Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gobble It Up: Southern-style Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake

For as long as I can remember I've had this undying need to create some sort of showstopper dessert for each holiday. There is nothing, I repeat no-thing, that gets me more fired up than seeing some ridiculous themed dessert on the cover of a magazine that requires far more skill than I actually have, and deciding that will be my holiday, baking "Everest" for the season.

Like I said, this goes back as long as I can remember, starting with the Fourth of July, triple tier, Jell-O jigglers, cake. I must've been somewhere between ten and 12 years old when I spotted this beauty on the cover of some ladies mag. I made the thing two or three times before I was finally able to get the tiers to stand majestic like our Lady of Liberty (as opposed to the previous Leaning Tower of Pisa versions) and to get the scratch made icing thick enough to keep those Jell-O stars from sliding down the sides. FYI - I just googled hard for about twenty minutes trying to an image of the cake from whatever magazine it was on and/or some replica that was close, but no dice. Don't worry, I'll keep looking.

This Thanksgiving I embarked on a two day adventure making a Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake featured on the cover of the Novemeber '11 Southern Living - and while I've yet to taste the finished product I can tell you this: the preveiws have been promising and this recipe only took one attempt.

Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (don't bother buying the pre-crumbled stuff, it's more expensive and you can just blend/food process crackers yourself, or put them in a zip loc bag and crush, they taste fresher anyway)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (I just blended them with the graham crackers)
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 4 (8-oz.) packages cream cheese, softened (I know, I feel like Paula Deen even suggesting making something with this much cream cheese in it, but hey, Thanksgiving only comes once a year. And, in this case, splurge and buy Philly cream cheese - not off brand)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (I used some real Mexican vanilla my fab neighbor brought me home from Mexico - YUM! In this case, if you don't have that, just make sure to use real stuff, not imitation. Again, a cheesecake doesn't have a ton of ingredients, so the ones you use should be quality)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
  • Preheat oven to 325. Stir together first four ingredients in a bowl until well blended. Press mixture on bottom and 1 1/2 inches up sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake 8 - 10 minutes or until lightly browned. In full disclosure, I had never made my own graham cracker crust or used a springform pan until this recipe and it all worked out easy, breezy on the first go-round.
  • Beat cream cheese and next 2 ingredients at medium speed until smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Add pumpkin and lemon juice, beating until blended. Pour batter into prepared crust. Pan will be very full.
  • Bake at 325 for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes or until almost set. Turn oven off. Let cheesecake stand in over, with door closed, 15 minutes. Remove cheesecake from oven, and gently run a knife around outer edge of cheesecake to lossen from sides of pan. Do not remove sides of pan. Cool completely on a wire rack. The recipe says that cooling completely should take about 1 hour. I say, no way. Probably more like two. I let it cool an hour and then put it in the fridge and wished I would've waited longer because the next morning I had some extra condensation on the top of the cake that probably could've been minimized with a bit more cooling before putting this bad boy in the fridge. Cover and chill 8 - 24 hours.
  • Remove sides and bottom of pan and transfer cheesecake to serving platter/cake stand, etc. Prepare Praline Topping (see below): immediately pour slowly over top of cheesecake, spreading to within 1/4 inch of edge. Garnish with Pecan Pie-Glazed Pecans (see below) if desired.
Praline Topping:
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extrac
  • Bring first 3 ingredients to a boil in a 1-qt saucepan over medium heat, stirring often. Boil, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Gradually whisk in powdered sugar and vanila until smooth. Let stand five minutes, whisking occasionally. Use immediately.
Pecan Pie-Glazed Pecans
  • 1/4 cup dark corn syrup (I used light corn syrup instead and it worked just fine)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 cups pecan halves (I don't know what Southern Living was smoking, but I garnished the entire top of the cheesecake with pecans (see photo) and I had about a cup of pecans left over. They make a great snack if you want some extras, but I can't imagine getting all 2 cups on top of the cheesecake)
  • Stir together corn syrup and sugar, add pecans and stir until coated
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; coat parchment paper with vegetable cooking spray
  • Spread pecans in a single layer in prepared pan. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until glaze bubbles slowly and thickens, stirring every 3 minutes
  • Transfer pan to a wire rack
  • Spread pecans in a single layer separating individual pecans (use a toothpick to easily and quickly separate pecans without getting yourself too sticky), cool completely. Cooled pecans should be crisp, if not bake 5 more minutes

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