By Susan Jenkins
Every Thanksgiving, my family traveled to my grandparents’ small farm in Sonoma County. Even as a child, I found it ironic that my grandfather, a preacher in a strict sect that forbade drinking and dancing, lived surrounded by wineries.
But that didn’t mean my grandparents objected to fun. After the huge Thanksgiving meal—at my grandfather’s command, the blessing commenced precisely at noon—my 21 cousins and I noisily raced through the four-acre spread, playing tag, hide-and-seek and red-light, green-light.
Then, at around four o’clock, came the pies: Pumpkin, naturally, but also apple, mincemeat, pecan, blueberry and lemon meringue. The pies weren’t just served; they were formally proffered in our official pie parade, which included marching and singing to accompaniment on my grandmother’s old upright piano.
In my teens, I decided to try something new and rebellious (at least for the daughter and granddaughter of Nazarene ministers). I named it Pumpkin Cheesecake. It was richly spiced with aromatic ginger and nutmeg, garnished with chopped pecans and topped with whipped cream and homemade caramel sauce.
Pie time arrived, and I nervously extracted a slice for my mother. She lifted a forkful to her mouth. I waited. She chewed. Then she nodded and smiled. And I still bake Pumpkin Cheesecake every year.
Baked Pumpkin Cheesecake
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
16 oz. cream cheese (typically 2 packages)
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
1-1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (as an alternative,
I use grated whole nutmeg)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Salted Caramel Sauce:
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons butter, cubed
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon almond extract
- For the crust, combine graham cracker crumbs and sugar in a small bowl. Stir in melted butter. Press into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Place in refrigerator to chill.
- For the filling, beat cream cheese and sugar until the mixture is smooth. Add eggs, beating on low heat just until everything is blended. Stir in pumpkin, spices and salt.
- Pour filling into crust. Place springform pan onto a baking sheet or roasting pan. Pour water onto the sheet or into the pan to create a bath. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 minutes.
- For the topping, combine sour cream, sugar and vanilla until they’re smooth. After the initial baking, spread the topping over the filling and return the dessert to the oven for 5 more minutes at 350 degrees. Cool the cheesecake on a rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake to loosen it, then cool it at room temperature for another hour. Refrigerate overnight.
- Remove ring from pan. Drizzle the cheesecake with salted caramel sauce and add a dollop of whipped cream.
Salted Caramel Sauce
Spread the sugar in a large, heavy saucepan. Cook without stirring over medium-low heat until the sugar begins to melt. Gently drag the melted sugar to the center of the pan so that the sugar melts evenly. Cook without stirring for 5 to 10 minutes, until the melted sugar turns a medium-dark amber color. Immediately remove the sugar from the heat, then slowly stir in cream, butter, almond extract and salt.