Monday, November 7, 2011

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Praline Sauce

One of the classic icons of Autumn, the prodigious pumpkin does double duty representing two popular celebrations. Carved into jack-o'-lanterns for Halloween, and also as the main ingredient in the undisputed Thanksgiving favourite — Pumpkin Pie. Like all traditions, it's sometimes nice to shake things up a bit, like this luscious and creamy upstart — Pumpkin Cheesecake with a sinfully decadent Praline Sauce. 

A fabulous fall dessert, this silky smooth cheesecake is a delicious combination of cream, sugar, eggs, pumpkin purée and of course the intoxicating blend of traditional pumpkin pie spices — ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice — and once baked, topped with a buttery pecan praline topping. The key to this dessert's success is threefold: draining the pumpkin purée on paper towel at the beginning, so it's as thick as possible; ensuring that the cream cheese, eggs and cream are at room temperature before starting; and finally, beating the cheesecake mixture thoroughly so that the final result is lighter than air. 

Rest assured, the extra effort pays off. This Pumpkin Cheesecake is very light, not heavy at all, and wonderfully delicious. I'll wager that you'll never make Pumpkin Pie again. As a final flourish, a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of homemade Cinnamon Ice Cream, would be pretty hard to refuse, but that's rather like gilding the lily. 

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Praline Sauce 
Serves 12

1 15-oz can pu
mpkin puree, equal to 1 3/4 cups
8 whole graham crackers, broken
1/2 cup pecans
1 tbsp light brown sugar
5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted plus more for greasing the pan
14-oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Whipped Cream, for serving (optional)
Pecan Praline Topping - recipe below

Cinnamon Ice Cream - recipe below

Set a rack over a baking sheet and line the rack with 2 layers of paper towels. Spread the pumpkin purée over the paper towels and let drain for 2 hours, until the purée is fairly dry.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Butter the bottom and side of a 9-inch springform pan. In a food processor, pulse the graham crackers until finely ground. Add the pecans and brown sugar and pulse again until finely ground. Add the melted butter and pulse just until incorporated. Press the crumbs onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the crust for about 6 minutes, just until it is fragrant and lightly browned. Let the crust cool completely.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the cream cheese until it is very smooth. In a small bowl, whisk the sugar with the salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. With the machine on, add the spiced sugar to the cream cheese and beat until creamy, scraping the bottom and side of the bowl repeatedly. Carefully add the drained pumpkin puree and beat until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl between each addition. Beat in the heavy cream, lemon juice, and vanilla until the cheesecake mixture is smooth.

Pour the cheesecake mixture over the cooled crust and bake for 12 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 225°F and bake the cheesecake for about 3 hours, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 150°F; the center will be very jiggly but not liquidy. Let the cheesecake cool on a rack, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Run a hot knife around the cheesecake and loosen the springform ring. Carefully remove the ring and transfer the cake to a plate. Using a warm knife, cut the cake into wedges and serve with the Pecan Praline Topping and a scoop of Cinnamon Ice Cream.

Pecan Praline Topping

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups pecans

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large saucepan, combine the butter and brown sugar and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until smooth. Stir in the heavy cream and salt and bring to a boil. Simmer just until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Let the caramel cool. Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 8 minutes, until they are lightly browned and fragrant. Transfer the pecans to a work surface and let them cool. Coarsely chop the nuts, stir them into the cooled caramel, and serve.

Cinnamon Ice Cream
Makes 4 cups

1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups half-and-half cream
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, stir together the sugar and half-and-half. When the mixture begins to simmer, remove from heat, and whisk half of the mixture into the eggs. Whisk quickly so that the eggs don't scramble. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan, and stir in the heavy cream. Continue cooking over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat, and whisk in vanilla and cinnamon. Set aside to cool. Pour the cooled mixture into an ice cream maker, and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.