Monday, October 11, 2010

So now we're in October

and I have been extremely bad about blogging. So much for "if I don't write every day..."

The Staycation went well, I suppose. Didn't really finish everything around the house until this weekend, but...

Anyway, so it's October. And as the baker I imagine that I am, I went out and spent way too much money on a "pie pumpkin", i.e. the wee pumpkins that they sell to insane people like me at an overinflated price because we believe that pumpkin from a can is sacrilege. You can buy 3 large jack-o-lantern pumpkins for $15, but a mini 5 lb pie pumpkin is $3. And all it gives you is enough pumpkin for 2 pies. Or one big pie. That's about 4 cups of pumpkin.

But you know, there is nothing in this world that can beat freshly roasted pumpkin flesh for baking. The stuff in a tin tastes like tin. And God knows how long it's been trapped in that tin. Centuries, maybe. Since the Great War. After all, canned food never goes bad so long as it isn't dented...

So now that I split my pumpkin, gutted it, and roasted it (I forgot to take pictures in my zeal of acting out my Dexter fantasies with a squash), I had no idea what to do with it. Pie - well I have a wonderful pumpkin pie recipe that I cannot share, as it was created by my late husband, and it wouldn't be right to share it without permission. Maybe in 70 years or so when it becomes Public Domain.

My next option was a pumpkin cheesecake. I was attending a Thanksgiving dinner, and I had to bring something. My hosts love my other cheesecakes (apparently I make good ones; I don't know since I'm not a big cheesecake fan. OK, that's not true. I love making cheesecakes. I don't really care if I eat them. But I love watching people enjoy what I bake.), so I thought, why not do a pumpkin one?

There are six million pumpkin cheesecake recipes on the internet. Most of them call for canned pumpkin. Most of them don't have enough of anything else to cover the flavour of the tin, though some did call for lemon juice which would kind of mask it.

Canned pumpkin mixes easily into the cheesecake batter. Freshly roasted and pureed pumpkin does not blend as easily. But believe me, it is well worth the effort! Plus, you can snack on seeds while it bakes.

Finally, I just decided that I've been making cheesecakes long enough that I don't need to follow a specific recipe. So I made one up. Some of my Facebook peeps asked me for the recipe, if it was a good one.

There were people at the Thanksgiving dinner eating cheesecake who normally don't. And funny enough, only men had my cheesecake during the first round of dessert (we had to leave before the second round. The good thing about having a small child is that it saves you from overstuffing yourself at a large dinner, simply because you're either chasing him around or you have to leave early to make sure he gets to bed on time). I take that as a sign that it was probably a good one.

So without further ado, here's my pumpkin cheesecake recipe, which I will call Ontario Harvest Pumpkin Cheesecake:

What you will need:


1 - 9" springform pan (I don't like nonstick, but if you think teflon doesn't kill birds, then go for it)
parchment paper
solid measuring cups (as opposed to liquid measuring cups - there is no liquid to measure for this recipe)
measuring spoons
Food processor
Large cookie sheet
Stand mixer or hand mixer (unless you're batshit crazy and want to mix cream cheese by hand, then go for it)
rubber scraper (not plastic, rubber. You'll see why.)


1 whole pumpkin, preferably not jack-o-lanternized, gutted and cut in pieces, skin on.
2 cups of fine graham cracker crumbs
2 Tablespoons of white granular sugar
1/3 c. butter, melted (that is, measure the butter first and then melt it)

extra butter at room temperature

3 packages of Lactancia cream cheese (do not use Philly if you can possibly avoid it - Lactancia makes way better cream cheese for cheesecake, hands down. It's even better than the cream cheese from the cheese shop that I got one day to be fancy and spent way too much money on cream cheese for a cheesecake!)

Please make sure the cream cheese is room temperature.  You will NOT die or get sick from room temperature dairy products, as long as they haven't been left in the room for 3 days straight, or in the hot 35 degree sun for 4 hours or something.

1/2 c. white granular sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed tightly

3 eggs, room temperature (you leave them in the shells to bring them to room temperature. Don't just crack them and leave them out. You're just asking for trouble then.)

1 heaping teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon of ground ginger (you can try fresh, but make sure it's grated as fine as possible, and make sure you use only 1/4 the amount of dried)
1/4 teaspoon of cloves
1/4 teaspoon of sea salt (for God's sake, don't tell me you're still cooking with iodized table salt!!)

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, or the scrapings of half a vanilla pod


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. (Don't ask me what it is in Celsius or Gas. I've never seen a Celsius stove in my life, and I live in Canada. I think most modern gas stoves have degrees on them, but if yours doesn't, I'm sure there's a way to find out what gas mark 400 degrees Fahrenheit is.)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place your cut pumpkin, skin side down, on top of the parchment on the cookie sheet. Bake (or rather, roast) for at least 30 min, longer if you have a larger pumpkin. The pumpkin is roasted when it starts to smell like Fall in your oven, and when a toothpick goes easily into the pumpkin flesh. Remove from oven and cool until you can handle the pieces without burning yourself.

Scoop the flesh away from the pumpkin and deposit into your food processor. Make sure to obey the fill line on the side. Process away until the pumpkin looks like baby food. You may have to start with pulses if the pieces are too big. But it will work.

Once you've finished turning your pumpkin flesh into mush, discard the skin, and reserve about 2 cups of pumpkin mush. If you have more than 2 cups total (and you will), you can freeze the rest (it lasts forever in the freezer, and it's hellabetter than canned) or you can make more cheesecakes!

So now turn your oven down to 350 degrees F. You don't have to open the door to cool it; the recipe takes long enough to prepare that your oven should cool down to the proper temperature.

Take your 9" springform pan and butter the sides. Even if it's non-stick. But just lightly. Then line it with parchment. You may swear since parchment is cut into rectangular and oblong shapes and springforms are usually round. Use the butter to help hold the parchment to the pan. Trim any extra, and make sure the folds are pressed well into the side of the pan. What? It's not holding? Yeah, it does that. So take a little more butter (just a bit, don't go Paula Deen on the pan or anything) and brush the inside of the parchment, using that to help the parchment stick to the bottom (most important) and sides (not as important, but necessary).

Once you've finished cursing me and the parchment, mix the graham crumbs, and white sugar that were grouped together in the list of ingredients. Use a pastry blender to make sure it's well-mixed. Then add the melted butter and use the pastry blender to make sure the butter is mixed thoroughly. It should look like coarse sand, and should only clump when you pick it up in your hand and clump it together, like sandcastle sand. If it is too wet, the bottom of your cheesecake will be greasy (remember all the butter on the parchment?). Take your graham mixture and dump it into the bottom of the springform. Press it into a flat circle following the pan's shape, making sure that it gets spread right to the edge of the pan (paper). Make it as even as you can while spreading it by patting, not pressing, the crumbs with the palm of your hand. Once it looks like an even circle, put the springform on a cookie sheet (the one from the pumpkin will do, as long as you've cleaned it up) and put it in the oven for about 5 - 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.

After you bake the crust, take your 3 packages of cream cheese and put them in your stand mixer. Mix them on low (no higher than 4) to make sure that they whip nicely. The rubber scraper is your best friend here. Make sure you scrape down the sides AND in between the beater (I use the K beater, but you can use the whisk if you want a whippier cheesecake. The whisk is just a bitch to scrape.). Once the cream cheese is starting to smooth out, add the white sugar, and give a quick turn in the mixer (count to 3). Then add the brown sugar, and mix until the cream cheese is smooth, scraping down the sides all the way to make sure the sugars are being mixed in. You should barely notice the sugar; the cream cheese may look a little tan. Now add your pumpkin puree. Again, mix well on about low - medium low, making sure to keep using that rubber scraper. When the pumpkin is just blended in (so the whole thing isn't quite light orange), add one egg and mix. When that egg is fully mixed in, add the second. When that one is fully mixed, add the third. When that egg is fully mixed in, add the spices. All at once, it's ok. And the salt, too. Mix until you see that the spices are well-incorporated, then add the vanilla. Give your batter a good count-to-7 mix (yes this is how I cook), and then remove from your mixer. Scrape the batter off the beater, too.

Now carefully pour the batter into the springform. If your parchment paper is uneven, and there are parts that did not touch the top of the pan, that's ok, as long as your paper is against the side. If the paper is poking away from the side, try not to fill the cheesecake higher than your shortest area of paper.

Give the pan a little tap and spin (tap it on the cookie sheet while turning it carefully in both hands), and then place it in the centre of the oven. Bake for at least 1 hour, and then check. If the cheesecake comes back nearly clean when a toothpick is inserted (there may be a bit of batter thinly on the sides of the pick), it's done. If it is still thick on the toothpick, leave it for another 15 minutes, and try again until it's done. Then turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake in there to cool.

Once the oven is cooled off, about 40 min, open the oven door slightly, and let the cheesecake cool until it can be taken out without oven mitts. This ensures that your cheesecake will not crack. Unless of course you leave your windows open while you bake, thus cooling off your kitchen and allowing a draft to enter the oven after the 40 minutes of cooling after you've spent all day working on this bloody cheesecake...note to self: never leave the windows open while baking...

Once you take it out of the oven, you can put it in the fridge in the springform, or you can remove the springform sides and the parchment from the sides by carefully peeling it down and cutting as close to the cake as possible, and then cover the cake in plastic wrap before putting it in the fridge. Make sure it stays refrigerated for at least 4 hours.

Well, there it is. Hope it turns out as well for you as it did for me. If you have any questions, or are finding it difficult to wade through the editorial comments, drop me an email or a tweet and I'll happily  help you out.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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