Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares with Gingersnap Crust



I would be embarrassed to admit how many of these I have eaten in the past week. Luckily I've lost count. I came up with the idea, as often happens, lying in bed one morning. I wanted to bring something sweet to a birthday party that night, and had considered making a classic pumpkin cheesecake. But on a crisp fall morning, it seemed a shame to stay indoors for too long, messing around with water baths and springform pans, long baking times and longer chilling. So I decided to bake cheesecake squares instead, which would be quicker and easier, and more cocktail party appropriate, being finger food.

I wanted the robust, fall-friendly flavors of a gingersnap crust, but didn't want to deal with baking my own snaps, letting them cool, pulsing them in a food processor, mixing them with melted butter, and rebaking them into a crust. (Though doing this does produce the best crust...) And I would sooner die than buy packaged cookies. So I took a cue from Martha Stewart, who, for her New York cheesecake recipe, has you make a chocolate cookie dough which you press right into the pan to bake. I used Elizabeth Falkner's "Sammysnaps" recipe, which she cuts into dachshunds in honor of a friend's hound, and based the filling on Cook's Illustrated's pumpkin cheesecake. I guessed at the quantities I would need for a 9x12" pan and set to work.

The cookie dough recipe was too large by almost double, the cheesecake filling would have overflowed the pan had I added it all, leaving no room for the abundance of sour cream topping. So I lined a second pan with the gingersnap dough and used the excesses to make two pans full.



At the party, my bars got eclipsed by a (heavenly) pecan pie brought by another talented baker, and Jay and I were stuck (alas and alack!) with a plethora of cheesecake squares. Regardless of how hard we tried get rid of them, we kept finding ourselves in the kitchen with our fingers in the pan and crumbs round the lips. Luckily, these bars work equally well as breakfast, a mid-day snack or a satisfying dessert, as we can now attest.

I (very sacrificially) made the recipe a second time, tweaking the amounts to arrive at one panful of cheesecake squares. And then, you know, that pan needed to be eaten as well, and cheesecake squares are rather hard to give away, being delicate and needing refrigeration and all. So I may be done with pumpkin cheesecake squares with gingersnap crusts for a little while, like at least a week or so. But I hope you'll give them a try.



These squares would be equally at home in a lunch box, on a buffet at a cocktail party, or sliced into triangles and served with a dollop of whipped cream, a drizzle of whiskey caramel sauce and some toasted pecans for an elegant plated dessert. Try adding some finely grated fresh ginger to the filling and top each square with a sliver of candied ginger for an extra gingery variation.




A word about squashes: the first time I made these, I had some very dense-fleshed 'gold-nugget' squash puree left over from these pumpkin cheesecake muffins. The cheesecake filling came out very firm and a brilliant orange, as you can see in the photos. This last time I used a butternut, and the filling turned out wetter and less firm, less orange. So if you're going the roast-your-own squash route, I recommend a dense-fleshed variety such as gold nugget, red kuri, hokkaido or kabocha for the tastiest and most photogenic results. To roast your squash, cut it in half longways, place it cut side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet and stick it in a 375º oven for about an hour, or until soft and collapsed in places. Let it cool, scoop out the seeds and strings and discard them, then scoop the flesh into a food processor, discarding the skin. Blend until smooth. If your puree is watery, put it in a fine-mesh sieve for an hour or so.



Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares


Makes 1 9x12" pan, or 24 2" bars

Time: about 2 hours, plus 2 hours to chill

Gingersnap Crust

This recipe calls for half an egg. Odd, yes, so if you fancy, make a double batch of the dough and set half of it aside to roll out and cut into gingersnaps. Or just have half an egg lying around to add to a scramble or brush on a set of buns. To measure half an egg, break the egg into a bowl and beat well to combine. Measure out 2 tablespoons.

I've written this recipe to be as quick and easy as possible. For an extra-delicious crust, don't spread the cookie dough directly into the pan; instead, wrap it and chill until firm, about 1 hour. Roll out to 1/8" thick, and cut into 2" squares. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan, spaced 1" apart, and bake for about 20 minutes, until firm and slightly darkened around the edges. Let cool completely, then grind finely in a food processor. Toss the cookie crumbs with two or three tablespoons of melted butter until they clump together, then press them evenly into the pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes until toasty, let it cool slightly, then proceed with the recipe.

3 oz. (6 tablespoons or 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened but cool
1/3 cup (2 1/4 oz.) sugar
2 tablespoons molasses (unsulphured blackstrap)
1/2 egg (about 2 tablespoons)
5 1/2 oz. (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice

Preheat the oven to 350º. Place a rack in the lowest position. Grease a 9x12" (1/4 sheet) pan.

Cream together the butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle until light and fluffy. Add the molasses, then the egg, beating to combine after each. Sift together the dries, then add to the butter mixture and beat on low until just combined.

Using an offset spatula or moistened fingers, press and spread the dough into the prepared pan, making it as flat and smooth as possible. (Hint: if you scrape the bowl well enough, you can reuse it for the pumpkin filling.) Place in the oven on the lowest rack, and bake for about 20 minutes, until firm. Remove and set aside. Turn the oven down to 325º.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling

To ensure smooth cheesecake, have all your ingredients at room temperature. Be patient while mixing the batter, and don't skimp on scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle. Keep the mixer on medium-low; anything higher will incorporate too much air into the batter, resulting in unsightly bubbles in the finished product. I can think of nothing more embarrassing.

12 oz. (about 1 1/2 cups) winter squash puree or canned pumpkin
12 oz. cream cheese
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (6 1/2 oz.)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon each cloves and allspice
3 eggs
3 tablespoons heavy cream or sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon whiskey or brandy

Line a large plate with a triple layer of paper towels and spread the squash puree evenly over. Place another triple layer on top (I don't hate trees, I swear!) and top with another large plate. This will press out excess moisture and prevent a watery cheesecake. Get on with the rest of the cheesecake. When you're ready to add the squash, remove the top plate, peel off the top layer of towels, grasp the bottom layer and flip the squash onto the plate. You should have 10 or 11 oz. of puree.

Beat together the cream cheese and sugar on low in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until very smooth and well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle. Add the salt, spices and squash puree and beat until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined and scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle between eggs. Beat in the cream, vanilla and booze until combined, scraping the paddle and bowl to incorporate thoroughly.

Spread the puree onto the baked gingersnap crust. Place in the 325º oven on the lower rack. Bake 25-35 minutes until the sides are just barely starting to puff up a bit. The center should wiggle like jello when you jostle it, but should not seem liquidy. Remove and let cool 10 minutes.

Sour Cream Topping

12 oz. sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt

Beat all together to combine. You can use a bowl and spoon for this. Gently drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto the outer edge of the cheesecake, then use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to carefully spread the mixture to evenly coat the cheesecake. Return to the oven for 5 minutes until set. Remove.

Let the cheesecake cool to room temp, about 1 hour, then chill for at least 2. Using a sharp knife dipped into hot water and dried between each cut, slice in the pan into squares (6 the long way by 4 the short way, or whatever size you like).

6 comments:

  1. Love to see that you're blogging. Everything is so beautiful and sounds soooo yummy. Sadly, I can't eat any of it!

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  2. : ( That is sad, but hopefully you're the better for it! Thanks for the kudos; your blog is beautiful, too!

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  3. This comment is very late, but I just wanted to say that I made these last year for a Thanksgiving office potluck. Everyone asked for the recipe (so I sent them all here) and I have been instructed to always bring these in the future, so I'll be making them again this weekend. Thanks for the fabulous recipe!!!

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  4. Thanks for the fabulous comment! So glad the bars are being enjoyed. : )

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  5. Made these last year, making them again this year! I've been substituting gluten-free gingersnap cookies for the crust instead of making it from scratch to make it a little easier for me on Thanksgiving. Thanks for the recipe!

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Nice comments make me warm and fuzzy!