Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust and Caramel Sauce
Pumpkin pie is always expected at Thanksgiving, but this year I decided to shake things up a bit and make pumpkin cheesecake instead. Having never made one before, I scoured the internet in search of the perfect recipe and tested six different variations. (Obsessive, I know, but you probably already know that about me by now!) I took what I liked from each one and created this recipe. I promise you: it’s the ultimate sweet ending to your Thanksgiving feast — and no one will miss that tired ol’ pumpkin pie.
The recipe is not hard — as you can see, there aren’t that many ingredients — but it’s a bit of a project, especially if you make the homemade caramel sauce that goes with it. I hope that won’t deter you because it’s totally worth it, especially once a year! I know many cooks avoid baking cheesecakes at home because they need to be cooked in a water bath so they cook evenly and don’t crack. It seems fussy but, honestly, it’s not a big deal. You’ll see below, all you do is set the cake pan in another larger pan and fill the larger pan with water.
Begin by wrapping a 9-inch springform pan with aluminum foil. I prefer to use heavy duty foil because it does a better job of preventing water from seeping into the pan and also comes in wider sheets. Spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Next, make the crust: combine the gingersnaps and sugar in a food processor and pulse until the crumbs are fine.
Add the melted butter.
Then pulse until crumbs are moistened.
Press the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan.
Then bake the crust for 15 minutes.
Set the crust aside to cool, and move on to the filling.
Combine the pumpkin, sugar and spices in a medium saucepan and stir over low heat until shiny and thickened. This step, borrowed from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe, both intensifies the pumpkin flavor and dries the pumpkin out.
Next, transfer the pumpkin mixture to a food processor and run for one minute to smooth and cool the mixture.
With the motor running, add the cold heavy cream.
The mixture will look like this.
Then add the cream cheese in large chunks.
And process until smooth.
Finally, add the eggs and pulse until just combined. It’s important not to overmix — if you incorporate too much air into the filling, it will rise and crack or fall when it bakes.
Set the cake pan in a large roasting pan, then pour the filling into the cooled crust.
Next, pour hot water into the roasting pan until it reaches about halfway up the side of the springform pan.
Bake in a 325 degree oven until just set, about 1-1/2 hours. If it jiggles when you shake the pan, it’s not done.
Let the cheesecake cool in the water bath, then leave it out on a rack to cool completely. Finally, cover and refrigerate until chilled — at least four hours or overnight. On that note, it’s a good idea to bake this cake a day ahead of time or early in the morning on the day you plan to serve it.
For the homemade caramel sauce — which is optional yet oh so good — I recommend a very simple recipe from Cooks Illustrated, which takes less than 10 minutes to make in the microwave and requires no fancy equipment or candy thermometers.
Begin by combining the sugar with the corn syrup, water and lemon juice in a microwave safe bowl or measuring cup. Be sure it holds at least 2 cups of liquid so the mixture doesn’t boil over.
Microwave the mixture for 4-8 minutes, until the mixture is pale yellow in color. Check it frequently after four minutes; if it gets too dark, the caramel sauce will burn. It should look like this…
Let the caramel sit undisturbed for about five minutes and it will gradually darken to a rich amber color.
At this point, stir in the hot heavy cream little by little. It will bubble up vigorously but shouldn’t overflow.
Finally, stir in the butter.
When you’re ready to serve the cheesecake, warm up the caramel sauce (it stiffens as it sits) and thin it with more heavy cream if necessary.
Drizzle the caramel sauce over the each piece of cheesecake and top with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream and a light dusting of cinnamon if desired. Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!
Note: You’ll need a large food processor — preferably with a 12-cup capacity — to make the filling (you can also use an 11-cup, but you may have a bit of leakage). If you don’t have one, it’s fine to use a Kitchenaid Mixer or electric beaters for the filling and a small food processor for the crust.
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust and Caramel Sauce
For the Crust
- 7-1/2 ounces gingersnaps (or 1-1/2 cups finely ground gingersnap crumbs)
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the Filling
- 1 15-ounce can pumpkin (such as Libby's)
- 1-1/3 cups granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup heavy cream, cold
- 1-1/2 pounds (three 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, room temperature
- 5 large eggs, room temperature
For Caramel Sauce
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/8 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/2 cup heavy cream, plus more if necessary
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
For the Crust
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Wrap a 9-inch springform pan twice with aluminum foil (preferably heavy duty). Take care to pull the foil all the way up the sides so that water cannot seep in from the water bath. Spray the bottom and sides of the pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pulse the crackers (or crumbs) and sugar in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until finely ground. Add the butter and pulse a few times to combine. Dump the moistened crumbs into the prepared pan and, using a measuring cup or glass, press into an even layer. Bake until fragrant and set, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack while you prepare the filling.
For the Filling
- Bring about 4 quarts of water to a simmer in a tea kettle (this will be used for the water bath). In a small, heavy saucepan, stir together the pumpkin, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a sputter, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes, until thick, bronzed and shiny. Scrape the mixture into a large food processor fitted with the metal blade and process for 1 minute with the feed tube open.
- With the motor running, add the cold cream. Add the cream cheese (cut into chunks) and process for about 30 seconds, scraping the sides if necessary, or until smoothly incorporated. Add the eggs and process for about 5 seconds or just until incorporated (do not overmix!).
- Set the cake pan in a large roasting pan. Pour the batter into the cooled crust, and then pour enough boiling water into the large roasting pan to come about halfway up side of the cake pan. Bake until the cake is just set, about 1-1/2 hours. If it jiggles, it's not done. Carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven and set on a wire rack. Use a paring knife to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan. Cool until the water is just warm, about 45 minutes. Remove the springform pan from the water bath, discard the foil and set on a wire rack. Continue to cool at room temperature until barely warm, about 3 hours. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.
For the Caramel Sauce
- Stir the sugar, corn syrup, water and lemon juice together in a 2-cup microwave-safe measuring cup or medium glass bowl. Microwave until the caramel is pale yellow, or just barely starting to take on some color, 4-8 minutes (depending on the strength of your microwave). It's fine to stop and open the microwave to check often; just don't let it get too dark or it will burn. Let the caramel sit for about 5 minutes -- it will gradually turn a rich amber color. (If after five minutes, it's not dark enough, place it back in the microwave for thirty seconds or so, then let it darken again. If it gets too dark, start over.)
- In the meantime, heat the cream in the microwave until hot. Once the caramel reaches the right color, add the hot cream a few tablespoons at a time. It will bubble up intensely, but won't overflow. After you've added all the cream, stir to incorporate then add the butter. Add more cream if the mixture seems too thick. Once the caramel cools, you can store it in your fridge.
- Remove the outer ring from the springform pan. Slide a thin metal spatula between the crust and pan bottom to loosen, then slide the cheesecake onto a serving platter. (Alternatively, you can keep it on the pan bottom.) If there is condensation on the top of the cheesecake, blot it gently with a flat paper towel. Let the cheesecake stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes, then cut it into wedges. Warm up the caramel sauce in the microwave (it stiffens in the fridge). If it's too thick, add more heavy cream to thin it out. Drizzle the caramel sauce over each piece of cheesecake and top with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream if desired.
- Note: You'll need a large food processor -- preferably with a 12-cup capacity -- to make the filling (you can also use an 11-cup, but you may have a bit of leakage). If you don't have one, it's fine to use a Kitchenaid Mixer or electric beaters for the filling and a small food processor for the crust.