When I set out to make my very first cheesecake, I didn’t know that it would become a huge ordeal. It’s not that the recipe was exceptionally difficult, there were no strange ingredients, no extraordinary techniques… I think that some days the universe just aligns against me. Do you ever have those days? Those days where every little thing that could possibly go wrong does? Luckily, I worked through it, and was rewarded with this delicious cheesecake.
The first sign of trouble was the graham crackers. They just didn’t want to crush (I ended up hand-crushing some of the larger chunks as I was pressing them into the pan out of a final act of desperation), then I didn’t have a pan large enough to make a water bath, nor a kettle to heat enough water for it, and then I discovered that I only had half the amount of cream cheese necessary. A trip or two to the store later and I was ready to go… Thankfully it’s Thanksgiving time so they had those cheap “one-use” roasting pans… Even though I thought it was a perfectly good excuse to buy the $160 fancy roasting pan, the grocery store was much closer, and clearly the more economical choice.
Returning from the store, If I started the cheesecake THAT MOMENT, I would be right on schedule to pull the cheesecake out of the oven JUST IN TIME to head to dinner. I mixed my spices and whipped my cream cheese, then I decided it would be a great idea to catapult my brand new glass jar of pumpkin pie spice onto the concrete floor. Yes, it shattered. Everywhere.
All of my hopes and dreams, all of my hard work, gone in a puff of orange colored spice dust. This is normally where I would give up, decide that I “gave it my best” and “today was just not my day”, but the crust was already bakes, the cream cheese was already whipped, the pumpkin was already drained… I was too far in to quit now, so I forged on.
Screw it, I’ll just make my own “pumpkin pie spice”. I really wanted to take a picture of my shattered dreams scattered across the kitchen floor, but I had to use every last ounce of motivation to convince myself to carry on. I quickly cleaned up the mess before of glass and spice before the kitties (or my feet) had a chance to track through it…
By the end of my adventure, it looked like a Tasmanian devil went through my kitchen. As soon as the cheesecake went into the oven I began frantically cleaning… It bakes for 1.25 hours, and we had to leave for dinner in exactly 1.5 hours… Actually, now that I think of it, I think I spotted a sprinkling of pumpkin pie spice that landed inside the pantry…. Note to self: make sure to clean that up when you get home…
When I first saw the recipe, it reminded me of the hauntingly good piece of cheesecake I had at Cheesecake Factory just a couple weeks earlier… Unlike the usual dense cheesecakes, this one was rich and flavorful while still remaining light and airy. A sweet, pumpkiny cloud of delicious…
See that? Much fancier. I actually made some fancy vanilla bean whipped cream to go with my cheesecake, too, but I was so excited with how well the cheesecake came out that I had completely forgotten about it by the time I was eating the cheesecake. Oops? Anyway, I think I came pretty darn close to that one. Although looking at the picture, it looks like their crust went up the sides of the cheesecake. I’ll keep that in mind for next time.
Now that I know the technique, I can apply it to any cheesecake I make. The trick? Are you ready? Heavy cream. Just whip some heavy cream right into the cream cheese mixture and voila – light, airy cheesecake. I know, rocket science, right?
This cheesecake would be the perfect alternative to your run-of-the-mill pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving (or, since it’s Thanksgiving today, maybe next Thanksgiving. But you could make it this year for practice…). I give it five stars, two thumbs up, and two toes up. All of the stars and all of the digits up. I don’t love cheesecake, I don’t even particularly like it, but this cheesecake might just be the talk of your (next) Thanksgiving feast, and I can say with medium certainty that you will be able to accomplish this cheesecake with 90% less disaster than I did. Don’t blame the recipe for my misfortune, I believe in you! You can do it!
Light as Air Pumpkin Cheesecake
[ Printable Recipe ]
· 5 ounces graham crackers (1 packet/ 9 whole crackers), broken into large pieces
· 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
· 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
· 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
· 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
· 6 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted
· 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
· 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
· 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
· 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
· 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
· 1/8 teaspoon allspice
· 1/2 teaspoon salt
· 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin
· 1 1/2 pounds cream cheese ; cut into 1-inch cubes, softened about 30 minutes
· 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
· 1 tablespoon lemon juice
· 5 large eggs , room temperature
· 1 cup heavy cream
For the crust:
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Spray bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan evenly with nonstick cooking spray, line with parchment.
2. Pulse crackers, sugar, and spices in food processor until evenly and finely ground, transfer crumbs to medium bowl and drizzle with melted butter. Mix until evenly moistened.
3. Pour crumbs into prepared springform pan and spread crumbs into even layer. Using flat-bottomed glass, press crumbs evenly into pan bottom, then run a spoon around the edges to smooth crumbs into edges of pan.
4. Bake until fragrant and browned about the edges, about 15 minutes. Cool on wire rack while making filling.
Boil water: bring about 4 quarts water to simmer in stockpot.
Dry pumpkin: Line baking sheet with triple layer of paper towels. Spread pumpkin on paper towels in roughly even layer.
Cover pumpkin with second triple layer of paper towels and press firmly until paper towels are saturated. Peel back top layer of towels and discard.
Grasp bottom towels and fold pumpkin in half; peel back towels. Fold again, into quarters. You can use the towel to help you carry the pumpkin to the bowl when you’re ready to use it.
Prepare spices: In a small bowl, whisk sugar, spices, and salt
1. In standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese at medium speed until soft about 1 minute. Scrape beater and bottom and sides of bowl well with rubber spatula.
2. Add one third of sugar mixture and beat at medium-low speed until combined, about 1 minute; scrape bowl. Add remaining sugar in two additions, scraping bowl after each addition. You want to really beat it here, make it nice and fluffy:
3. Add pumpkin, vanilla, and lemon juice, beating at medium speed until combined, about 45 seconds; scrape bowl.
4. Add 3 eggs and beat at medium-low until incorporated, about 1 minute; scrape bowl and add remaining 2 eggs , beating at medium-low until incorporated, about 45 seconds. Scrape bowl and beater.
5. Add heavy cream and beat at low speed (so you don’t spray cream everywhere) until combined, about 45 seconds. Using a rubber spatula, scrape bottom and sides of bowl and give final stir by hand, making sure to scrape up anything that may be lingering in the bottom of the bowl. The mixture will be very runny.
Fill the crust:
1. Set springform pan with cooled crust on an 18-inch-square doubled layer heavy-duty foil and wrap bottom and sides with foil (that means yo buy the super long tube of “heavy duty” foil). Set wrapped springform pan in roasting pan and fill springform pan with your cheesecake filling, smoothing the surface when finished.
2. Set roasting pan in oven and pour enough boiling water to come about halfway up side of springform pan. Bake until center of cake is slightly wobbly when pan is shaken, about 1 1/2 hours.*
3. Set roasting pan on wire rack and use paring knife or offset spatula to loosen cake from sides of pan. Cool until water is just warm, about 45 minutes. (Mine cooled in the water bath while we went to dinner)
4. Remove springform pan from water bath, discard foil, and set on wire rack. Continue to cool another 3 hours. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.
To serve: Slide thin metal spatula between crust and pan bottom to loosen, then slide cake onto serving platter. Let cheesecake stand at room temperature about 30 before cutting.
- When done, cake should register 145 – 150 F on an instant-read thermometer. Since my instant-read thermometer is not very reliable, I used the “tap the pan” method. This is where you tap the side of the pan and see how wobbly the cake is. The outsides should be still while the center still jiggles slightly.
- Depending on the oven and the temperature of the ingredients, the cheesecake may bake about 15 minutes faster or slower than the instructions indicate; it is therefore best to check the cake 1 1/4 hours into baking.
- Although the cheesecake can be made up to three days in advance, the crust will begin to lose its crispness after only one day.
- To make slicing the cheesecake easy and neat, use a knife with a narrow blade, such as a carving knife; between cuts, dip the blade into a pitcher of hot water and wipe it clean with paper towels.
[ Adapted from America's Test Kitchen; November 2011 ]