Some food, some drink.
Holiday Dessert Decadence: Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chile Chocolate Ganache.
"Cheesecake." Just saying the word will cause some folks to gain two or three pounds. The rich, indulgent decadence of cheesecake is my dessert Achilles' Heel; If I'm in for one piece, I'm usually in for two. With Thanksgiving and Christmas on deck, I'm ready to focus my baking on what I'll be serving at a holiday table; and this pumpkin cheesecake tops the list. Sure cheesecake by itself is all kinds of exorbitant, but this pumpkin cheesecake adds the bite of a gingersnap crust and is frosted with a sour cream and chile chocolate ganache to add insult to caloric injury. All the same, even if this recipe seems a bit over-the-top for your liking, I think this read might be worth your time if you are a friend of cheesecake and you're looking for sure-fire ways to avoid that dreaded cracked top that is the bane of cheesecake bakers everywhere.
During the winter holiday baking season, any time pumpkin is mentioned, the question instantly becomes, "Pie or Cheesecake?" (bars not withstanding), and cheesecake will always win if I'm the majority stakeholder. Years ago, I found a pumpkin cheesecake recipe over at what is now RecipeSource.com (what can I say; I dig that site) that had everything I was looking for in a pumpkin cheesecake; that is except chocolate. After trying different variations on a theme, I decided that as long as we were indulging, that it might as well be ridiculous. Ganache it is (love me some ganache!). This, my favorite pumpkin cheesecake recipe, employs store-bought gingersnaps for the crust; and if you look on the side of some boxes, you'll see that many a recipe employ cayenne to put the "snap" in gingersnap. I figured if it's good enough for the crust, then it's good enough for the top; so this time around in addition to the vanilla, brandy, and hint of cinnamon, my pumpkin cheesecake's sour cream ganache received a wee little kick; courtesy of chile chocolate.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
For the crust -
Over medium heat in a nonstick pan, melt that teaspoon of butter for the pecans. When it's foamy, toss the pecans in the butter with a pinch of salt. When the nuts start to smell, uh, "nutty", take 'em off the heat and set 'em aside. Hold back about 4 or 5 gingersnaps and buzz the rest in a food processor with the brown sugar until everything is ground fine. Pulse in the 1/4 cup of melted butter into the gingersnaps and brown sugar until integrated, and press the resultant crumb into the parchment-lined bottom of a 9 inch springform pan. Set aside, and then coarsely grind the reserved gingersnaps along with the now butter-toasted pecans (you won't need the pecan/gingersnap mix again until you frost the cheesecake).
For the cheesecake proper -
Preheat oven to 350F Beat cream cheese, eggs, and flour at medium speed with your stand mixer until integrated (around 3 minutes). Add pumpkin, condensed milk, vanilla, salt, and spices. Pour into the crust you just prepared and bake at 350F for 30 minutes; then reduce oven temperature to 225F, and bake 1 hour. At the end of the hour, kill the heat and crack the oven door to cool the cheesecake inside your hotbox. After 5 minutes, run back of a warm, wet knife around the edge of the cheesecake to break it loose from the pan. Continue to cool in the barely-open oven for an additional 2 hours before attempting to remove the springform ring and applying the ganache.
For the Ganache -
Using a microwave or a double boiler, completely melt the chile chocolate. Then use the stand mixer to whisk together sour cream, brandy, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon, beating at medium speed until integrated. Add the chocolate to the sour cream mixture and continue to whisk at medium speed until smooth and creamy. Frost the cheesecake completely with the ganache, and then cover the sides of the cheesecake with the reserved gingersnap and pecan crumb you made way back when. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Good recipes start with good ingredients. Roll your own pumpkins if at all possible. Roasting a fresh pumpkin is where it's at!
- Y'know, I was looking thru my recipes the other day, and my instructions call for a stand mixer a lot. Sure you can use your hand mixer, but If you're in the kitchen enough to be scouring the Interwebs for recipes, don't you think it's time you took the plunge?
- I can't emphasize enough the virtue of a disc of parchment sitting in the bottom of your springform pan. Not only good for pan protection, but it makes serving a breeze too.
- The secret to baking cheesecake evenly is to "bake it easy". The starting temperature of 350F is more of a starting point for a graceful descent to room temperature that'll take the better part of an afternoon. When done right, the cheesecake will be done evenly throughout, and there won't be any crack scarring the top that you'll need to hide with that sumptuous ganache (not that that's a bad thing).
- Moreover, to ensure that big swings in temperature are mitigated, I bake my cheesecakes with a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven. When baking's done, I simply crack open the oven door and let my cheesecake cool in the hotbox (obviously, I don't make a lot of cheesecake in the Summer months).
- You'll definitely have an easier time de-panning if you remember to take the back edge of a knife or metal spatula and free the edge of the cheesecake from the pan about 5 minutes after it's done baking. The whole mess will want to contract, and if you've got edges stuck to the pan, then it's quite possible you'll get a crack or two on that once-pristine top; no matter how gently you baked it.
- Re: The ganache - You don't have to use chile chocolate. Semisweet chips will probably do; but if you do go for the spicy, Lindt's chile chocolate is totally decent.
- On the subject of serving: Given that we've shellacked this thing with chocolate, that ol' dental floss trick probably ain't gonna work on this cheesecake. Get your sharpest knife blade warm in a cup of hot water and get to slicing, making sure to rinse the blade with more hot water between slices.
So you say you've got reservations about something that melds together the spicy and sweet? Me thinks you worry too much. Most people don't even realize there's chile in the chocolate until you tell them; in fact, my six year old had no problem helping me devour the first piece outta the pan. We've already got spice permeating the crust and filling of this pumpkin cheesecake, so why shouldn't the ganache go along for the ride as well?
As holiday desserts go, this is the recipe to pull from your arsenal when it's time to impress. There's a lot going on in this cheesecake: That pound of pumpkin probably won't make up for the excessiveness of this dessert, and I think that's what makes sharing a necessity here (and what makes it all the more fun to bake) .