Fluffy, creamy pumpkin cheesecake made with pumpkin puree, pumpkin spice, brown sugar and a little bit of brown butter for extra flavor. This recipe is fairly straightforward and will use a cake pan water bath to ensure that the cheesecake custard bakes slow so the result will have a rich, smooth custard-like texture.
A pumpkin cheesecake is always a fine fall twist on the classic vanilla, but instead of just adding pumpkin puree and spice to the mix, I went a little further with brown sugar and brown butter. The base of this recipe comes from my beloved brown butter cheesecake recipe (the most popular cheesecake on the site!)
One note: the brown butter flavor isn’t as prominent here as it is in my brown butter cheesecake for a few reasons. We aren’t using as much of it (we’ve already added a heap of pumpkin puree so I needed to balance the liquids) and the pumpkin spice really takes over… which I think is a good thing because it is a pumpkin spice cheesecake! The brown butter is subtle but it adds to the depth of flavor, and it also contributes to a lovely smooth texture.
Cookie crumbs: Digestive cookies (found in the international aisle at the grocery store, specifically with the ‘english’ products) or you can use graham crackers. I think ginger snaps could work great too but if they are extra buttery you might want to reduce the butter added.
Butter: Unsalted, cold is fine. If you only have salted or just like using it go for it, just reduce the added fine sea salt in the total recipe.
Sugar: Brown sugar, light or dark, goes into the cheesecake filling. For the caramel we’ll be using fine granulated.
Pumpkin puree: Canned. I use libby’s because it’s less watery than other brands.
Cream cheese: It’s SUPER important the cream cheese is at room temperature, take out the bricks a couple of hours before you are set to begin. If you forget and need to speed up the warming process, set them in a warm spot.
Eggs: Two large eggs. Set them in a bowl of warm water before you begin making the cheesecake so they can come to room temperature.
Sour cream: Full fat. If you can, bring this to room temperature before starting as well (30 minutes at room temp should do it.
Heavy cream: this is for the caramel, you only need two tablespoons. Heavy whipping cream works too (anything with less fat like half & half, won’t work).
Pecans: for the caramel. Toast them beforehand so they are fragrant and crispy (5 minutes if they are already roasted, 10 minutes if they are raw) and let them cool before adding to the caramel.
Grind the cookies and combine with the melted butter, the mix should resemble wet sand:
Prep the pan by greasing it then laying a sheet of parchment paper over it and pressing it into the bottom.
Press the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides, I start with about 2/3 of the crumbs on the bottom and then use the rest to make the sides. A measuring cup helps pack it into an even layer.
Pre-bake the crust: just for 10 minutes. This helps ‘set’ the crust so that it won’t crumble when you slice it.
Start making the filling: cook the butter in a small skillet until it browns. The milk solids will separate and turn a medium brown color. Immediately remove from the pan and set aside (if you leave it in the pan it will continue to cook and then burn).
I usually start making the filling by pressing down on the cream cheese with a spatula to smooth it out and start the process of removing lumps. Then add the flavorings.
With the paddle attachment, beat the mix for a couple of minutes until it’s combined well. Scrape down the bowl as necessary and beat again until it’s creamy.
Add the sour cream and pumpkin puree and beat to combine (again, scrape the bowl as needed):
With the mixer on, add the eggs. If you’d like to sieve your batter to remove any pesky cream cheese lumps, wait to add the brown butter until after (that way you aren’t sieving out the brown butter bits!) if you don’t want to sieve it, you can add it now. Stop as soon as the batter is combined so as not to overwhip. Pour into the baked crust.
Set the pan in a larger cake pan and fill halfway with water.
Bake until the cheesecake is matter all over on top and it has a slight jiggle in the center:
Make the caramel: I have more details on this salted caramel page and a slower video but essentially you’ll use the dry method to melt and caramelize the sugar. Once the sugar has fully melted and caramelized it’ll be a medium amber color, after it smokes for a few seconds you can add the heavy cream and butter. Off the heat add the salt and vanilla.
Wait until cool, then add the pecans: if you add the pecans while the caramel is still hot you risk them turning gummy rather than crispy. Once the caramel is at room temperature you can add the pecans.
Smooth over the cooled cheesecake: the cheesecake should be fully chilled before you add the caramel, and the caramel should be at room temperature that way it’s not hot enough to harm the cheesecake but also not cool enough to be too solid to spread.
I totally get that water baths are annoying, especially if you are using a springform pan! However, the difference in how a cheesecake bakes in and outside of a water bath is so distinct: without a water bath the cheesecake will be warmed by the heat of the pan and air around it, it heats up quickly and you are at a greater risk for a crack in the center, for an overcooked or gummy texture.
This is mostly to do with how the eggs will bake in the cheesecake. Having the pan surrounded by water means that the custard will bake slowly; it’ll be the heat of the water that warms and bakes the filling. This will give you an ultra-creamy texture, save you from cracks or overbaking.
You have two options but one comes with a caution: either use an 8 or 9 inch cake pan that’s at least 2.5 inches tall (mine eight inch pan is 3 inches tall) or a springform pan. If you’re using the springform, wrap it very, very well with aluminum foil – if water gets into the pan it’ll ruin the cheesecake.
You’ll note different photos in this blogpost: some showing a classic round pumpkin cheesecake and some showing some cheesecake bars. This recipe can be baked in a cake pan (or springform) or in a square 8” cake pan. Bake time will be about the same, but only stop cooking it once you note the top is matter and there’s a jiggle only in the center.
In an airtight container in the fridge the cheesecake will keep for a few days. You can freeze it for longer storage. This can be made 2 days before serving (even with the caramel!), just keep it chilled. I’d take it out of the fridge ten minutes or so before serving so the caramel will soften a bit.
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