I've developed a useful new blogging technique: I'm typing along, adding decadent pictures and describing, say, the perfect balance of sweet creaminess and spicy heat in my Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger-Pecan Crust, when I start to doubt the authenticity of my praise. Was it really that good, I wonder. I am thus required to trot over to the fridge, slice a wedge of cheesecake with the knife conveniently located there, and reassess...ah, yes, it is that good! This process (I call it "Requisite Taste Assessment," or "R.T.A.") repeats itself three or four times over the course of a post, for the most accurate of cheesecake portrayals. *smack smack*
My favorite Creampuff and I share a mutual reverence for a certain cookbook - The Cake Book by Tish Boyle. (My experience so far suggests The Cake Book's slight inferiority to Ms. Boyle's masterpiece The Good Cookie, but cake is better than cookies, so it all evens out.) Recently, Creampuff suggested that we make the same recipe from Ms. Boyle's collection and blog about our respective results. What an honor to blog alongside Creampuff - and when I discovered she'd invited two other talented bloggers, Peabody and Alpineberry, I was delighted. We jointly settled on a recipe and picked a date - today!
Despite the "two-slice" difficulty rating (out of a possible four) Boyle gave this recipe, making it was no piece of cake. General two-slice difficulty was abetted by my resolve to use a real pumpkin, rather than a can of pumpkin puree. I've had some of my first experiences with butternut squash this season, and they were very pleasant and successful, so why not a pumpkin?
First I had to learn about choosing a pumpkin. Any old jack-o-lantern, it turns out, won't do for pie - some pumpkin flesh is tough and stringy. Sugar pumpkins (also called "pie pumpkins") are best for pie, so I picked up a local organic sugar pumpkin at the Greenmarket on Sunday, and brought it home to make puree.
How to make your own pumpkin puree: break off the stem of your sugar pumpkin and cut the little guy in half. wrap the cut side of each half in aluminum foil and place them on a baking sheet, cut-side up. Roast in a 325-degree oven for one hour, or until tender. Remove foil and cool completely (or at least enough so you don't burn yourself!). Scrape pumpkin flesh into a large bowl; contents will be stringy. Puree in batches; strain puree through a chinois (or use a regular strainer and a rubber spatula).
Whew! So that's one ingredient... Seriously, though, I was really excited to have accomplished this part of the process. The pumpkin yielded more than twice as much puree as I needed, and I'm looking forward to putting the rest to another use (pumpkin ravioli, anyone?).
From there, making the cheesecake wasn't so difficult - and very rewarding! The crystallized ginger in the crust adds a beautiful dimension of flavor, and I added cloves and additional cinnamon for extra zing. The filling was light and creamy (none of that New York-style density), and the pumpkin flavor was freshly present without being overwhelming. Boyle suggests garnishing a slice with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, but I opted for a caramelized crust instead (after having such success with the delicious Apple Cheesecake Brulee from the same cookbook). Nothing makes you feel more like a real cook than using a butane torch! (In her post, Peabody also added a crunchy finish with a very elegant pumpkin seed brittle.)
A note about the cinnamon pumpkin seeds - Tish calls for hulled seeds (the green ones). But if you're using the seeds from your own pumpkin...then that would mean hulling them yourself. And that's absurd, if not totally impossible. And I like them better with the shells anyway.
Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger-Pecan Crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (1.2 oz) pecans
1/4 cup (1.4 oz) chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
1 tablespoon cold water
1 cup pumpkin puree*
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 -2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 lbs (567g) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 large eggs
Turbinado sugar (such as Sugar in the Raw)
Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 egg white
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Position oven rack in the center and preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9x3-inch springform pan. Wrap the outside of the pan in an 18-inch square piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil to protect leakage in the waterbath; if you don't have big enough sheets of foil, cinch two together by stacking the sheets and folding in one edge multiple times, then opening the two sheets and pressing the seam flat.
Finely grind pecans and crystallized ginger in food processor. If you have a large processor, add flour, sugar and salt and process until combined; add butter and pulse until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. If combining ingredients by hand, combine pecans and ginger with flour, sugar and salt in a medium-sized bowl; cut in the butter and rub it into the flour mixture by hand. Add the cold water slowly until the dough just comes together. Press the dough in an even layer into the bottom of prepared pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the crust just starts to brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Reduce oven temperature to 325F. In a medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin, heavy cream, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Set aside.
Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer (using the paddle attachment if using a standing mixer) on medium-low speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugars, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, and beat on low speed until well combined. Blend in the pumpkin mixture; add the cornstarch and mix just until blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Pour batter into the cooled crust. Place the foiled springform pan in a large roasting pan or baking pan; carefully pour enough hot water into the large pan to come 1 inch up the sides. Bake for 70 to 80 minutes until the center is set but still a bit wobbly (the cake will set completely when chilled).
Remove cheesecake from water bath to a cooling rack. Carefully remove the foil and run a thin knife tip around the edge of the cake to prevent cracking. Cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.
Immediately before serving (no more than one hour before), remove sides of springform pan and sprinkle turbinado sugar over the top of the cake in a thin, even layer. Caramelize the sugar using a butane kitchen torch, holding it about two inches from the surface of the cake and moving it slowly over the top until the sugar melts and turns golden brown (the sugar will not carmelize evenly, so be careful and patient).
Spiced Pumpkin Seeds:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. lightly grease a baking sheet.
in a small bowl, whisk egg white just until frothy. add just enough of the egg white to the pumpkin seeds to coat them (it's not very much!). Add salt, sugar, and cinnamon, and toss to oat the seeds.
Spread in a single layer over the prepared baking sheet. Bake, shuffling them occasionally with a metal spatula, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are dry and beginning to color. Place the pan on a wire rack and cool completely.
With your fingers, separate clumps of seeds. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.