One day when I wake, the air is suddenly cold. I am confused until it starts to settle, bitingly, on my skin- then, I gasp and dive back under the covers. Only my dreams can save me.
But work awaits. The alarm reads 4:30 and in half an hour, I will be at the bakery. There is an oven to heat. Bread to bake.
I stumble into work clutching a thick sweater around myself, still rubbing the last vestiges of sleep from my eyes. I move to go downstairs, into the kitchen, but as I pass by the oven, its heat draws me in. Pulls me, and I am drawn to it like it is an irresistible force.
I hold my hands out. Now, the 500 degree heat that seemed unbearable in the summer drapes itself slowly around me. I begin to feel alive again. The winter chill dissipates.
But it isn’t winter, is it? On my walk home from work, hours later, it is chilly, windy, but bearable. I crunch as many leaves as I can. The air is swift and it invigorates, enlivens.
Here is an October dessert. A worthy one, one to soften the bite of the air and the season’s transition with its warming spices- a cheesecake.
Here, a rich, creamy pumpkin filling sits atop a brown butter, spice filled crust and is topped by a light, maple sweetened layer of creme fraiche. Drizzles of salted caramel and crunchy, caramelized pepita seeds top it off, the seal of indulgence.
It’s slightly time consuming, but the first bite of warm, autumnal goodness will drown everything else out: the cold, the return to routine, and for me, the unbearably early hours.
It’s pumpkin cheesecake. It’s here to make everything just a little bit warmer.
Yields: one 9″ cheesecake
Why I love this recipe: a fragrant, cinnamon spiced crust is made even better by browned butter and is topped by a creamy and spicy pumpkin cheesecake filling, rich with sour cream cream cheese. The cheesecake is topped with a lightly sweetened creme fraiche “frosting” and then drizzled with homemade salted caramel sauce and caramelized pepitas for an over the top fall finish.
Notes: the caramel sauce makes more than you need, almost a pint container’s worth, so use what you need and keep the rest for something else. It freezes well (simply rewarm in a microwave or on the stovetop) and keeps for almost two months when frozen.
For the crust:
- 4 tablespoons browned, unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 cups cinnamon graham cracker crumbs (approx. 14 crackers crushed)
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the pumpkin filling:
- 1 can solid-packed pumpkin
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
For the maple creme fraiche topping:
- 2 cups creme fraiche
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the caramelized pumpkin seeds:
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, roasted
- flaky salt, for sprinkling
For the salted caramel sauce:
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon flaky salt
- For the crust: Preheat the oven to 350°. Pour the sugar, graham cracker crumbs, salt and spices in a medium bowl and whisk together.
- Pour the browned butter over the top and stir with a spatula until combined.
- Press the mixture into a 9-inch springform pan and bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool, leaving the oven on.
- Whisk together pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, spices and salt. Set aside.
- In the mixer, combine and beat the sour cream, cream cheese and white granulated sugar at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, then add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth.
- Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, then put springform pan into the oven and bake the cheesecake until center is just set, 55-60 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool 5 minutes. (Leave oven on.)
- Make topping: Whisk together creme fraiche, maple syrup and vanilla in a bowl, then spread on top of cheesecake and bake 5 additional minutes.
- Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours.
- While cheese cake is cooling, make the caramelized pumpkin seeds: in a small saucepan over medium heat, caramelize the sugar until it is a rich reddish-brown color. Avoid over-stirring, as this will turn the mixture dry and crumbly.
- Once the sugar is dark and fragrant, add the tablespoon of butter and stir quickly until it has melted and the sauce is smooth. Add the pumpkin seeds and stir until they’re evenly coated in sauce.
- Transfer the seeds to a plate lined with parchment paper so that they cool and harden. Sprinkle with flaky salt. Once hardened and cool, break into pieces.
- Make the salted caramel sauce: melt the sugar over medium to moderately high heat in a pan, stirring the sugar as it melts to ensure it melts evenly.
- Cook the liquefied sugar to a nice copper color. Add the sea salt and butter and stir until the butter melts. Lower the heat and slowly drizzle in the heavy cream, whisking the whole time. Whisk until the sauce is smooth. Set aside until needed.
- Chill the cooled cheesecake, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Drizzle the chilled cheesecake with the salted caramel sauce and sprinkle with the caramelized pumpkin seeds.
- Remove side of pan and bring to room temperature before serving and cutting.