Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Thanksgiving 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. 

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Praline Sauce 
Serves 12

1 15-oz can pumpkin 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
Pecan Praline Topping (see 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.

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 pour over the finished cheesecake.