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.
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 pieâ€”coupled with the dense creaminess of cheesecake.
This recipe is a happy amalgamation of my traditional cheesecake filling and thick, orange pumpkin pureeâ€”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.
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.)
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.)
In a word: Yum!
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.
When you’re shopping, be sure to buy 100% pure canned pumpkinâ€”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.
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
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
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).
Beat together until well combined.
Toss in the egg yolks and vanilla. Beat until well combined.
The mixture will be thick, fluffy, and a pale, buttery yellow.
Add the flour, cocoa powder, and salt.
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.
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).
You want the dough to be relatively even in thickness, but don’t make yourself nuts.
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 escapeâ€”and keep your crust from getting big air bubbles.
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.
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.
Add the brown sugar.
Beat until light and fluffy.
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.)
Beat well to incorporate the eggs. The mixture will be a thick, soupy light brown, kind of like melted chocolate ice cream.
Toss in the pumpkin.
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.)
Beat to combine. The filling will be thick and creamy.
Toss in the flour and pumpkin pie spice.
Beat gently to combine.
Bake the cheesecake!
Pour the filling into your cooled crust.
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.
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.)
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.
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?)
Luckily, this is strictly an aesthetic issueâ€”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.
When the cheesecake has chilled, slice, serve, and enjoy!
Reader Cheesecake Photos!
October 14, 2009â€”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!
Photo courtesy of: Carrots ‘N’ Cake