Well you must have known it was only a matter of time before I made a pumpkin cheesecake. Cheesecake is my favorite variety of dessert (if you are forcing me to choose, that is) and I love all things pumpkin, so this is a natural choice. Of course I never let myself bake a cheesecake unless I have a crowd to serve it to because the will power I possess loads of around other baked goods flies out the window when cheesecake is involved. I posted a version a couple of years ago but I decided to try a new one this time around.
I liked the previous version alright but the one thing it was missing was height. One of my personal requirements for great cheesecake is that it should be at least 2-3 inches tall. This has a smooth and surprisingly light texture, and the spiced graham cracker crust is an ideal compliment. The one thing I did love about the old recipe was the use of candied pecans for garnish. Since I was hosting a dinner party, I just didn’t get around to making the pecans this time but have included them in the version below because I think they add a really nice touch. A drizzle of caramel sauce certainly wouldn’t hurt either.
Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake
For the crust:
5 oz. graham crackers, broken into large pieces
3 tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cloves
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
1 1/3 cups (10 1/3 oz.) sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. ground allspice
½ tsp. salt
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup heavy cream
For the candied pecans:
½ cup pecan halves, coarsely chopped (or left intact)
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. sugar
Preheat the oven to 325˚ F and place an oven rack in the lower-middle position. Wrap the outside of a 9-inch springform pan tightly with two pieces of foil. Spray the inside of the pan lightly with cooking spray. To make the crust, combine the graham crackers, sugar, and spices in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to process until evenly and finely ground. Add the melted butter to the bowl and pulse again until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Transfer the crumbs to the prepared springform pan and press firmly into an even layer on the bottom of the pan. (I like to use the bottom of a ramekin or measuring cup to do this.) Bake until fragrant and browned at the edges, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool 30 minutes. Set the pan inside a larger roasting pan.
Bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil; maintain at a simmer. To make the filling, combine the sugar, spices and salt in a small bowl; whisk to blend and set aside. Line a work surface with a triple layer of towels. Spread the pumpkin on the towels and cover with a second triple layer of towels. Press firmly until the towels are saturated with excess liquid.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium-high speed until smooth and softened, about 1 minute. Add about a third of the sugar-spice mixture to the bowl and beat at medium-low speed until incorporated, about 1 minute. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed and repeat, adding the remaining sugar mixture in two additions. Add the pumpkin puree, vanilla and lemon juice; beat at medium speed until blended, about 45 seconds. Add 3 of the eggs and mix on medium-low until incorporated; repeat with the remaining two eggs. Add the heavy cream and beat at low speed until combined, about 45 seconds. Use a rubber spatula to give the mixture a final stir by hand.
Pour the filling into the springform pan, over the crust. Smooth the top. Pour enough simmering water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake until the cake is slightly wobbly when the pan is shaken and the center reads 150˚ F on an instant-read thermometer, about 90 minutes. Transfer the roasting pan to a wire rack and cool until the water is just warm, about 45 minutes. Remove the springform pan from the water bath, discard the foil, and run a paring knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Cool until barely warm, about 3 hours. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours and up to 3 days.
To make the topping, set aside 10 pecan halves and coarsely chop the rest. In a small fry pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add all of the pecans, sprinkle with the granulated sugar and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts and the nuts are toasted and caramel coated. Transfer the nut mixture to a plate and let cool completely, then store in an airtight container.
To serve, remove the sides of the springform pan. Slide a thin metal spatula between the crust and the bottom of the pan to loosen. Transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with candied pecans as desired. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before slicing and serving.