Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Pleasures of Pumpkin

The countdown to Thanksgiving is officially on. I'm not cooking this year, so the pressure if off me. No frenzied planning, list-making or blitz-shopping. I am, however, making a few pies for desperate friends who are cooking, but are somewhat dessert-challenged. Pecan and lemon meringue pies, chocolate caramel tarts, whatever the request, I'm happy to oblige (though I am not taking any more requests). Thanksgiving is all about tradition, and everybody has their own vision of what the perfect meal should be. It's not time to get really creative with dishes or try new recipes out for the first time. Even if you keep it really simple, let's face it, preparing this meal is arduous. But, for those among you who are looking for a dessert that's a little different, I am offering up an alternative: Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Ginger-Pecan Crust. The recipe works, trust me. Traditional? No. Really, really good? Yes. And the Sugared Pumpkin Seeds are addictive....

P.S.: The beautiful photo above was taken by the uber-talented food photographer (and my good friend), John Uher ( Thanks, John.

Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger-Pecan Crust

Makes 12 to 16 servings
Special Equipment: 9-inch diameter x 2 3/4-inch high springform pan

Ginger Pecan Crust:
1 cup (4.3 oz/121 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1.9 oz/54 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (1.2 oz/33 g) pecans
1/4 cup (1.4 oz/40 g) chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup (1 stick/4 oz/113 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon (15 ml) cold water

Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling:
1 cup (240 ml) pumpkin puree
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 pounds (567 g) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (3.5 oz/100 g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (3.8 oz/108 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon (.26 oz/7 g) cornstarch
4 large eggs

Sugared Pumpkin Seeds:
1/2 cup (2.5 oz/70 g) hulled raw pumpkin seeds
1 large egg white
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons (.88 oz/25 g) granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Sweetened Whipped Cream

Make the crust:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch diameter x 2 3/4-inch high springform pan. Cut an 18-inch square of heavy-duty aluminum foil and wrap the foil around the outside of the pan. Set the pan aside. 2. Place the flour, sugar, salt, pecans, and ginger in the bowl of a food processor and process until the pecans are finely ground. Add the butter pieces and process until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Add the water and process until the mixture starts to come together as a dough. Press the dough into an even layer over the bottom of the prepared pan.
3. Bake the crust for 25 to 30 minutes, until it is just beginning to brown. Place the pan on a wire rack and cool completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

Make the filling:
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, heavy cream, vanilla extract, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.
5. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese at medium-low speed until creamy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Gradually add the sugars and beat until blended. Add the pumpkin mixture and mix until blended. Add the cornstarch and mix just until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
6. Scrape the batter into the cooled crust. Place the wrapped pan in a roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan so that it comes 1 inch up the sides of the springform pan. Bake the cheesecake in the water bath for 70 to 80 minutes, until the center of the cake is set, but slightly wobbly (the cake will set completely as it cools). Remove the cake pan from the water and immediately run the tip of a paring knife around the sides of the pan to prevent the top from cracking. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool the cake completely.
7. Refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 4 hours before serving.

Make the Sugared Pumpkin Seeds:
8. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Place the pumpkin seeds in a small bowl. In another small bowl, whisk the egg white just until frothy. Add just enough of the white to coat the pumpkin seeds. Add the salt, sugar, and cinnamon, and toss well to coat the seeds.
9. Spread the coated seeds in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and bake, tossing them occasionally with a metal spatula, for 15 to 20 minutes, until they begin to dry and color. Place the pan on a wire rack and cool completely. With your fingers, separate any clumps of seeds. Store the seeds in an airtight container for up to a week.

To serve:
10. To serve, cut the cake with a thin-bladed, sharp knife, wiping the knife clean between each cut. Garnish each slice with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of sugared pumpkin seeds.