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Those who hate pumpkin pie embrace pumpkin cheesecake as “a nice change,” but the expectations are low, because pumpkin cheesecake is rarely good. Textures run the gamut from dry and dense to wet, soft, and mousselike. Flavors veer from far too cheesy and tangy to pungently overspiced to totally bland. We wanted a creamy, velvety smooth pumpkin cheesecake that tasted of sweet, earthy pumpkin as well as tangy cream cheese; that struck a harmonious spicy chord; and, of course, that had a crisp, buttery, cookie‐crumb crust.
SECRETS TO SUCCESS
PREBAKE THE CRUST: We use crumbled graham crackers for the crust. Here we add butter and sugar and a bit of ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves to them in order to complement the spices in the filling. Then we prebake the crust. This way a sturdy, crisp, buttery crust forms. (Without prebaking, the crust becomes a pasty, soggy layer beneath the filling.)
DRY THE CANNED PUMPKIN: Anyone who has prepared fresh pumpkin for pumpkin pie can attest to the fact that cutting, seeding, peeling, and cooking it can take hours and is not time and effort well spent. We prefer opening a can, which takes only a few seconds. But pumpkin in any form is filled with liquid. We could remove some of the moisture by cooking it. But that involves frequent stirring, a cooking period, and waiting for it to cool. An easier way? Paper towels.
Spread the pumpkin on a baking sheet lined with paper towels and then press additional paper towels on the surface to wick away more moisture. In seconds, the pumpkin will shed enough liquid to yield a cheesecake with a lovely texture, and the paper towels will peel away almost effortlessly.
Removing this moisture allows us to add heavy cream to the mix, which gives us a cheesecake that is smooth and lush.
PICK YOUR EGGS: While cheesecake recipes can take various amounts of eggs in different configurations (whole eggs, egg whites, or egg yolks for a range of textures), we prefer simply using five whole eggs here. This produces a satiny, creamy, unctuous cheesecake.
FLAVOR IT UP: Our Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake is flavored with lemon juice, salt, and vanilla extract to start. But we also add sweet, warm cinnamon and sharp, spicy ground ginger alongside small amounts of cloves, nutmeg, and allspice. In unison, these spices provide a deep, resounding flavor but not an overspiced burn.
GIVE IT A BATH: In a springform pan, a cheesecake can be baked either directly on the oven rack like a regular cake or in a water bath like a delicate custard. Because we bake this cheesecake at 325 degrees, a water bath is needed for even cooking on the edges and the center.
MAKE IT NOW: Our recipe for Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake is free through November 9, 2013.