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Monday, November 21, 2011

It Takes a Village

I meant to post this weekend, but 20 hours at the theatre got in the way.  "Inspecting Carol" opens on Friday, and between coordinating light and sound cues, dress rehearsals and making sure the special effects work, I don't recall doing much of anything this weekend except making lots of notes and trying to stay calm about things beyond my control.  It really does take a village to put on a play.

The show will be fine.  I just don't like it when things come down to the wire, which this one will. 

Way back the weekend before last when I had actually had free time, I made my second cake as part of the Cake Slice bakers.  Let me be clear:  cheesecake is just not my thing.  My mother, who is quite a good cook, used to make a New York-style cheesecake at least a dozen times a year--it was one of her specialties. 

Every December, my parents would host a huge brunch for all their colleagues that would last at least six hours, with more than a hundred people coming through through the house.  The preparations would start weeks in advance, as my parents would make and freeze various dishes on a nightly basis.  (Looking back, I don't recall being much of a help.)  The week before the brunch, they set up utility shelves in the garage, which became a large walk-in refrigerator.  This was Nebraska in December, so it was plenty cold enough to keep things.

Making this cheesecake, which was more elaborate if no better than the ones my mother made, made me think--hey, even with all the trials and tribulations of directing this play, it's still easier than making brunch for a hundred people--plus I don't have to make small talk for six hours. 

For someone who doesn't like cheesecake, this was shockingly good.  It has an airier texture than most cheesecakes, a great spicy quality and just the right amount of sweetness.  I skipped the original recipe's garnish of sugared pumpkin seeds, but am proud to say that I hand-whipped the cream.  Okay, David and I collectively hand-whipped the cream, because my wrist gave out two-thirds of the way through. 

I am absurdly proud of the hand-whipped cream, which was gorgeous and held up well for two days in the refrigerator.
Although David left for the North Slope for work the day after I made the cake, it did not go to waste.  Several hungry actors and technicians ate it for dinner one night last week. 

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake
Adapted from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle

For the crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
1/3 cup shelled pecans
1/4 crystallized ginger, roughly chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed
1 tbsp. cold water

For the filling:
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. almond extract*
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg**
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
20 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 tbsp. cornstarch
4 large eggs

For the garnish:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. granulated sugar

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees.  Prepare a nine-inch springform pan by spraying it with baking spray with flour, and wrap a piece of aluminum foil firmly around the outside of the pan.  This will prevent water from leaking in once the cake it in its water bath.

Using a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, salt, pecans and ginger.  You will want the ingredients ground to a fine powder.  Add the butter and pulse again until the mixture is in small clumps.  Add the water and process again--you will see the dough start to come together in a large clump.  Remove the dough and press the dough evenly in the bottom of the springform pan.  You may have a little extra dough.

Bake the crust for about 30 minutes, or until lightly golden.  Remove the crust from the oven and cool completely on a baking rack. 

Reduce the heat to 325 degrees.  With a whisk, combine the pumpkin, cream, almond extract, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer with a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until soft and creamy, for about a minute.  Scrape the bowl down and add the granulated and brown sugar and beat until combined.

Add the pumpkin mixture, and beat until just combined.  Add the cornstarch and beat briefly. 

Then add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each until just combined.

Here is the filling after everything is blended in--it's a gorgeous, glossy orange.

Scrape the bowl down one more time and mix again if necessary.  Pour the batter into the springform pan and place the pan in a water bath using a roaster or a very large baking pan.  Add hot water to the outer pan until it is at least an inch deep.
Bake the cheesecake for an hour and 20 minutes, or until the center of the cheesecake is totally set.  The cake will still have some wobbles, but as long as a skewer in the center comes out clean, the cake is ready to be removed from the oven.

That knife trick actually works--a crack-free cheesecake!

Take the cheesecake out of the water bake and place on a baking rack.  Remove the foil and run a paring knife around the edges of the springform pan.  This, miraculously, kept the cheesecake from cracking.

Cool the cheesecake completely and refrigerate if not serving immediately.***

When ready to serve, whip the cream by hand (if feeling masochistic) or with a hand mixer.  Sprinkle the sugar in when the cream starts to thicken.  Add the almond extract when the cream is at soft peak stage.

Serve the cheesecake with a dollop of whipped cream.  Serves at least 12 people, or 8 hungry technicians and actors.

*The recipe called for vanilla extract, which I forgot to buy (I know, what an insane thing to run out of while baking).  Fortunately, the almond extract worked great.
**The recipe calls for freshly grated nutmeg, but I was in a hurry and used good-quality ground nutmeg.
***The recipe recommends cooling the cake completely, and then refrigerating for four hours before serving.  I cooled the cake for an hour and then served a slice to David, and it was ready to go.


  1. Mmm, sounds delicious! There's just something perfect about pumpkin cheesecake :)

  2. This cheesecake looks like a winner with all those the spicy ingredients!
    This rates over pumpkin pie any day-delicious. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Your cheesecake looks wonderful, and you did a great job on the whipped cream.

  4. I'm really impressed that you made the whipped cream by hand, too! I've always been too lazy to try that. My machine whipped cream only lasted a day - maybe I should try it! Congrats on a great looking cake. :)

  5. Your cheesecake looks wonderful! I have never whipped whipping cream by hand! You did great!
    This cake is definitely thumbs up! :)

  6. Your cheesecake looks AweSomE and that whipped cream, oh my, what else can I say except F.A.B.!! I guess you will be making this on an annual basis and try out that pumpkin seed topping too!

    I also hand whip my whipped cream if its a small quantity.

    and if blogger ate my ID, this is Emily from the group.

  7. Diffinitely one of my favorite here!

  8. I love pumpkin cheesecake, I just made one! Love the addition of crystalized ginger in the crust. It looks like it turned out awesome!

  9. Wow - that is one of the PRETTIEST cheesecakes I've seen! I make a New York cheesecake, but I'm famous for over-baking because I'm afraid it won't set...and it cracks! This one is stunning! Best of luck with the show!

  10. Cheese cake look heavenly and mouthwatering. You have a magical hand in baking yummy cake.

  11. Love your spiced pumpkin cheesecake! We always order a pumpkin cheesecake from this famous French bakery in SF. I hope I can make one myself! Yours look lovely!

  12. Love cheesecake, cannot get enough of it. This is fabulous. Plays can be a ton of work. Hope it all went smooth and you had fun.

  13. Beautiful cheesecake and nice with the whipped cream on top.

  14. That whipped cream looks so luscious!

  15. Oh, this cheesecake sounds fabulous! I now need to find a reason to make a pumpkin cheesecake...the guys in this house aren't such cheesecake fans, but I just need to have a slice of this :)

  16. I'd pick this over pumpkin pie any day. your cheesecake looks absolutely perfect.

  17. I can see this cheesecake guaranteeing the success of the play. They'll all put in a supreme effort in the hopes of tasting this again. I always try to whip cream by hand so I can justify second helpings by working off the calories in advance :)

    (btw Break a leg!)

  18. This looks fantastic. Who could resist this delightful dessert. :) Hope you got your award from my site today. :) Ramona

  19. I love cheesecake. All cheesecakes and yes - my mother is still a master (mistress?) of it. This is heaven, decadent, seasonal, luscious... yes there are raptures. And I'm a wee bit jealous of the whipped cream.

    Have a lovely Thanksgiving and break-a-leg Friday.

  20. Oh cheesecake is one of my greatest weaknesses and with pumpkin?! Oh no! This looks wonderful. Best of luck with your play this weekend!

  21. I am not a huge fan of cheesecake, but I love pumpkin! Looks wonderful!

  22. Hope the play went well and I love your post for the cheesecake...makes me want to try it myself.