Friday, October 29, 2010
The autumnal months bring out certain obsessions in me – wool blankets, fires on the hearth (sometimes despite 60-degree weather), the relentless pursuit of “coziness” in our household’s furnishings and food. My most specific fall food craving is pumpkin - which works out because it’s basically great in everything. I'm not ashamed to admit that my preferred pumpkin is canned (and I'm not alone in this). I’m all for using fresh ingredients, but I feel about this the way I feel about homemade-versus-store-bought chicken stock – I’ve tried it both ways, and I can’t see enough difference in the taste or the ingredients to go through the trouble of making it from scratch at home.
Aside from the deliciousness of pumpkin desserts and savories, I have a not-wholly irrational fear of a devastating pumpkin shortage. Part of it stems from a past Thanksgiving-eve experience at the grocery store, where the baking aisle crowded with desperate, zombie-like shoppers, each grappling with the reality that all the responsible dinner-invitees had already bought up the holiday wares. One man – seriously – wandered the aisles, muttering “Cranberry sauce? Cranberry sauce?” He walked up to me, hopelessly mumbled his inquiry, and shuffled off.
Seriously, the grocery stores do always run out of the holiday staples, so it’s best to be prepared. Allen had a hell of a time getting me a small can of pumpkin for this cheesecake last year - which is why I have 124 ounces of Libby’s Pure Pumpkin Purée in my pantry right now. If worse comes to worst, I can use it as currency in a post-apocalyptic pumpkin-shortage scenario. (Because that's what will be on everyone's mind, right?)
My favorite pumpkin recipe is this cheesecake, which is creamy and just-enough spicy and delicious – the pumpkin really benefits from the slightly tart richness of cream cheese. It’s adapted from this nearly perfect recipe (I love allrecipes.com).
I baked these in two 7” pans,* and the recipe reflects that (I increased the filling ingredients a smidge, and increased the crust a bit more). The same amount of ingredients will work for a 10” springform pan, which you’ll want to use instead of a 9” pan – everyone will want a piece of this, and it only gets better-tasting after a couple of days.
I put a pan of water in the oven while baking, on the rack below the cheesecakes – it imparts creaminess, and it supposedly helps prevent the cheesecake from cracking. The latter isn’t true for me – I always have plenty of cracks in my cheesecake – and I’m fine with that. It tastes just as delicious and still looks almost as pretty.
* Springform pans are more often measured in centimeters, which means that it's actually hard to find 7" pans. My pans are truly about 6 5/8" inches, which I guess is 17 centimeters.
· 1 ¼ cup graham cracker crumbs
· ¾ cup ground pecans
· 3 tablespoons white sugar
· 3 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
· 7 tbsp. butter
· 1 cup white sugar
· 1 cup canned pumpkin
· 4 egg yolks
· 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
· ¾ teaspoon ground mace
· ½ teaspoon ground ginger
· ½ teaspoon salt
· 4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese
· ½ cup white sugar
· 1 egg
· 2 egg yolks
· 2 ½ tablespoons whipping cream
· 1 ½ tablespoon cornstarch
· 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
· ½ teaspoon lemon extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place a rimmed baking sheet filled with water on the lower rack.
Combine the graham cracker crumbs, ground pecans, 3 tablespoons white sugar, 3 ½ tablespoons brown sugar, and melted butter, and mix well. Firmly press mixture into two 7-inch springform pans.
Combine the 1 cup white sugar, the pumpkin, 4 egg yolks, ground cinnamon, ground mace, ground ginger and salt in a medium bowl. Mix well, and set aside.
Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until light and fluffy; gradually add ½ cup white sugar and mix well. Add the whole egg, remaining egg yolks, and the whipping cream, blending well. Add cornstarch, vanilla, and lemon extracts, and beat batter until smooth. Add pumpkin mixture and mix until blended. Pour batter into the prepared pans.
Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) until cakes are mostly set, but wobbly in the center – mine took about 50 minutes. Center may be soft but it will firm up when chilled. Let cheesecake cool on a wire rack, then refrigerate. Cakes will be better a day or two after they’re made.