Pumpkin is so popular today that there is hardly anything that hasn't had a pumpkin variation. Some of them are no-brainers, others are so far-fetched that I don't understand who is buying them, much less eating them.
Back in the day, a pumpkin cheesecake would have been unusual, today it is almost old school. But if there was ever a meal that screams for pumpkin cheesecake, it is Thanksgiving. Or the day after Thanksgiving if you are a purist and need your classic pumpkin pie to follow your turkey and dressing.
I happen to love pumpkin, in pie, bread, muffins, cake and cheesecake. And, this cheesecake is adapted from Natalie Dupree's companion cookbook "Nathalie Dupree Cooks for Family and Friends" to her PBS show, "Food for Family and Friends." I love to collect old cookbooks and picked it up several years ago at a second-hand store. I was looking at the book a few weeks ago and it is surprising how many recipes are either back in vogue, or still in constant rotation.
Reading the recipe in Natalie's book reminded me how much I love pumpkin cheesecake. Her headnote said that she made it frequently for dinner parties because it freezes so well. This year, I am traveling before Thanksgiving so I made mine and it is in the freezer as I write this article. I hope that it will thaw beautifully and no one will be the wiser when I serve it on Thanksgiving Day!
I have changed quite a few things in her recipe but her recipe is what inspired me to make pumpkin cheesecake this Thanksgiving so credit is due. The one thing that I didn't mess with is the crystallized ginger in the crust which is genius, and makes the crust more than just a vehicle to hold the creamy fall cheesecake. One of the key things is that I altered for my taste, is less sugar. I don't like my desserts too sweet so I use a bit less sugar than the original recipe. If you like your cheesecake sweeter, add another 1/4-1/3 cup of sugar to the cheesecake mixture. I also put bourbon in my sour cream topping which gives it an added dimension and tastes like the holidays.
PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE WITH CRYSTALIZED GINGER CRUST
Servings: 16 pieces
Start to finish: 8 1/2 hours minimum, best to make the day before (Active time: 20 minutes)
Chef's Note: I do not pre-bake the crust or use a water bath in this recipe, which makes it faster and easier to make. If you are accustomed to baking cheesecake in a water bath, go ahead and do so, but follow the timing in your water-bath recipe.
1/2 cup chopped crystalized ginger
1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cups granulated white sugar
pinch of sea salt
1/2 (1 stick) cup unsalted butter, melted
4 packages (8-ounce each) cream cheese, softened
Zest of one large lemon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 15-ounce can of Libby's pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/4 cup full-fat sour cream
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup full-fat sour cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1-2 teaspoons bourbon, optional
Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Prepare a large (9-inch) springform pan by greasing the bottom and the sides. If your pan is not secure, wrap foil around pan to catch drips.
In a small bowl, mix crystalized ginger, graham-cracker crumbs, sugar, salt and melted butter. Let sit for 5 minutes and stir again. This allows the cracker crumbs to completely absorb the butter.
Press crumb mixture in bottom of pan and up about 1/3 of the sides. Set aside.
Meanwhile, using a stand mixer, blend the cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar, lemon zest and pumpkin pie spice. Mix on a low speed for 1-2 minutes. Add pumpkin, sour cream and flour and mix on low for another 1-2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and add the beaten eggs. Mix for another 1-2 minutes and make sure that the entire mixture is mixed well by scraping bottom and sides with a spatula.
Mix remaining sour cream, 1 tablespoon of sugar and a generous teaspoon or two, of bourbon and set aside.
Pour filling into crust. Leave a good 1/2-inch of space at the top. If you have extra filling, make a small cheesecake. Set pan on a sheetpan and place in the center rack of the pre-heated oven. Bake 1 hour and 20 minutes or until set, but center of cheesecake still jiggles slightly when moved. Remove from oven and spread the sour cream mixture on top. This topping will also hide any cracks in the cheesecake. Place back in the oven to bake for 2-3 minutes, just to set.
Chef's Note: I only let it bake for a few minutes to set which leaves the topping creamier and looser but will solidify in the refrigerator as it cools. If you like your topping completely cooked, let bake for an additional 6-7 minutes.
Turn oven off; open oven door at least 5 inches. Let cheesecake remain in oven 30-60 minutes. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight before serving.
To serve, run knife around edge of pan to loosen cheesecake. Carefully remove side of pan before cutting cheesecake. Cut cheesecake when cold and store covered in refrigerator. Can be frozen and served after thawing in the refrigerator.
Nutrition information per serving: 451 calories; 273 calories from fat; 30 g fat (17 g saturated; 1 g trans fats); 168 mg cholesterol; 296 mg sodium; 38 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 30 g sugar; 7 g protein.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pit master at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and the author of three books, including "Taming the Flame."