We look forward to pumpkin cheesecake each fall. Photo courtesy Marisa Churchill.
The most interesting news in cheesecake these days is not the flavor. You need only head to the Cheesecake Factory for a slice of Lemon Meringue Cheesecake.
If that sounds too simple, there’s this Balsamic Strawberry, Basil & Black Pepper Cheesecake. Or you can combine two seemingly unrelated flavors, as in this Lime and Chocolate Cheesecake.
But the real excitement in cheesecake these days is the crust. It’s typically a simple graham cracker or cookie crust—chocolate wafers or shortbread are most common. But expand your horizons and start crushing these alternatives:
Breakfast cereal: corn flakes, granola
Candy: add crushed butterscotch/toffee, brittle, candy cane or crystallized ginger to the crust
Cookie dough (it bakes into a solid cookie base)
Nuts and seeds: add chopped almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), walnuts
Other cookies: amaretti, biscotti/rusks*, brownies, coconut macaroons, digestive biscuits, gingersnaps, Oreos, peanut butter cookies, speculoos spice cookies, vanilla wafers or anything that appeals to you
Sugar or waffle ice cream cones
The tip: Let your imagination be your guide. For pumpkin cheesecake season, it’s easy to do something different, making a crust of gingersnaps or spice cookies, plus nuts and seeds.
*Our mom preferred a rusk crust using Nabisco’s Zweiback, teething biscuits that were barely sweetened. Nabisco no longer makes them but you can find other rusks.
RECIPE: CHRISTINA FERRARE’S PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE WITH COOKIE & NUT CRUST
This pumpkin cheesecake recipe from Christina Ferrare uses a combination crust of graham crackers and gingersnaps, plus nuts. Christina notes, “I always make two because this is the first dessert to go. When it’s baking, you can smell the spices all over the house.”
This recipe makes 10-12 servings in a 9-inch springform pan. Make it the day before, so it can rest in the fridge overnight.
For The Crust
9 whole graham crackers
12 gingersnap cookies
½ cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, at room temperature, cut into chunks
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup heavy cream
1 can (15- ounces) plain pumpkin
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Optional garnishes: caramel sauce, pomegranate arils, whipped cream or bourbon whipped cream, candied pecans
For The Filling
1. PREHEAT the oven to 325°F. Place an oven rack in the lower-middle part of the oven. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. MAKE the crust: In a food processor, combine the graham crackers, gingersnaps, pecans, sugar, ginger and cinnamon. Process until evenly ground. Add the melted butter and process for 5 to 8 seconds. Turn the crumbs into the prepared springform pan, and spread them into an even layer using your hands and pressing gently.
3. BAKE for 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 30 minutes. When the crust is cool, wrap the outside of the pan with two 18-inch square pieces of foil, and set the springform pan in a roasting pan (you’ll be using it to make a bain-marie in step 5).
4. MAKE the filling: In a food processor, process the cream cheese, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and salt until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, processing after each addition. Add the cream and pumpkin and process until well blended. Add the vanilla and lemon juice. Pour the filling into the crust and spread evenly. Tap the pan on the counter 4 to 5 times to remove air bubbles.
For pumpkin cheesecake or pumpkin pie, make a crust with gingersnaps, fall spices and pepitas (pumpkin seeds). The recipe is below. Photo courtesy McCormick.
5. PLACE the cheesecake (in the roasting pan) in the oven. Quickly fill the roasting pan with water halfway. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the top is set. To test, insert a toothpick; if it comes out clean, the cake is done. Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and place it on the counter to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight.
6. RELEASE the cake from the springform pan by running a knife under warm water, and run the knife all around the cheesecake to loosen the sides. Release the sides of the springform and gently lift it away from the cake. Garnish as desired.
PEPITA CRUST FOR PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE OR PUMPKIN PIE
This crust was developed by McCormick for a pumpkin pie, but we like it for cheesecake, too.
1 cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
1 cup slivered almonds
3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Place the pepitas, almonds, brown sugar, ginger and salt in food processor; cover and pulse until coarsely chopped.
2. ADD the butter; mix until well blended. Press firmly onto bottom and up sides of pie plate. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.
3. FILL with your choice cheesecake batter and proceed with that recipe’s directions; or make this pumpkin pie recipe from McCormick.