pumpkin bourbon cheesecake

Yikes! It's already Friday and I had full intentions of sharing this with you earlier. I guess, as usual, the week got away from me. Good news is only 3 more work days until I get to stuff myself silly and celebrate gluttony with the Weiner's!

This recipe is the second tradition I've brought to my family. It's a Pumpkin Bourbon, wait for it…  Cheesecake with Pecan Crust. It's light and airy, rich and nutty all at the same time. A subtle kick from Bourbon that's barley detected combined with creamy pumpkin makes for the perfect twist to a thanksgiving classic, pumpkin pie. We usually make both but I'm telling you, if you're looking for something different or you want to try something new, you won't be disappointed! 

I stumbled upon the recipe about 9 years ago from America's Test Kitchen. I've tweaked one thing (substituting gram crackers for panko) but other than that, I've followed it to a T. The pumpkin requires a little more work than your typical cheesecake because you have to drain if of the extra moisture. Trust me, it's still really easy to make and totally worth it! The cheesecake can be made up to 3 days in advance which is a huge bonus for Thanksgiving prep work!

I hope you all have an amazing Turkey Day shared with loved ones. A little tip I've learned over the years… a dress or skirt, preferably a stretchy one, allows for maximum turkey intake. For all the dudes, I hope you own elastic waist pants. That or just put on a dress too. Why not?! Happy t-day eating!!

pumpkin bourbon cheesecake + pecan crust
slightly adapted from America's Test Kitchen
yields 1 - 9" cheesecake (about 12 - 16 servings)

for the crust:
1¼ c. pecans
½ c. panko bread crumbs
¼ c. sugar
2 TBSP. flour
½ t. ground cinnamon
¼ t. ground cloves
¼ t. ground ginger
¼ t. salt
5 T. melted butter

for the filling:
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground all spice
½ tsp. salt
1 - 15 oz can of pumpkin
24 oz ( 3 - 8 oz packages - or - 1.5 lbs) cream cheese, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
5 eggs, room temperature
1 c. heavy cream
¼ c. bourbon

For the crust:
Preheat oven to 375º F. Lightly toast your nuts in a pan on the stovetop or in an oven. Be careful not to burn your nuts! Set them aside and let them cool. Once cooled, place in a food processor and pulse until they're a semi-fine powder - only technical terms here :). Add panko, sugar, flour, spices, and salt - give it a few pulses until combined. Pour the melted butter over the mixture and dump in a 9" springform pan, lined with parchment paper on the bottom. Press the mixture into an even layer that comes half way up the side of the dish.  Bake for 10 minutes. Note the crust won't be fully cooked, that's ok. It will finish cooking once you place the filling in. Turn your oven down to 325º F this is the temperature your cheesecake will bake at. 

For the filling:
Combine sugar, spices and salt in a small bowl and set it aside. To dry the pumpkin, line a baking sheet with 3 layers of paper towels. Spread the pumpkin in an even layer. Cover the pumpkin with another 3 layers of paper towels and press down on the paper towel to absorb as much of the moisture as possible. Peel back the paper towels, grab the bottom layer of paper towel and fold it over the pumpkin (basically you're folding the pumpkin over itself to pile it up easier). Peel back the paper towel, repeat and then place pumpkin onto the tray. Throw away the paper towels. 

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a simmer. Let the water heat up while you make the mixture. This will be for a water bath to ensure even cooking/cooling.

In a large bowl (or stand mixer if you have one), beat cream cheese at medium speed until creamy and smooth. Scrape sides of bowl and add the sugar in at a time. This will let the sugar to dissolve a bit and makes for a smoother batter. Add pumpkin and vanilla extract and beat at medium speed until combined. Add 3 eggs and mix until incorporated. Add the last 2 eggs and beat again until incorporated. Be careful not to over mix as this can create cracks on top of your cheesecake! Finally, add in your heavy cream and bourbon and beat until combined (about a minute). 

Wrap your springform pan with semi-cooked crust in 3 layers of aluminum foil. This will prevent the water bath from getting into your cheesecake. Place springform pan in a large roasting pan. Pour filling into the pan and smooth the surface. Place in the oven and carefully pour the warm water into the roasting pan. Bake until the center of the cake is slightly wobbly when the pan is shaken about 90 minutes (the center of the cake will register to 145º F). 

When cake is done, set roasting pan on a cookie sheet and let it cool until the water is warm to the touch. Remove cheesecake from roasting pan, discard foil and continue to cool it on a cookie rack until it reaches room temperature (about 3 hours). This is another important step in preventing cracks! Once cooled, cover with saran wrap and place in the refrigerator at least 3 hours, ideally overnight. 

Serve with fresh whipped cream or even bourbon spiked whipped cream! You know, in the holiday spirit…

improv style:
you can use your favorite type of crust here. i'm not a fan of gram cracker which is why i did panko but you could do vanilla wafers, your favorite nut, chocolate cookies, gram crackers… you get the idea.

pumpkin and bourbon were made for each other but you can totally leave the booze out. just add more heavy cream. if you don't have one or two of the spices listed below, you can leave them out. do not substitute fresh ginger for the ground… different flavors. 

you'll notice that my cheesecake had a crack in the top. i don't have a roasting pan or any pan large enough to do a water bath. i omitted this step and just baked it in the oven. yes i got a few cracks but i just covered it up with whipped cream. crisis averted! you'll also notice i missed some of the crust pulling that first slice out. hey, it happens! just scoop it up and put it underneath, no one will notice! all of the other slices are much easier once you get that first one out!

some really fun garnishes for this would be candied or fried sage, a little leaf shaped cookie, or even some pecan brittle. omg, how gorgeous would that be stuck in a wedge of whipped cream?! i might have to do that next year instead of just a little pecan!!


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