(Image credit: Lauren Volo)
Pumpkin cheesecake has become a fall and winter dessert classic for good reason. The lively, familiar spices of classic pumpkin pie are balanced by the cool and creamy goodness of a New York-style cheesecake.
The combination makes each bite memorably delicious and worthy of any celebration — especially Thanksgiving.
Pumpkin Cheesecake Is Easier to Make than You Think
Even if you have never made a cheesecake or pumpkin pie before, this is a dessert that is within your reach. This recipe was designed to work for the novice baker and the seasoned cook.
There are a few built-in techniques that make this cheesecake successful, and a few ingredients that ensure a great result every time.
5 Keys for Pumpkin Cheesecake Success
Below are a few of the key elements that ensure success.
- Use sour cream for flavor and texture. This cheesecake is designed to have a fluffy, but not airy, texture. For texture, sour cream does the job better when it comes to cheesecake, and for taste, it’s a necessity to balance the sweetness of the batter. If you love using heavy cream, keep the proportion the same and add two to three more tablespoons of cornstarch.
- Mix the cream cheese and sugar until smooth and fluffy. The cream cheese, sugar, and cornstarch mixture needs to be mixed until it is very, very smooth, pale, and fluffy. Make sure to scrape the bottom and side of the bowl and watch out for cream cheese that seems to stick toward the top of the bowl. This ensures the final cheesecake is silky, fluffy, and creamy.
- Bake the cheesecake in a water bath for consistent, creamy results. A water bath, or bain marie, is a classic French baking technique, and it is used for baked custards of all sorts to ensure that the heat of baking is gentle and consistent (read: eggs don’t curdle, and custards set beautifully). Cheesecake at its core is a type of custard, and using a water bath ensures the best and most consistent result.
- Cool the cheesecake slowly in the oven. If you have never made a cheesecake, this is a peculiar direction, but it is very important. Turn off the oven but leave the cheesecake in to cool down slowly for one hour. Some bakers believe that you can prevent the top of cheesecakes from cracking if you slow down the cooling process. I don’t know that it always works to prevent cracks, but it certainly allows for the filling to slowly finish cooking, so it remains delicate in texture and doesn’t sink in at all.
- Make it ahead. To ripen a cheesecake means to make it a day or so in advance. Some argue that it allows the flavors to meld together better, some believe the long chill lets the cake firm up long enough to cut with ease, and some do it out of tradition. All are probably correct, and I know from experience that this step is a part of the “cooking” process that can’t be skipped. With a pumpkin cheesecake, which is extra-moist, one day is plenty. Three days is a bit too much and will lead to a soggy bottom. This make-ahead requirement also just happens to makes serving cheesecake at events which require a ton of cooking — like holiday meals — an easy and always-welcome treat.
How To Make Pumpkin Cheesecake
Makes 1 (8- to 9-inch) cheesecake, 12 servings
Makes 1 (8- to 9-inch) cheesecake, 12 servings
What You Need
For the crust
11 (about 5″ by 2.25″) graham crackers, or 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon fine salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
3 (8-ounce) packages (1 1/2 cups) cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling)
3/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
Measuring cups and spoons
8- or 9-inch springform pan
Stand mixer with paddle attachment
Jellyroll, baking, or roasting pan
- Prepare the pan for baking: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Wrap 2 layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil around the outside of an 8- or 9-inch springform pan; set aside.
- Make the crust: If using whole graham crackers, break them up along their lines and place them into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Add the sugar and salt and pulse until the graham crackers are very finely ground with no chunks at all, about 5 (5-second) pulses. Drizzle in the butter and pulse just until the crumbs are moistened evenly, 7 to 10 (4-second) pulses. (If starting with graham cracker crumbs, just stir all the ingredients together in a medium bowl.) Transfer the crumbs to the prepared pan, press them onto the bottom (not the sides), and flatten with the base of a glass drinking glass.
- Bake the crust: Bake until the crust is slightly golden-brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Place the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.
- Start the filling: Place the cream cheese, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and cornstarch in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or if using an electric handheld mixer, in a large bowl. Beat, starting at medium speed and gradually increasing to high speed, until creamy, fully combined, and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes. Periodically stop and scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed.
- Add the flavorings: Add the pumpkin, sour cream, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla and mix at low to medium-low speed until fully combined and smooth, periodically stopping and scraping down the sides and bottom.
- Gradually add the eggs: On medium-low speed, add the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, stopping to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl after each addition, until fully incorporated.
- Fill the crust: Place the springform pan in a baking pan that is at least 1 inch deep and at least 1 inch wider than the springform on all sides (a 15.5- by 10.5-inch jellyroll pan or 8- by 12-inch half-sheet pan will work). Transfer the filling to the cooled crust and spread into an even layer.
- Put the cheesecake in the oven and make a water bath: Have a few cups of room temperature water ready. Pull out the oven rack and place the baking pan and cheesecake on it. Carefully add the water to the outer pan until it comes to about 3/4 inch up the side of the springform, being careful not to splash water onto the filling. Carefully push the oven rack all the way back in, trying not to splash the water, and close the oven door.
- Bake the cheesecake: Bake without opening the oven door until the edges of the cheesecake are a light golden-brown, the top is a medium-light brown, and the cheesecake center still jiggles just a bit, 60 to 70 minutes.
- Cool the cheesecake in a turned-off oven: Turn the oven off. Let cheesecake sit in the oven for 1 hour.
- Cool the cheesecake completely: Remove the cheesecake from the water bath, transfer to a wire cooling rack, remove the foil wrapping from around the pan, and let cool for 1 hour on the rack. (Do not remove the ring from the pan.)
- Refrigerate at least 24 hours: Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely cold, at least 24 hours and up to 3 days.
- Remove the cheesecake from the pan and serve: Uncover the cheesecake. The sides of the cake will have receded from the edges of the pan slightly. Release and remove the ring of the springform. Transfer the cheesecake, still on the bottom of the pan, to a cake or serving plate. Cut into slices with a long, sharp knife (not a serrated one), rinsing and drying the knife with warm water between each slice for picture-perfect cuts.
- Make ahead: The cheesecake can be made, covered, and refrigerated up to 3 days. It can also be frozen, wrapped well, for up to 1 month. Defrost in the refrigerator.
- Crust alternatives: Instead of graham crackers, you can use 18 to 19 gingersnap cookies instead. Line the bottom of the pan with a single layer of the whole cookies (skip the other ingredients and mixing anything together).