If you’re looking for a fabulous, can-do, beautiful and luscious holiday dessert, Pumpkin Cheesecake is the answer. This recipe makes the best one I’ve ever had, right down to its Gingersnap-Pecan Crust!
Sweet and yet tangy, simple and yet complex, familiar and yet endlessly variable, cheesecake is a glorious dessert which is easy for cooks to love. Cheesecake calls for everyday ingredients and basic cooking methods. It keeps well, it travels well, and it needs to be made ahead, freeing you, the cook, to enjoy your special occasion. No wonder we cooks and eaters all love this classic sweet finale.
I’ve been making this pumpkin cheesecake recipe for many years, ever since a pastry chef shared it with me during my Southern California days. We lived in Irvine, CA, from 1985 to 1989, and during that time we ate out in Los Angeles as often as we could manage it.
I got this recipe before I started writing about food and teaching cooking, and I regret that I did not note the chef’s name. If memory serves me, the restaurant was a lovely place in Santa Monica or LA proper, with small fireplaces and a French sensibility. I would love to figure out and find this chef, so if bells ring, let me know in the comments. I am so glad I typed this out on our first toaster-like Mac computer, and printed it out on the dot-matrix printer, and that I kept the hard copy through many moves.
I love everything about this recipe, especially the crust, which is half gingersnaps and half pecans.
What I will say about this and all the traditional baked cheesecakes like it, is to give yourself an extra day. Make this the day before you want to serve it. Or even two days before. Cheesecakes really need that time to themselves, covered up, in the refrigerator, settling into the their mission of creating edible happiness and delight for you and yours.
If you have to rush it, do that. It’s okay. But for the very best results, Bake it ahead. Could be early morning for evening — by overnight, it could be 8 – 10 hours anywhere on the clock. But resting time is key, so build it in.
I grind up both the gingersnaps and the pecans in my food processor; then combine them well with brown sugar and white sugar, and stir in melted butter to bring everything together deliciously and firmly. I let the butter brown a little bit this time, not paying close attention, and it turned out wonderfully, no problem. Might do that on purpose next time!
I press the buttery crumbs in by hand, and then use the bottom of this little pyrex bowl to convince the mixture to form an edge and stay put before toasting it in the oven. Cheesecake’s only really serious requirement is that you obtain a spring-form pan.
It’s an investment, but if you love baking, and enjoy making cheesecakes, you will get your money’s worth from the investment many times over. I have two, a 8-inch and a 9-inch; and I just got a 7-inch springform pan to use in my new multicooker pot, which I hear makes excellent cheesecakes. (I’ll get back to you about that soon…)
You can make and bake (briefly) the crust ahead of time, or do so just before your mix up the filling. I went straight through with this one. Here’s my spices mixture, ready to get stirred into the sugar. This recipe calls for cinnamon, ginger, and mace. I would add other spices if you like a complex pumpkin-spice flavor profile, as I do. And if you don’t have mace, use nutmeg instead, as they come from the same plant and echo each other nicely. Cloves? Cardamom? Allspice? Extra ginger? It’s all good here, so don’t hold back!
Here’s the pumpkin, ready to mix with the eggs, sugar and spices. (I used canned pumpkin this time, as I usually do. It makes a superb cheesecake with lush, autumnal color and deep flavor. If you’d like to cook from fresh pumpkin, choose a thick-walled winter squash such as a sugar pumpkin, kabocha pumpkin, butternut squash, or hubbard squash for maximum flavor and firm texture.)
This pumpkin=y goodness gets incorporated into a thick, gorgeous sugar + cream cheese mixture, and poured into the gingersnap crust. This is my larger spring-form pan, which is black; my smaller one is light-colored. (Note that dark bakeware and cookware retains heat more quickly and strongly, so you may find that a darker pan cooks faster than a lighter colored metal one. Both work fine — just pay attention to how your goodies look as you cook, and enjoy the process.)
Here’s my pumpkin cheesecake, out of the oven and sporting some distinguished designs around the edges. I read a lot of advice and concern about how to avoid cracking in the middle, and on the sides too I imagine, and I think it’s a concern best left behind at the kitchen door. Sometimes they crack and sometimes they don’t, but cracked or not, they tend to taste so good. I’ve not used a water-bath for this recipe, but it’s fine to do so if that’s your cheesecake protocol.
This cheesecake bakes at 300 degrees for one hour, or a little longer if it needs it. If you use a smaller pan, add some time, since it will be thicker and need a little longer to bake in the center. Expect it to rise up, and settle way back down, in that concave way. Prepare for it to crack, and then if it doesn’t, that’s fine, too.
Set it aside on a wire rack or folded towels to cool completely; then wrap it up airtight and refrigerate overnight (for 8 hours or longer) setting it out an hour or two before serving so that it isn’t ice-cold.
I have a lovely Fresh Ginger Caramel Sauce which I often serve with this cheesecake, and I’ll share that here very soon.
I love a little whipped cream with this, but it’s not necessary at all. The rich complexity of this pumpkin cheesecake makes it ideal for serving a crowd: I cut 12 to 16 slices, and if you have a dessert table with lots of options, even smaller servings make sense and extend the pleasure!
These two pumpkins are ones I found at the Durham NC Farmers’ Market, and enjoyed for their beauty before I roasted them for a memorable pumpkin pie. I posed my pumpkin cheesecake with them just for their beauty, not to show you where this color came from. For baking this cheesecake, canned pumpkin worked wonderfully.
- 3/4 cup gingersnap cookie crumbs, or graham cracker crumbs
- 3/4 cup chopped pecans
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup butter, melted
- CHEESECAKE BATTER:
- 1 1/2 pounds cream cheese
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar + 1/4 cup granulated sugar (divided use)
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk plus 3 egg yolks (divided use)
- 2 tablespoons cream or half-and-half or evaporated milk
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch or flour
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (1 14.5 oz. can, or homemmade)
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground mace, or grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- FOR THE CRUST:
- Heat oven to 300 degrees F; generously butter bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan
- Combine the crumbs, chopped pecans, brown sugar, and granulated sugar and use a whisk or a fork to mix well.
- Add butter and stir to combine everything well.
- Press the crust mixture firmly into the prepared pan, covering the sides and bottom as evenly as possible.
- Build up the sides as high as you can, striving to make the crust solid and even.
- Place crust in the 300 degree oven and bake for 12 minutes, until firm and golden brown; set aside while you prepare the filling.
- Combine the cream cheese, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 egg, and 1 egg yolk in a medium bowl, and beat well, using an electric mixer and stopping to scrape the bowl and combine everything evenly and well.
- Add the cream, cornstarch, vanilla, and lemon juice, and mix to combine well.
- In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar, remaining 3 egg yolks, cinnamon, ginger, mace, and salt, and use a whisk or a large spoon to combine everything evenly a well.
- Scrape the cream cheese mixture into the pumpkin mixture and use electric mixer or whisk or large spoon, to combine everything evenly and well, to make a smooth, thick, fragrant batter.
- Pour filling into the prepared crust and bake at 300 degrees F until cheesecake is firm and puffed up around the edges, and set in the middle; a very small jiggle at the center is acceptable, about 1 hour.
- Remove gently and carefully and set aside on a wire rack to cool to room temperature.
- Open spring form pan and remove the outer ring; gently transfer cheesecake to a serving platter. Bring to room temperature; then cover and chill for 8 hours or overnight.
- Serve at room temperature, or slightly chilled.