Pumpkin flavored desserts and sides are a staple around America’s Thanksgiving dinner tables. Afterall, in the fall it’s fair game for everything and anything to be flavored with pumpkin – pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin shakes, pumpkin ice cream and pumpkin pies.
Pumpkin pies are one of the mainstays of Thanksgiving desserts. The semi-sweet pumpkin flavor is good in pies, but great in cheesecakes. Here’s my favorite easy dessert recipes for the holidays – the pumpkin cheesecake. Trust me, it's something to be thankful for!
Cream Cheese vs. Neufchatel
Neufchatel is lower in milk fat and as a result it will be slightly less rich tasting. It also has a higher moisture content.
Neufchatel cheese originally hails from Neufchatel, France. The French version uses only raw milk whereas the American one uses pasteurized milk and cream.
Using a lower-fat cream cheese, or a Neufchatel cheese is an option. However, true cream cheese will provide a richer, more flavorful cheesecake.
Vanilla Extract vs. Imitation
According to Cooks Illustrated survey of real pastry chefs they actually buy several extracts for different uses. Cheaper imitation for baking and the real vanilla extract for confections like puddings and buttercream frosting. However, if you’re only going to buy one – make it the real thing. Some people actually make their own vanilla extract with rave reviews.
For a great, deeper flavor you can use Vanilla Paste in place of vanilla extract.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Wrap the bottom of a 10" spring-form pan with tin foil and then put the pan together. This will allow you to easily remove the cheesecake from the pan. Lightly spray sides of the pan with Pam – I prefer the kind specifically for baking.
Make the crust by combining the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and 1 tbsp sugar. You can make the graham cracker crumbs by putting the cracks in a Ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to crumble the crackers. Lately I’ve been using a food processor – just break the crackers, add the butter cut into pads, add the sugar and slowly pulse until you get the desired crumb size. Separately chop the nuts into small pieces no larger than the crumbs. Combine. Sometimes I like to add 1/8 tsp salt and some chopped, crystallized ginger for a little extra flavor.
Pour the crumbs mixture into the spring-form pan and spread evenly. Lightly press the crumbs on to the bottom and half-way up the pan. Bake the crust for 5-7 minutes while mixing the rest of the ingredients. Then set it aside until you are ready to fill it.
In a large mixing bowl combine the cream cheese, 1 cup of sugar and vanilla. Mix until smooth. Add the pumpkin. Then add the eggs one at a time mixing in between. This helps to get the perfectly smooth, crack-free crust. Use a separate bowl to avoid cracking egg shells into the mixing bowl. Continue to add the cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Beat the mixture until just smooth. Use a low speed and don’t over-mix – you don’t want too much air whipped into the custard.
Pour the filling into the pan. Bake for 60-70 minutes until the top darkens a little. If doing the cream topping then mix and pour over the top to cook for only the last 10 minutes. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and allow to cool (approx 60 minutes). When the cheesecake has reached room temperature you can put it in the fridge. Place a towel overtop of the spring-form pan (away from the surface of the cheesecake) to wick away any moisture of placing it in the fridge too early. Keep it in the spring-form until just before you serve. This dessert is good served with a Pecan Praline Topping or a few twists from a cinnamon & sugar grinder.
Here's a tip: when you're slicing run your knife under hot water and dry it off before each slice. Each piece will look almost good enough to eat!