WASHINGTON: Pumpkin pie is a difficult guest at the Thanksgiving feast. Some people love it, more than a few hate it. It is often cloying and bland, a heavy, sickly-sweet mass of orange glop in a soggy, supermarket crust. It can be as predictable and boring as dry turkey breast. It’s obligatory to invite it to the feast, but it’s rarely the life of the party.
However, a great pumpkin pie is a pleasure, but there’s no reason to be predictable. Pumpkin can be the star in a wide variety of desserts. It is excellent in crème brûlée, bread pudding, in a crumble or a cheesecake. Pair it with bananas, caramel or chocolate, with nuts, bourbon, rum or ginger.
This cheesecake recipe has one of the greatest virtues of any holiday recipe: It’s easy.
Most people would rather spend time enjoying their holiday guests or sitting by the fireplace with a bowl of eggnog than baking dinner. I love a pastry crust as much as the next guy, but throwing some crust ingredients together and flinging them into a cake pan is an attractive alternative. So is tossing the cake ingredients into a mixing bowl, flipping a switch, and eating a piece of fudge while it all mixes. Mix and bake and be done with it. What could be less stressful than that?
It has another great virtue: It’s delicious. It combines the flavors of pumpkin, bourbon, pecans, and ginger. It isn’t too sweet, either. If you don’t like sweet, serve it plain.
If you like sweeter, top it with sweetened whipped cream, caramel sauce, or the sweet buttered pecan topping included here.
FOR THE CRUST:
2 cups ground pecans
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 beaten egg white
1/4-1/3 cup chopped, crystallized ginger
Mix all the ingredients together until the mixture holds together, then press it onto the bottom of a buttered, 9-inch springform pan, and slightly up the sides.
FOR THE FILLING:
2 pounds cream cheese, softened
5 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
1 cup dark brown sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 15-oz can pumpkin
1/4 cup bourbon cream liqueur, or bourbon, or chocolate liqueur
1 tbsp vanilla
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp allspice
Beat the cream cheese until smooth, then beat in the sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the spices and cornstarch. Beat in the cream, vanilla, bourbon, and pumpkin. Pour the mixture into the crust, then bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. To reduce the likelihood of the top of the cake cracking, put a pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven before you start cooking. Reduce the heat to 275 and bake for another 50 minutes. Turn off the oven, leaving the cake in until the oven is cool. Refrigerate.
A note on the bourbon:
On a recent drive through Kentucky, my wife and I stopped with some friends in Bardstown to tour the Barton 1792 Distillery. After the tour they let the adults try their wares. Having no appreciation for bourbon, I was consigned to stand away from the tasting counter with the teenagers, but soon I heard my wife and some others exclaim, “that’s delicious!”
What was delicious was the Chocolate Bourbon Ball cream liqueur.
When I decided to try a new cheesecake recipe, my mind turned to the bottle of liqueur we’d brought back from Kentucky. It adds just a note of chocolate to this cheesecake, along with a mellow bourbon flavor. If you can’t find it, use Godiva chocolate liqueur instead. Or go for the flavor of bourbon.
However, if you don’t want alcohol in your cheesecake, just up the amount of cream to 3/4 of a cup and drop the bourbon.
FOR THE TOPPING:
4 tbsp butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 cups pecans
a pinch of kosher salt
Melt the butter and sugar together over medium-low heat until the mixture is bubbling. Stir in the remaining ingredients until the nuts are coated, then remove from the heat to cool until the mixture thickens. Pour it over your cooled cheesecake. Decorate with caramel shards or piped rosettes of bourbon whipped cream, or nothing at all.