Nov 30, 2009

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

Ever since Jim saw this recipe for pumpkin cheesecake, he's been excited to try it. Many, many years ago, I baked a pumpkin cheesecake (recipe probably from Bon Appetit magazine). It was a huge cheesecake, and I made it for dessert at a dinner party where we had only two guests. The cheesecake went on and on and on. It wasn't all that good, but we had it for so many days and nights that we were getting quite attached to it, and Jim, especially, yearned for it once it was gone. "I sure wish I had a piece of pumpkin cheesecake for dessert," he'd sigh mournfully. Even after all these years, he sometimes talks about that cheesecake the way you'd talk about an old friend whom you haven't seen for years. "How nice it would be to get together again!"
I've resisted the pumpkin cheesecake's siren song until now, mostly because a) pumpkin pie is better and b) I did not want another dessert to haunt my refrigerator for weeks. How nice to discover that this cheesecake a) is better than pumpkin pie and b) is already gone.

This cheesecake is a two-day affair, but an easy one. On Day One, you make the cheesecake and on Day Two, you make the caramel. The crust is made from gingersnaps, pecans, butter, and sugar. Rose says the crust is even more delicious if it's made with beurre noisette instead of plain old melted butter. I declined this invitation to do more work, because I believed that you would have to be a super-super taster to tell the difference. After eating the cheesecake, I am very satisfied with the melted-butter choice, and still don't think I would have known one from the other.

The big excitement for me in making this cheesecake was using a silicone cake pan to keep the springform pan away from the water bath so nothing could soak through. If you don't have this, you have to double-wrap the springform pan in heavy duty aluminum foil, and even then, a little hot water may seep in.

The down side to all this cleverness is that my springform pan no longer fit snugly in my roasting pan, as it did before. This is the second week that my roasting pan, inherited from Jim's mother, has failed a size test. I love using this pan because it has roasted so many turkeys for so many Wolf family Thanksgivings--long before I was in the picture and before I myself was a Wolf. I had to put the 9-inch springform pan in a 10-inch cake pan, which didn't leave much room for a water bath. Faced with a too-small roasting pan, I really should have used a 12-inch cake pan (didn't have) or a disposable roasting pan (ditto). Still it did the job, which, according to Baking 911, is to make the cheesecake creamier, without the top forming a crust or, even worse, cracking.
When you first read this recipe, you may be surprised to notice that there are no typical pumpkin-pie spices: not even a pinch of cinnamon. When Rose devised this recipe, she thought the spices would overpower the pumpkin. Instead of using spices to amp up the flavor, she used turbinado sugar, which makes the pumpkin darker and richer looking.

Once you've made the crust and cooked the pumpkin and sugar together for a while, the rest of the preparation is pretty much just putting everything in a food processor and letting it do all the work. All you have to do is lean over the counter and watch the pieces of cream cheese--and then the eggs--disappear before your eyes.

When it's poured in the pan, it's a thinner mixture than most cheesecakes. If you're a worrier, you will think that it won't set.

But it does.

That's the end of the first day. Let the cheesecake cool at room temperature, and put it in the refrigerator overnight.
The second day is trickier because it's caramel. And you're supposed to have an instant-read thermometer. When Woody saw a picture of me using an old-fashioned glass candy thermometer with mercury, he was shocked. He was trying to be tactful (he didn't say, for example, "do you do your laundry in a wringer washer too?"), but he didn't sound thoroughly approving either. I had to explain about how I'd bought a digital thermometer, but the sensor was not on the tip, so I didn't like to use it. Still, I think I'd better not use the old glass one again. At least not in pictures. (I don't think it really is mercury anyway, so if it broke it probably wouldn't kill us. Which is comforting).
I'm getting pretty good at telling when a sugar-water mixture has reached the appropriate "dark amber."

Almost. I tried the thermometer again, taking the pan off the heat, and tilting the pan so the sensor could work.

It never did give an accurate reading, so I gave up, and just guessed. But I was so annoyed by this thermometer that when I was done with the cake, I ordered the thermometer that Rose recommends. I had a Therma-Pen thermometer (the Cadillac of instant-read thermometers) on my Christmas list, but if this works I'll cross it off. Should we still be using the phrase the "Cadillac of..." now that GM is bankrupt?
I know that thermometers are very good--essential, even--and I don't know why I'm so resistant to them. I would rather buy another cool bundt pan than a boring thermometer. In my defense, I've always said I'm more of a cake-eater than a cake-baker.
I love the rich, brown caramel that I ended up with.

The cake came out of the pan without a snafu, and I liked the idea of ringing the outside with pecans, as in the book's photograph.

That was the easy part of decorating. The harder part is drizzling the caramel artistically over the top. "For the greatest precision, use a pastry bag..." Compared to how I feel about pastry bags, I'm ardently in love with thermometers. I am truly, truly resistant to pastry bags, and no good has ever come from a pastry bag in my hand. So I decided I'd use a spoon. This actually was fine, except that it only took a few spoonfuls of hot caramel to get the effect (more or less) in the book's photograph. After a few more spoons, the drizzles started to fill in, and it was clear that a decision must be made: either use all the caramel and just have a glob of caramel on top, rather than artsy drizzles, or maintain the drizzled effect and have a lot of caramel left over. Each option had its benefits: with option A, the cheesecake eaters would get more caramel but less decor; with option B, I would end up eating an ungodly amount of caramel straight from the cup and the other eaters would have prettier pieces.

I opted not to gorge myself on caramel, which was probably the right choice. Maybe I should have presented the decorated cheesecake and passed a bowl of additional caramel sauce, but that didn't occur to me at the time.
Serving the cheesecake with a lot of caramel, rather than with mere squiggles, made this dessert sweeter than Rose's norm. The cheesecake itself is more a more typical Rose dessert--subtle, complex,and light. The caramel does give it a serious dose of sweetness. I'm not complaining, not at all: the caramel was delicious, and I loved the taste contrasts with the cheesecake and crust. I think I would actually have to have another piece before I could make a final decision on whether the amount of caramel per slice was too much or just right.
P.S. I liked this cheesecake so much that I ignored my usual one-piece-only rule, and had another (very thin) slice on Monday. It was even better and more flavorful than on the day before, so do not fear making this cake a few days before you need it. I also now believe that the caramel amount is just right.


Fred: "It was a very delicate flavor, and it's almost chiffon-like in texture."
Betty: "It's lighter than most cheesecakes. The caramel goes really well with the pumpkin. A dessert very appropriate to the season."
Karen: "It's incredible."
Doug: "A nice combination of flavors. Sometimes caramel can overwhelm things, but this doesn't."
Jim: "It's lighter than the pumpkin cheesecake you made years ago--and it's better too. The crust is very good."
Laurel: This cheesecake was delicious. It was amazing. How could the combination of two heavy pies be lighter than either ? The crust and toppings added the extra pizzazz that, while unneeded, was superb.
Tansy Rose (Karen's cat, who stole a taste of the piece Karen took home): "Four paws up."


gartblue said...

*makes a mental note to go get pumpkin after work today*

gosh .. I'm back after a long week of festivities and holidays and had this cheesecake on my mind all the time. obsessed eh?

anyhow .. I had to pick myself off the floor from laughing at your indecisiveness of too much caramel or too decorated a cake.

i thought your cake looks wonderful and I can't wait to make it tonight.

BTW, we don't have canned pumpkin here in Malaysia, so I'm thinking to get a pumpkin and boil and puree. Will let you know it goes.

evil cake lady said...

I laughed about your thermometer woes--I feel the same way! I put the Thermapen on my Christmas list too since I can't seem to bring myself to buy one.

That roaster is some serious business. So aside from the fact that the silicone made the whole thing too big for your roaster, did you like using it (the silicone)?

And although you may feel you are more of a cake eater than a cake baker, you are becoming quite a cake baker!! By the end of this project you might have to come up with a new motto :)

faithy said...

Marie! I love your cheesecake! Looks so amazing! You keep featuring other bakers, I think you should feature yourself next! :)

faithy said...

LOL! I totally understand the thermometer woes too! I ordered a own christmas present to myself..LOL! Good excuse? Still waiting for it to arrive! I was hesitant to get it at first since it's quite pricely and have been thinking about it for months..but after making sugar syrup so often, i just couldn't resist not buying it anymore. :p

Rebecca said...

your cheesecake looks delish marie... I know it tastes good too because I just had another little taste of mine.. :)
I too would like to get a new thermometer but for some reason continue to put it off... which is the one that Rose recommends? I looked into some online a while ago and got a little confused by the choice so gave up!
Gartblue - I made my own pumpkin puree as it's difficult to get canned pumpkin in Australia too... it worked very well but I would recommend sitting it in some cheesecloth over a bowl for a while after pureeing as it is very watery otherwise!

Mendy said...


Looks great Marie.

Patricia @ ButterYum said...

I loved reading about your cheesecake adventure Marie. You're quite a talented writer because I was entertained throughout!

On to your cheesecake - YUM!!! I have to make my caramel today - haven't decided how I'm going to decorate the cheesecake either, but I'm looking very forward to tasting it this evening.

PS - If you could only see the items on my Christmas wish list - Therma-Pen included!

Raymond said...


I am usually thanking you every weekend for getting me involved in this project. I love having all these wonderful desserts around for family and friends. This week I was singing your praises all weekend. This cheesecake is fantastic. So smooth and creamy. Thank you again for starting this great baking project


~ ~ Ahrisha ~ ~ said...

Looks yummy! About the left over caramel, I usually use it to make caramel macchiatos. Put a big spoonful in a cup of hot coffee and add a little brown sugar to taste. Then shake some cream in a jar till foamy and pour over the top. Simple and good.
~ ~Ahrisha~ ~

Hanaâ said...

Your cheesecake is beautiful. I'm glad Jim liked it better than the other cheesecake. This one is easy to make and it tastes absolutely delicious. I'm thinking of using Rose's cheesecake baking method for all my cheesecakes (bake for 45 min, than leave it in the oven for 1 hour).

Hope you had fun in Vegas!

Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

fantastic job marie and everyone else who posted their versions. it's so fun to see how different they all look.

two important comments:

if the caramel comes off the slice in one gob it's because it was taken to too high a temperature. At a lower temperature a spoon or fork goes through it with ease. but i see loads of comments about thermometers so i'll say no more!

i appreciate the comment about the fear that the cake wouldn't set because the filling was so thin and i wrote to smooth it with a spatula. that's the danger of copy editing! my copy editor suggested adding this to all cakes and clearly it is not necessary for my cheesecake batters that flow into a smooth surface by themselves (note i never wrote this in the cake bible.) sometimes one's initial instincts best reflect what one actually does so i never should have added that phrase and i'm now taking it out for the next printing. thanks for calling it to my attention. it's great that this bake through will help to continue to perfect the book!

Patricia @ ButterYum said...

Hi Rose - may I suggest you wait until Tuesday to read through the posts? Marie said we can post our submissions anytime on Monday (we still have 12 hours to go). You may be missing some by visiting so early in the day.

Rachelino said...

Marie your cheesecake looks great. You shouldn't be scared of pastry bags! And thermometers will only help your baking - less guesswork.
We had a second Thanksgiving on saturday with family we weren't able to see Thursday, and this cheesecake was the only dessert. It was WONDERFUL. I am waiting for my pictures to be emailed to me (so I can post on this) as my brother offered to be my photographer this weekend.

Sugar Chef said...

I thought the cheesecake was better with the caramel topping and I put a lot of it on the top too. When making caramel I just go for the color as it is very difficult to take the temperature. Good job on your cheesecake!!

Marie said...

Good luck on your pumpkin cooking! I take it that it's not hard to find actual pumpkins--just canned? I think that canned pumpkin is one of the very few fruits or vegetables that can actually be superior to the fresh version, depending on what kind of pumpkin you get. With any kind, you'll get a good cheesecake.

I loved the silicone--it worked perfectly. So much easier than wrapping the pan with foil, which always seems to end up with a leak somewhere, no matter how diligent you are.

Thermapen's business must quadruple during the holiday season! I wonder how many of us will end up with new Thermapens in our stockings. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your view, there are still plenty of recipes left that recommend a thermometer, so any new ones will get a workout.

I just bought the one that Rose recommends--the CDN Quicktip-- but it came in the mail too late to test it out for this cake. I ordered it on, and I think it was only about $20.


That's funny--our group could be a commercial for Thermapen, especially if we all get them, and they work.

Marie said...

Thanks--I'm really happy that you joined up. So nice to hear that someone is singing my praises!

Homemade caramel macchiatos sound like they're worth making a batch of caramel for instead of waiting for leftovers (which may never happen).

This was the first time I've ever been in Las Vegas. All I can say is there is no place like it. Although I have my doubts about some aspects of it, I have to say we had some really good food. And playing the penny slots--one dollar at a time--keeps you from losing much money.

It never occurred to me that the "smooth the top with an offset spatula" sentence really didn't belong in this recipe--I'm very glad to find that out.
We're like a little testing lab here--not like Woody, because he doesn't fail to read the recipe or refuse to use a thermometer--but a real-life testing lab.

I may eventually get over my fear of pastry bags. I used to be afraid of recipes that called for a sieve because I knew that something complicated had to happen before you got to the sieve part, but now a sieve means nothing. A steadier hand would be nice for a pastry bag.

Sugar Chef,
Thank you. I'm not giving up on the thermometer--yet--but I sure didn't have any luck with it this time. I'm glad to know that you just go by your eye.

anitsirK said...

Rose, I just have to say I'm glad I watched some of your youtube videos. There's one where you mention putting cream of tartar in the water bath to avoid discoloration of the pan, so I tried it this time, and it worked beautifully!

Bungalow Barbara said...

I'm passing on the cheesecake this week. Although after seeing all the lovely pictures and reading all the praises, I'm beginning to regret it.

Back next week with the fruit cake!

hector said...

I love this posting so much, I forwarded it to all my friends. Good job Marie.

The Thermapen is insuperable and incomparable. It has been on the market for decades, made in the UK. It has just been slightly redesigned (water splash proof, rounded corners, etc), so the original model is now discontinued and marked down in price. Either one are EXCELLENT.

I haven using a test unit and I use it for everything: as a cake tester, making caramel, reheating left overs, check the room temp, stick it between my fridge door seal to check the fridge temp, butter temp, white chocolate melting, mousseline.

It comes in all colors, and mine's is YELLOW!

NancyB said...

Looks lovely, Marie.

I too just got a Thermapen--they're bringing out a new model, and the old ones are on sale. I think I can handle 3-second readings, not 2 seconds, for the discount. However, for the caramel sauce I hauled out my infrared thermometer. It's plenty accurate until the very last stages, then I switched to the Thermapen. No holding the thermometer over a pan of boiling sugar!

Vicki said...

Your caramel came out the perfect color. We loved the three flavors together; gingersnap crust, pumpkin cheesecake with a slight amount of caramel.

Patricia @ ButterYum said...

My husband really likes the silky smooth texture of this cheesecake, and I agree that the flavor is wonderful!!! Another hit from Rose!!


hector said...

Nancy, that is exactly what i do when doing caramel or heating sugar syrup. use the IR till fairly close, then switch to the thermapen, so you don't need to hold the thermapen all the time.

Kathleen said...

Gorgeous cake! I, too, have an old-fashioned candy thermometer in a glass tube. It's just too neat to get rid of, even though I also have an instant-read type. My chemist husband assures me that these old thermometers do not contain mercury, but alcohol instead. And he says, "For the temperature range you are working with, an alcohol thermometer is fine."

Anonymous said...

I was coerced into a pumpkin cheesecake this year as well. Yours looks better.Much better.

So here's what I shouldn't tell you, but I will anyway-you can turn leftover cheesecake into even more calories by forming it into balls, freezing it on sticks, and then dipping it in white chocolate. Keeps great in the freezer, which is odd, given that cheesecake doesn't usually freeze well. If you want to get all "fancy-n-stuff", you can put the pops in festive little cellophane treat bags, and tie them with ribbon. That will at least slow you down at three in the morning eating one (or a few) of these over the sink. Not that I do that. Shhhhh.


Marie said...

Hector and Nancy,
Thanks for the tip about the "old" Thermapen being available on sale. I think I could also live with a three-second read.

Thank you (and your chemist husband) for reassuring me that I won't die from the old glass thermometer. At least not from mercury; I suppose it could break and I could accidentally ingest shards of glass.

My goodness. That leftover cheesecake idea sounds quite amazing. Fortunately, I don't have any leftover cheesecake, because I'd hate to end up sneaking downstairs at 3:00 a.m. to sneak one or two or three. Not that I think that either one of us would do such a thing.

Vicki said...

"SOB" Spouse of Baker!
Hahahhhahahahha. You've given me a great big chuckle this morning and it is sorely needed!

Unknown said...

Mmmm...This looks so good! And you know what? I didn't get ANY pumpkin pie this season! Although I had pumpkin truffle, it's still not the same thing. There is a local place by me that makes Indianapolis Specialty Desserts. I never checked to see if there were any pumpkin desserts and I think it's too late. Maybe jewel will have one. Or I'll make my sister make it since she knows how.