetness of the cake, and our pre-peeled fruit is very affordable. If you want to know more, visit the link and pick up some coupons while you’re there 🙂

    http://bit.ly/qYT4q

  8. Hi Jessie–If we give The Angry Chef some money, can You make this for next Stogie Night!?!?!
    Great site by the way-my friends @ work now follow you!

    Thanks
    Rick

    • Awww, shucks, Rick. (And thanks for passing the link along!)

      I’ll totally make you guys a cheesecake, no bribery needed. You just say when. 😀

      xox
      +Jessie

  9. Hi Jessie – I’m Rick’s friend from work. I made this for the Pats game on Sunday… it was amazing! Everyone loved it, and it was surprisinly easy to make (I am definitely a novice baker). I used the pre-made graham cracker and oreo crusts and the filling recipe filled 2 crusts perfectly!

  10. I’ve been looking for a pumpkin cheesecake recipe for weeks and found this one. I think I’ve died and gone to heaven. Thanks for sharing!

  11. I just finished eating my first piece of this wonderful cake. IT WAS DELICIOUS. The slow cool method really helped.
    NOTE: I used a pizza stone below my cheesecake pan to help spread the heat and prevent the crust from hardening / burning.

    Thank you sooo much for the wonderful recipe. KUDOS TO YOU.

  12. I found this recipe while searching for a pumpkin pie with a cookie crust besides graham cracker. This whole recipe looks amazing, but I’m really excited to try this crust with my regular spiced pumpkin pie.

    I have a bunch of pumpkin puree I made last year in my freezer, and I do think it tastes different. Most canned pumpkin that you buy is actually made with yams, not pumpkins. That said, I do think canned pumpkin tastes good too. I like to stock up whenever it’s on sale.

    By the way–your photos make everything look delicious! I’m going to go poke around your blog more–I’m so glad to have stumbled upon your site!

    • Thanks so much! Let me know how you like the crust. It’s not overly sweet (or too fudge-y), so it doesn’t overwhelm sweet fillings. Let me know how you like it!

      +Jessie

  13. I LOVE this recipe. I’ve never attempted making cheesecake but after doing this I feel like a cheesecake pro! I made this for my co-workers and they all loved it, even those who weren’t partial to pumpkin pie. I’m making another batch for my family for Thsanksgiving and I’m sure they’ll love it too. Love your website and the yummy food 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving!

  14. This looks so amazing. I have to try it this year. I think I’m gonna start on my pumpkin baking early this year so I can try all the new recipes I’m finding on pinterest. Thanks for sharing

  15. This looks amazing. I can’t wait to try this. I too have been looking forward to fall baking, and this recipe just made its way to the top of my list. I wonder if your cracking is because you don’t use a water bath when baking your cheesecake? I have never made a cheesecake without a water bath in the oven during baking it helps keep the moisture in the oven, is there a reason you don’t use one? Thank you for posting this recipe and thank you to Pinterest for bringing me here.

  16. I just finished making this cheesecake. Luckily, mine didn’t crack, but it separated a lot from the crust on the sides. Did anyone else have this problem?

  17. If you leave a pan of water in the oven while cooking the cheesecake you will never get cracks in your cheesecake. I’ve done it forever!!!!!

  18. This looks delicious, and I can’t wait to try it! One tip about the cracking – when you are baking a cheesecake, fill a pie pan with water and put it on the bottom rack of the oven. The steam keeps the cheesecake from drying out on the surface as it cooks and cools and helps prevent those cracks. Happy baking!

  19. Your cheescake sounds delicious! If you’re not already tired of suggestions here are my tricks. I bake all or most of my cheesecakes @ 300° for an hour then prop the door open with a wooden spoon handle with the heat off for another 45 minutes to an hour. Also if it is beaten too much after the eggs are added it tends to crack and last but not least upon removing from the oven run a sharp knife around the edge. This frees it to contract without pulling it apart. Good luck!

  20. I made this today for a Halloween treat. It turned out AMAZIN’. Super easy and with the great tips it didn’t crack at all. I think propping the door open made all the difference. I couldn’t get my springform into a bath of water so I put a pan full of hot water into the bottom rack of the oven and the cake in the middle.
    Crust is the perfect accompaniment too. Not too sweet and just chocolatey enough.
    Thanks for a great recipe

  21. Going to try this for my Thanksgiving gathering, though I am a tad embarrassed to admit I will probably use two pre-made crusts. Not because I don’t want to try your crust, it looks absolutely wonderful! I don’t have a springform pan (how is that for embarrassing??). Can’t wait, and I know everyone will love it!

  22. I make alot of cheesecakes, and if you put a pan of water in your oven while baking the cheesecake, it will keep moisture in the oven and keeping it from cracking. I do this everytime and mine never crack.

  23. this will be the 2nd time i’ve made this cheesecake. the first time was 2 years ago and when i realized i had no pumpkin pie spice i used chai spices instead. it was great so i’ll do it the same way again this year.
    i am no fan of pumpkin pie so this is perfect for someone like me who likes tradition but not the classic pumpkin pie.

  24. I made this about a month ago and it turned out SOOO GOOD!!! I am making this for Thanksgiving instead of a normal pumpkin pie. Thanks for this awesome recipe!!

  25. This was my very first cheese cake I’ve ever made and it was fabulous!!! Your instructions were perfect, I had a little cracking around the edge when it was cooking, but sealed itself by the time I pulled it out of the oven. Extremely impressed with the crust and it was a wonderful addition to our Thanksgiving meal. Thank you so much!

  26. This looks amazing! Do you think it would be like regular shortbread if I omitted the cocoa powder? My husband adores shortbread, but chocolate, not so much…I don’t want to butcher a delicious recipe though. Thanks!

  27. I came upon this recipe through Pinterest… and lo and behold we are neighbors!! This looks delicious and I cannot wait to make it!!

  28. I made this for Thanksgiving last year and everyone RAVED about it. I’m making it again this year for my office Halloween party – and making another for home! I am weird about textures of cheesecakes – and this one is perfect.

  29. I just made this pie yesterday and it was delicious, but my crust burnt a little bit and i didn’t leave it in for the whole 20minutes 🙁 or the hour and 15min, the times were off for me, it took much less. I made two, one with the crust, and one store bought and the shortbread one is much better it would’ve been perfect if I hadn’t burned it! Maybe i’ll try again!!

  30. I’m not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet, but try taking a pan with water and a metal cooling rack to make a water bath and baking it on that. I had the same cracking problem and it worked great! I can’t wait to try this!

  31. Very impressive blog, I have looked at many of “pumpkin cheesecake” recipes this am, and I’m choosing to try yours, just cuz I love the site. 🙂 Lots of great coments as well. Keep up the GREAT hard work!!!!! Happy Thanksgiving 🙂

  32. To prevent the cracking – cover the bottom and up the sides of your pan with aluminum foil. Place in a deep cake pan and set in the oven. Pour hot water into the pan until it reaches half way up the pan. Bake as usual. We do this at the bakery where I work and it works every time.

  33. Water bath is a must when baking cheesecake and also the temperature of this recipe is too high .. If you foll this you won’t have a problem with it creaking

  34. It looks amazing! Do you have any tips for cutting cheesecake? I want the smooth look but it always seems to look crumbly, no matter how smooth it tastes!

  35. I made the case yesterday and the filling today. I used light cream cheese, soft brown sugar and large eggs but my consistencies weren’t quite the same – they seemed wetter. I’ve baked it and it’s now cooling but no cracking and in fact I’m really happy with how it turned out. I didn’t use the full amount in one, I’ve made a separate base of gingerbread biscuit and am about to cook that one. Sadly, however, I won’t get to try as they’re for hubby to take to work for a Thanksgiving bake off! I did dispense some filling into small ramekin which cooked within 30mins and it was gorgeous albeit no base :-). Thank you – btw I’m in the UK

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  37. Thanks so much for this recipe! My mouth was watering the whole time I was making it!
    I did everything that was in your recipe, but added a sour cream layer on top and a salted caramel topping. Finished it off with a few pecans too! Thanks so much, I can’t wait for it to completely cool in a few hours… it’s going to be like Fall in my mouth! 🙂

  38. I have found that the advice I got years ago from King Arthur Flour /Cook’s Illustrated and Fine Cooking to be excellent regarding baking cheesecakes. Wrap the spring form pan in foil up to the midsection of the pan. Place the filled pan into another vessel (I use a broiler pan bottom) and pour boiling water into it when you put the cake into the preheated oven. Have the water up about 1/2 way onto the pan (the foil covers all that..so it won’t seep into the cake). Bake as per instructions….cool just as you suggested…in a slightly opened oven….and allow it to come to room temp. No cracks on top! and I saw they also suggested that you can insert a knife and run it along the edge of the springform pan as the cake is cooling to prevent that pulling which causes the cracks too. Just some thoughts. I made this wonderful cake today for a social tomorrow and cannot wait to see what everyone thinks! Thanks!

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