The setting was Thanksgiving 1993 in Sudbury, Massachusetts, and we had invited a few friends to join us for the occasion. I baked my usual pumpkin, mincemeat and pecan pies, but it was Eric's cheesecake that I fell in love with; gingersnap crust, creamy pumpkin filling and a sour cream topping.
The biggest debate over cheesecake is--is it a cake, a custard, or a torte. Furthermore, we may think of cheesecake as a contemporary dessert, but it actually dates back to early Greece. Moreover, what we know as cheesecake was actually created in 1872 when William Lawrence of Chester, New York, took French Neufchatel cheese and came up with a way to make it heavier and more creamy. He distributed it in foiled wrap, which later became known as Philadelphia Cream Cheese. In 1912, James Kraft is accredited with the pasteurized product we use today in cheesecake and to schmear on our bagels!
You could easily convert this into a whole cake in the required 9-inch springform pan, but I wanted to make the presentation, not only elegant, but in a smaller portion to allow for a taste of all those delicious baked goods we have at our Thanksgiving table or dessert buffet.
Mini Pumpkin Cheesecake with a White Chocolate Ganache
I found these oven-safe dessert baking cups at The Container Store, but there are also mini muffin pans with removable bottoms that you could use or try the aluminum baking papers you can find at a grocery store.
Preheat oven to 325F-degrees.
2 cups of gingersnap crumbs (I used 3/4 of a 1 lb. bag of cookies), crushed in a food processor or smashed using a rolling pin banging the cookies in a plastic bag.
3 T cocoa
2 T granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
5 T unsalted butter, melted
Mix the first four ingredients together, then, add the melted butter and stir with a fork until thoroughly combined. The mixture should resemble "sand".
Place a heaping tablespoon into each cup and use a tamper to press down.
Place the baking cups on a baking sheet--I was able to get 24 cups. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly while you prepare the filling.
4-8oz. pkgs. of cream cheese
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 Vanilla Beans, split and scraped
2 T dark rum or bourbon (optional) Add 2 tsp. Vanilla extract instead
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. cardamon
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 large eggs
1-15oz can of pumpkin puree (1 3/4 cup)
The most important thing to remember when making cheesecake is to have the cream cheese at room temperature and soft! No one likes to come across a chunk of cream cheese in the filling :(
I cut the cream cheese into chunks so it softens quicker. Add the cream cheese and brown sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer, using either a paddle or whisk attachment (your choice)! Beat for 3-5 minutes until the sugar is incorporated and the mixture is light and fluffy. Scrap down the sides of the bowl.
Add the vanilla beans, vanilla extract (or booze), spices and pumpkin and beat until blended. Add the eggs, heavy cream and cornstarch and beat another minute or two. Meanwhile, have a kettle of water heating on the stove top.
I piped the mixture into the cups, but you could carefully spoon it in also. If you're doing a 9-inch springform size, just pour in over the crust.
Place the tray of cheesecakes in the oven on the middle rack. Set a ll"x 7" Pyrex baking dish underneath on the bottom rack and fill 1-inch with boiling water.
Bake cheesecakes 40 to 45 minutes*. Turn oven off, crack the door and let the cheesecakes cool in the oven for about 30 minutes. Remove and set aside while you make the white chocolate ganache. (For a 10-inch springform, wrap the outside of the pan with aluminum foil and place in a roasting pan, fill with 1-inch of boiling water and bake 1 hour + 30 minutes to 1 hour+ 45 minutes.)
Some of my tops cracked, but since I'm adding a white chocolate ganache, no one will ever know!
White Chocolate Ganache:
1 bag (11 or 12 oz) white chocolate chips
1/3 cup + 2 T heavy cream
Place the chips and cream in a medium bowl and microwave for 40 seconds. Stir, then, microwave again for about 25 seconds. Use a whisk to blend the melted chocolate and warm cream.
Use a tablespoon to "ladle" some of the ganache on top of the cheesecakes. Pick up the cheesecakes and swirl to cover.
Let cool an additional 30 minutes, then, cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or overnight. Cheesecakes cake also be frozen!
I had some leftover salted caramel from the previous recipe of cupcakes that I made, so I decided to:
1) Use a spoon to smear some caramel on the plate
2) Remove the baking paper. I used scissors to make a cut, then, I easily peeled off the paper.
3) Whip up some heavy cream. I added a tablespoon of dark rum to the cream, but that's optional. You can add 1 tsp. of vanilla extract if you don't want booze!
4) Finally, I sprinkled the plate with some confectioners' sugar, drizzled more caramel over the cheesecake, then, I grated nutmeg on top of the cheesecake and whipped cream to finish the presentation.
I wish you were here to taste this little dessert...so elegant and yummy. Happy Halloween to all. Enjoy!
*For those of you who will be baking these in a mini cheesecake pan (with removable bottoms) bake according to the package directions, which should be 16-20 minutes. In all sizes--You are looking for the cheesecake to be set on top, but may be a little "jiggly." Remember, by leaving cheesecake in the oven, after you turn it off, it continues to bake. Additionally, chilling several hours will provide that creamy texture desired.