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Eric Akis: Pumpkin cheesecake a Thanksgiving crowd-pleaser

If you need a splendid dessert for Thanksgiving or other autumn occasion pumpkin cheesecake is crowd-pleasing option.
Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and clove spice up this pumpkin-rich cheesecake. Eric Akis

If you need a splendid dessert for Thanksgiving or other autumn occasion pumpkin cheesecake is crowd-pleasing option. I know because after baking one and sharing it with friends and family the other day their response was could they have a second slice.

That cheesecake was a heavenly-spiced one flavoured with a generous amount of ground cinnamon, and also some ground nutmeg, clove and ginger. Those spices warm and delight your palate, and the cake’s creamy texture, comforting earthy pumpkin taste and an eye-appealing look once plated further adds to its appeal, especially when topped with whipped cream and candied walnuts.

You can bake the cake up to two days before serving. Once cooled to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until needed. When you make the cake, it’s important that the cream cheese is softened many hours at room temperature. If it is still cold and firm it won’t blend smoothly with the other ingredients. Other tips, such as preventing the top of the cake from cracking during and after baking, are included in the recipe.

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake

Rich and creamy cheesecake is seasonally flavoured with pumpkin and spice.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 75 to 80 minutes

Makes: 12 servings

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/3 cup butter, melted

1 cup + 3 Tbsp granulated sugar (divided)

3 (250 gram) bricks firm cream cheese, at room temperature

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can pumpkin

2 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 tsp ground cinnamon, plus some for sprinkling

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground ginger

• whipped cream, to taste

• candied walnuts (see recipe below)

• small rosemary sprigs or mint sprigs, for garnish (optional)

Set out a nine-inch springform cake pan. Place graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and 3 Tbsp granulated sugar in a bowl, mix to combine, and then spoon into the cake pan. Pack crumb mixture into the bottom and partially up the sides of the pan.

Place one oven rack in the lower part the oven, and another in the middle position. Place a shallow pan with one-inch or so of water in it on the bottom rack (the steam rising from it will help prevent the cheesecake from cracking as it bakes). Preheat oven to 300 F.

Place cream cheese in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low speed until very smooth. Gradually beat in the sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add the pumpkin, cornstarch, vanilla, 2 tsp cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger and mix until well combined.

Pour batter into the pan, using a spatula to ensure you get all of it. Set the cake on the rack above the water and bake 75 to 80 minutes, or until the centre of the cake barely jiggles when the pan is gently tapped.

Set cake on a baking rack, and then run the tip of a sharp, thin paring knife around the edges of the cake to a depth of one-inch. (This should also help prevent the cake from cracking as it cools and contracts.) Cool the cake to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate in the pan for at least three hours.

When ready to serve the cake, dip your sharp thin paring knife into very hot water and then wipe dry. Now carefully run the paring knife completely around the outer edges of the pan to loosen the cake from the sides. Remove the cake pan’s outer ring. Slice wedges of the cake, plate them, and then top each serving with a dollop of whipped cream, some candied walnuts, a sprinkle of cinnamon and a small rosemary (or mint) sprig, if using.

Candied Walnuts

This recipe yields enough candied walnuts to put a tablespoon or so of them on each serving of cheesecake. If you would like more than that, double the recipe and cook the walnuts in a larger skillet.

Preparation time: minutes

Cooking time: a few minutes

Makes: one cup

1 cup (100 grams) walnut pieces

1/4 cup icing sugar

1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp water

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the walnuts, icing sugar, butter and water in a nine-inch skillet. Set over medium heat and cook and stir walnuts until the sugar melts, the water evaporates, and the walnuts are lightly toasted and coated with the melted sugar. Spread walnuts out in a single layer on the parchment paper and cool to temperature. The walnuts can be made many hours in before needed.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.