Thanksgiving – That’s What Friends Are For
This cheesecake is Frank’s fault.
Frank – among many other things – is a tennis pro, a talented photographer, a renegade foodie and one of our dearest friends.
We first met Frank after I convinced my husband to take up tennis – a lifelong passion of mine that I wanted us to share. So, he agreed and we headed over to the club to scope out a couple of new racquets and to perhaps schedule a future lesson or two. Well, after only a few minutes chit-chat with the seasoned pro, we were delightfully engaged by Frank’s enthusiasm, not just for the sport, but also his love of nature, his passion for photography and his generous heart. With a lot of hard work and dedication and Frank’s amazing coaching, Adam and I have become excellent tennis players, but, more importantly, during that time of clinics and drills and private lessons, Frank became so much more than a coach, he became our friend.
I think Frank’s greatest gift is that he is a brilliant teacher. Regardless of your playing level, he pushes you to be your best. He’s the kind of teacher whose fire is so contagious, whose genuine excitement at your progress as a student only makes you (sorry, but here comes a little movie cliché) “want to be a better man.” Or athlete. Or, really…just a better person. One time – and I’ll never forget this – during a clinic, a ball fell short inside the service line, I didn’t get to it in time and I became very frustrated. Frank stopped and asked me, “Do you think you could have gotten that ball?” I probably scrunched up my face and shrugged my shoulders as a “no.” He then said the phrase that has now become a mantra for me of sorts. “If you think you can, then you can.”
After playing, we’d all hang around and chew the fat. We’d talk about food – I’d occasionally bring him something that I was testing or that we had shot the day before. But, almost inevitably, the conversations would gravitate towards their common passion of photography and I would lose Adam and Frank to deep discussions about lenses and other camera jargon about which I know absolutely nothing. At this point, we certainly knew that Frank was not only a badass on the courts, but that he was truly a remarkable person. We were about to find out just how remarkable.
When the ice storm of the century hit us hard back in December 2009 (Christmas Day of all days!) and our property was littered with the debris of fallen trees – huge limbs that had snapped like twigs under the weight of their icy coatings – our driveway was impassable. After hearing the news of the widespread devastation in our area, Frank showed up unannounced, chainsaw in hand. He and Adam, along with my dad, brother-in-law and some serious power tools, put in a long and cold day’s work of the daunting proposition that included cutting up over thirty trees of all sizes that had fallen on the roads throughout the property. Such is Frank’s generosity of spirit.
So, the other day, when Frank said, “Hey, Cheryl…Pumpkin Cheesecake,” I knew I had to make it happen. This is the time of year that we all give thanks for the things for which we are grateful. And today, I am grateful that I call Frank my friend.
A gingersnap crust. A spicy pumpkin filling. An easy caramel sauce. All adorned with praline pecans. It’s a decadent alternative to pumpkin pie.
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Salted Caramel and Cinnamon Pecans
- Unsalted butter, for the pan
- For the crust: 2 cups finely ground gingersnap crumbs (see note below)
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- ¼ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
- For the filling: 1-1/2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 4 (8-ounce) boxes cream cheese, room temperature
- 5 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup pumpkin purée (see note below)
- ½ cup sour cream
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- For the caramel sauce: ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Pinch of sea salt
- For the pecans: 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 cup pecan halves
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees; lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan. To make the crust, combine the gingersnap crumbs, butter, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and allspice in a bowl. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Use your fingers to press the mixture into the bottom and about 1 inch up the sides of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Make the filling: In a bowl, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, nutmeg and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl. Add the sugar mixture and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, occasionally scraping down the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the bowl and beater as needed. Beat in the vanilla. With the mixer on low, add the pumpkin, sour cream and cream and thoroughly mix. Pour the filling into the cooled crust, smooth the top and place in the oven. Immediately reduce the oven’s temperature to 225 degrees and bake for 1-1/2 hours. Turn off the oven and open the door. Allow the cheesecake to sit in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool completely at room temperature. Meanwhile, make the sauce and pecans.
- In a saucepan over medium-low, melt the butter with the sugar. Add in the cream and simmer (don’t boil) until it starts to thicken, about 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add in the vanilla and salt. Cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate.
- To make the pecans, melt the butter in a skillet over medium. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon and pecans. Cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar is melted and the pecans are lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Let cool. Reserve some whole pecans for garnish and coarsely chop the remaining pecans.
- Wrap and refrigerate the cheesecake overnight. Remove the cake from the springform pan (run a hot knife around the outside edges, if necessary) and leave the cake on its base. Gently warm the sauce until it’s pourable and pour a layer over the cake (refrigerate any excess for up to a week). Garnish with the pecans and serve.
Planning: The cheesecake can be made 4 days in advance – garnish with the caramel and pecans just before serving. If your cheesecake accidentally cracks, no worries – you can repair it. Cool it completely then dip an offset spatula in hot water. Wipe it off with a kitchen towel and smooth the crack with the knife, gently pushing down to spread and fill in the crack. Repeat as needed.
Product Purity: I grind up gingersnap cookies (made without HFCS) in a food processor to make the crumbs for the crust. Pumpkin is very moist, so I like to drain it on a thick layer of paper towels before proceeding with the recipe.
Presentation: Make sure to reserve a handful of whole pecans for garnish.