11.15.13 Say Cheesecake

Bite 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife
Dessert is polarizing. Love it as I do, I fully empathize with the naysayers. After a full meal, who really needs more? But some would say a meal is not truly complete without it. And, like it or not, desserts are cultural touchstones. What traditional festivity is properly concluded without some elaborate confection? A grand dessert is a flight of fantasy, a sensual voyage, an affair to remember. It's a fitting ending to the type of meal that includes multiple courses, fine wine, great conversation and lots of lingering. I hope your Thanksgiving is like that. But if not (if instead it's full of screaming children and sniping in-laws and overcooked turkey), there will always be an opportunity—after your tryptophan-induced nap—to submerge your sorrows in a slice of something sinful. Every once in a while there's got to be a little devil in Miss Jones.
Gingersnaps 790 xxx
snap to it
Today, in my latest Thanksgiving epistle, I offer you a decadent and delicious ginger-pumpkin cheesecake. It's based on a crust of gingersnaps and crystallized ginger and I'm thrilled to have found gluten-free gingersnaps that are appropriately gingery and crunchy. You pulse them in the food processor along with some sugar, stir in melted butter and then press this concoction into the bottom of a springform pan. This crust chills while you prepare the filling.
Nutmeg 790 xxx
fresh, exciting
Along with three kinds of ginger, the cheesecake is scented with freshly grated nutmeg. There is no fragrance more divine. (If you love it as much as I do, try dousing yourself with this.) Never encountered the whole spice? Now is the time. Slice it in half and grate it on your microplane. Try it grated over a gin-&-tonic with lots of lime. Also wonderful in creamed spinach.
Crystallized ginger 790 xxx
crystal clear
Besides the crystallized ginger in the crust, this recipe calls for ground ginger and fresh ginger, grated and juiced. You also have the option of stirring a couple more tablespoons of crystallized ginger into the filling at the very end. If you prefer a competely smooth cheesecake, just skip this step and stick to sprinkling tiny cubes of the stuff as a garnish.
Fresh ginger 790 xxx
grater heights
To make ginger juice, simply grate a hunk of the fresh root on your microplane, then press the pulp through a strainer, extracting a surprising amount of liquid. This juice and some additional grated fresh ginger gets stirred into a combination of eggs, pumpkin puree (canned is fine), honey and softened cream cheese. A few tablespoons of condensed milk contribute to the velvety texture.

Before pouring this mixture into the crust, I like to strain it to prevent any lumps from harshing your mellow.
Cracked 790 xxx
fault lines
A few cracks started to form around the edges when this was baking, and after I removed it from the oven some veritable chasms emerged. I hadn't been planning on adding a topping, thinking that it was gilding the lily, but now I see why people do it. My maple syrup-sweetened sour cream topping fixes everything and totally disguises the fact that the San Andreas fault is running through your cheesecake.
Cheesecake 790 xxx
glazed over
The unmolding was traumatic as the gingersnap crust is quite hard and sticky. I used a chef's knife and a metal spatula. Not great for ease of serving and perfect presentation but absolutely delicious. Plus, these craggy layers are really quite gorgeous, no?
Crust 790 xxx
layer cake
A slim slice is all you need, trust me on this. It's rich, creamy and dreamy with a surprisingly subtle kick of ginger, given all the various kinds it contains.
Slice 790 xxx
piece of cake
You can make this cheesecake a couple of days ahead and keep it in the fridge—just be careful of how you cover it, though you can always run an offset spatula dipped in hot water over the top to smooth out any glitches. Scatter on some minced crystallized ginger and carry your creation to the table with pride. 

Other dessert options? Skip the crust and the cream cheese and go with my usual Thanksgiving choice, divine pumpkin custard with crème fraîche and candied pumpkin seeds. (Still my favorite.) Or try my dense and dark gingerbread with its tangy lemon glaze. Or this classic tarte Tatin. Or the most decadent and homey apple pie ever.

Starting to panic about the rest of your menu? Scan the archives for my past posts on Thanksgiving; they are full of options and links to interesting and trusted recipes. You can also refer to the New York Times' Essential Thanksgiving resource, where Julia Moskin and Melissa Clark have rounded up everything you need to make a fabulous meal. And stay tuned next week for my cornbread stuffing and cranberry jam recipes.

Still have doubts? Questions? I'm here for you. Reach out and I'll offer whatever support and suggestions I can. xo

Pumpkin-Ginger Cheesecake

serves 10-12
  • — Crust:
  • — 6 ounces gingersnaps (gluten-free are fine)
  • — 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • — 1/4 cup organic cane sugar
  • — 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • — ~
  • — Filling:
  • — 15 ounces dense pumpkin puree
  • — 3 large eggs
  • — 2 tablespoons fresh ginger juice
  • — 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • — 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • — 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • — 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • — 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • — 24 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • — 1/2 cup honey
  • — 4 tablespoons condensed milk
  • — 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • — 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • — 2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger, optional, plus more for garnish
  • — ~
  • — Topping:
  • — 2 cups sour cream
  • — 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • — 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • — 2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger

In a food processor, pulse together gingersnaps, crystallized ginger and sugars. Stir in the melted butter. Press the mixture into the bottom and an inch or so up the side of a buttered 9-inch springform pan. Chill crust for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl whisk together pumpkin, eggs, ginger juice, grated ginger, ground ginger, nutmeg, salt and brown sugar. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together cream cheese, and honey, then beat in condensed milk, cornstarch and vanilla. Add the pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth. Strain into another bowl through a fine mesh strainer and stir in minced crystallized ginger, if using.

Pour the filling into the crust and bake the cheesecake on the middle rack of the oven for about an hour, or until the center is just set, and let it cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes.

Stir together sour cream, maple syrup and ground ginger. Spread evenly over the top of the cheesecake and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

Remove from oven, cool completely and chill overnight, covered. Before serving, garnish with a scattering of minced crystallized ginger.

Download recipe  Download Recipe


save a slice for me! xo
stephanie on November 15, 2013 at 4:06 pm —
It could happen.
laura on November 15, 2013 at 9:56 pm —
Good god, woman. You are killing me. I love pumpkin cheesecake!!!!
Winnie on November 15, 2013 at 4:12 pm —
You probably have a great one up your sleeve!
laura on November 15, 2013 at 9:56 pm —
Well, well, well. Sometimes we say cheesecake is too rich to even consider, and sometimes we sing rather a different tune about cheesecake. I know, this night is different from all other nights...anyway, I like how you sing.
Janet on November 15, 2013 at 7:37 pm —
You have memory like elephant.
laura on November 15, 2013 at 7:46 pm —
OK. I'm a total non-cook, but I'm going to take on this cheese cake for my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner with friends. I love ginger, I love pumpkin, so stay tuned...
judy b on November 15, 2013 at 8:14 pm —
Report back, please...
laura on November 15, 2013 at 9:56 pm —
Two heart-stopping moments in your post for me: first, the photo with the creaminess oozing forth and second, the vision of fresh nutmeg on a gin and tonic. CPR please.
Elaine on November 15, 2013 at 9:05 pm —
Take a deep breath. And then go make that g&t!
laura on November 15, 2013 at 9:56 pm —
I love nutmeg and ginger too but have never seen it in cheesecake before. How wonderfully unexpected! And yes, those layers look gorgeous! Thanks for the recipe.
Margie on November 15, 2013 at 11:16 pm —
Oh my! Can't wait to try it, your sister is bringing it to our annual Pie Night.
Kim Campbell on November 16, 2013 at 1:59 am —
I'm with Elaine--that tip about nutmeg grated on a gin and tonic had me in a stupor for a few seconds. I'm going to have to try that! The cheesecake ain't too shabby either! It looks stunning, actually. Thanksgiving at your house must be a day to remember!
Julia on November 16, 2013 at 7:19 am —
Sadly, Thanksgiving has never, ever been at my house. Maybe one day...
laura on November 16, 2013 at 9:01 am —
hey laura--great post. and the recipe sounds awesome! but curious why you recommend slicing the nutmeg in half and then grating? whenever i use whole nutmegs i just start grating and use it until i literally cant hold it anymore.
nikki on November 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm —
Nikki, I find it makes it easier to grate that way - no other reason. I'm probably just totally uncoordinated!
laura on November 19, 2013 at 4:51 pm —
Now I'm feeling sheepish about having a friend bring a cheesecake for Thanksgiving as I want to try your recipe....and if you don't want cracks, place a plate on top of the springform pan while cake cools
karin koller webb on November 25, 2013 at 3:18 pm —
Great tip, Karin, thanks!
laura on November 25, 2013 at 3:25 pm —
I cut strips of parchment paper the depth of the spring form and lay them upright along the band of the pan. No more sticking.....
karin koller webb on December 2, 2013 at 5:53 am —