Dessert First…Naturally

Last night I chose to tackle a cheesecake for the Thanksgiving dessert.  Now, understand this:  I love making cheesecakes, but I find them to be too rich for my taste.  The funny thing about me, I suppose, is that I lack the requisite sweet tooth for most desserts.  I find a lot of joy in the specific measuring of ingredients, the sifting, the mixing, the high heat of the oven – but I prefer to share (…ahem, force) the end product with others, rather than eat it on my own.   

I scoured the Internet and my cookbooks, and came across a lovely sounding pumpkin cheesecake recipe on one of my favorite blogs.  Deb is a woman after my very own heart – putting bourbon in just about anything she can!  Oh my! 

I made a few changes to her recipe along the way.  For instance, I did not invert the bottom of my springform pan (because it wasn’t snug) and I chose to pop the crust into the freezer for 45 minutes, rather than in the fridge for an hour.

I also chose to halve the amount of fresh nutmeg and replace the other half with ground cardamom.  I love the subtle floral and citrus notes that ground cardamom can give to a recipe, especially when paired with cinnamon and ginger.  It sort of hangs out in the background of the dish, just waiting to be identified.  I also went with dark brown sugar rather than light because I love the depth of flavor that darker brown sugar adds to desserts.

I decided to bake my cheesecake in a water bath, because I have found this helps it to bake evenly, especially since I have a geriatric oven residing in my kitchen.  After about an hour, I carefully removed the cheesecake from the oven and allowed it to rest while I mixed together the topping.  I was a little more heavy-handed with the bourbon than what was called for, but hey, what can I say?  I like a little hooch with my desserts.

I popped it back into the oven (minus the water bath) and left it there for an additional 10 minutes until it seemed as though it would spill right over the edge.  It placed it on the counter to cool for several hours and now it is chilling in the fridge awaiting the big day.

I tend to make a mess in my kitchen, but oh well, it’s worth it in the end…

And after the mess, here is the final product:

(Everything’s Better With Bourbon) Pumpkin Cheesecake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, November 2006

for crust
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (roughly six or seven standard graham crackers)
1/2 cup pecans (1 3/4 ounce), finely chopped
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

for filling
1 (15 ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin
3 large eggs
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

for topping
2 cups sour cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon

make crust:
Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan.  Stir together the crumbs, chopped pecans, sugars, and butter in a bowl until combined well.  I found my hands worked best for this job.  Press crumb mixture onto bottom and 1/2 inch up side of pan.  I used a small juice glass with a flat bottom to help me press the crumbs into the pan.  Chill the crust in freezer for 45 minutes or in the fridge for 1 hour.  

make filling and bake:
Preheat oven to 350ºF.  

In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and bourbon (if you choose to use it).

In a large bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer), stir together the granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, and salt.  

To that bowl, add the cream cheese and beat with electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, roughly 3 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of bowl.  Lower speed to medium, then add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of bowl.

Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, and then put springform pan into a large roasting pan.  Fill roasting pan with water until it reaches halfway up the side of the springform pan.  If you don’t have a large enough roasting pan, simply place the springform pan on a baking sheet.

Carefully place onto middle rack of oven and bake until center is just set,  55 minutes to 1 hour.  You’re looking for a jello-like wiggle when you jiggle the pan.  Transfer to rack and cool 5 minutes.  Leave oven on.  I took mine out of the water bath to cool and poured out the water.

make topping:
Whisk together the sour cream, sugar, and bourbon (if using) in a bowl, smooth on top of cheesecake, place back into empty roasting pan, and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes.

Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours.

Cover, chill in fridge until cold, at least 4 hours.  Remove side of pan and bring to room temperature before serving.  Garnish with pecans if desired.

do ahead:  this cheesecake can be chilled, covered, up to 2 days.  

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