Pumpkin pie is the quintessential Thanksgiving dessert. Most people eat it just once a year, and that's after first gorging themselves on turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, and about ten other side dishes. Yet more often than not I hear people say they'll take only a "sliver" of pumpkin pie, saving any available room for the other desserts. Sure, we serve pumpkin pie each November, but mostly because it's become obligatory: an expected holiday staple very few get excited about.
But pumpkin pie can be more than the standard fare of pureed pumpkin mixed with cream, sugar, eggs, and spices in a butter or graham cracker crust. I mean, honestly, do we all need to make the same pie every year? So this holiday, after a lifetime of eating traditional pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, I decided I was in the mood for something a little different. While enjoying some pecan shortbread last week, I started to wonder how it would taste paired with a pumpkin custard. But then my mind began to wander even further from the norm. Why make a regular custard filling when I could use cream cheese? I looked up some pumpkin cheesecake recipes, but most seemed more cheesecake than pumpkin pie, and I wanted to retain the pie's essence for the holiday, so I decided to make up my own concoction.
As I wanted the pie to preserve some traditional flavors, I started with the customary pumpkin puree mixed with eggs, sugar, and cream, along with the conventional spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. With my eye on making my pie creamier and richer than in years past, I then mixed in a package of cream cheese that had been whipped with some sugar, more eggs and vanilla. Then, to wake up the palate a bit, I also added in some ginger. Of course I used a pecan shortbread crust, the idea of which started this whole adventure in the first place. Finally, once the cake cooled, I topped it with sour cream that had been flavored with maple syrup simply because I wanted a hint of tartness and sugar to help balance the rich creaminess of the cake.
My new and improved pumpkin dessert was light and silky with a rich Fall flavor that wasn't overwhelming. Using only one package of cream cheese endowed the filling with a velvety sumptuousness that was more fluffy than overwhelmingly cheesy. The pecan crust's nutty and buttery crispness was also the perfect foil for the creamy center. And did I mention that you just press the dough in the pan, which means you don't have to prepare and roll out a crust? I have a feeling this new pumpkin dessert will find a place in my holiday repertoire of desserts, but I'm also open to future experimentation.
Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Pecan Shortbread Crust
Makes: 1 8-inch cake
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1/3 cup chopped pecans
Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling
1 8-oz package cream cheese
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 15-oz can pureed pumpkin or 2 cups cooked pumpkin
3/4 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp maple syrup
2 Tbsp chopped pecans
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Mix together all ingredients using either the paddle of a mixer or your hands.
3. Press crust into a 9-inch spring-form pan, being sure to make the bottom even and also pressing the edges of the dough about a 1/4 to 1/2 way up the sides of the pan. Set the pan in the refrigerator.
4. In a medium bowl, whip together the pumpkin puree, cream, 2 eggs, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and salt until fully incorporated.
5. Using a the paddle attachment on your mixer, combine the softened cream cheese, 2 eggs, granulated sugar and vanilla until creamy.
6. Gently add the pumpkin mixture to the cream cheese, being sure not to over mix.
7. Take the crust out of the refrigerator and set the pan on a large baking sheet. Pour the filling into the pan.
8. Place the filled pan (which should still be on the large baking sheet) into the oven for 45 minutes or until the center only slightly jiggles. If the middle shakes like jell-o, leave it in until it sets further.
9. Once the cake has cooled down, mix the sour cream and maple syrup together. Spread the mixture on top of the cake and then sprinkle on the chopped pecans.
10. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight and serve.