Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake with Cajeta

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday of the whole year—being given time off from work to spend time with friends and family, enjoy an amazing feast, and not have to deal with the commercialization of the holiday and expectations of gift-giving (besides for Tom Turkey who always left us a gift of a book at the dinner table so that we had something to read on our days off from school).

This year I headed over to my neighbors Bridget & Adam’s for Thanksgiving and was pleasantly surprised that, because Fairbanks is one of the towns where social circles loop back on themselves, I also got to shared the holiday with my friends Shannon and Colleen who I’ve know since my JV year when I first moved in Fairbanks in 1998.  I also meet some new folks as well.  The interesting thing is that the first pumpkin cheesecake I had was two years ago at Shannon and Colleen's house around Christmas time-- this had inspired me to make a pumpkin cheesecake last year for Thanksgiving.  As I was making the cheesecake, my friend Tom, an ex-pat living in Italy at the time and therefore hours ahead of me into the Thanksgiving holiday, posted about the bourbon pumpkin cheesecake he had made.  Feel like my plain, old pumpkin cheesecake was not longer adequate, I asked him for his recipe. While last year's pumpkin cheesecake was a hit, this year I decided to step it up a notch and use Tom's recipe.

The only alternation I had to make was use gluten-free gingersnaps for the crust.  Luckily gluten-free gingersnaps are easy to find in Fairbanks.

Another option would be to leave out the gingersnaps all together and make just a pecan crust.

The main difference I found in this recipe is that it took a lot longer to cook than indicated-- my cheesecake was in the oven an extra 35 minutes or so.  Another note on baking this cheesecake, make sure to put a cookie sheet under the springform pan since the butter in the crust will melt out and drip down, creating a smokey mess as it burn on the oven's heating element (and could cause a grease fire!)

Tom’s Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake

For crust

1 cup gingersnaps
1/2 cup pecans (1 3/4 ounces), finely chopped
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled (as necessary --I often need more for it to come together)

For filling
1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
3 large eggs
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

For topping

2 cups sour cream (20 ounces)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon (optional)
Garnish: pecan halves


Make crust:
Invert bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (to create flat bottom, which will make it easier to remove cake from pan), then lock on side and butter pan.

Stir together crumbs, pecans, sugars, and butter in a bowl until combined well. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1/2 inch up side of pan, then chill crust, 1 hour.

Make filling and bake cheesecake:

Put oven rack in middle position and Preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and bourbon in a bowl until combined.

Stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt in large bowl. Add cream cheese and beat with an electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, then add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth.

Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, then put springform pan in a shallow baking pan (in case springform leaks--it will). Bake until center is just set, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool 5 minutes. (Leave oven on.)

Make topping:
Whisk together sour cream, sugar, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl, then spread on top of cheesecake and bake 5 minutes.

Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours.

Chill, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Remove side of pan and bring to room temperature before serving.

In order to make this a Thanksgiving cheesecake, I wanted to decorate it with a turkey.  I've tried decorating a cheesecake before with frosting, but the thin layer of moisture on top makes the frost go all wonky, so I thought I'd try cajeta instead.  This summer when I was down in Homer staying with my friend Sarah, she taught me how easy it is to make as long as you can patiently stir  it for an hour so it doesn't burn.

Cajeta: goat milk caramel

2 L goat milk
2 C sugar
vanilla bean (or tsp of Mexican vanilla)
1/2 tsp baking soda

Mix the milk and sugar in a pan on the stove over medium heat.  Stir until simmer, but be careful not to burn the milk. When it begins bubbling, take it off heat and add the baking soda.  When it stops bubbling, return to heat and  adjusting the temperature to keep it at just a simmer.  Keep stirring for about an hour or little more.  When sauce reaches golden brown and it forms a soft ball when dropped in cold water, remove it from the heat.  If using vanilla bean then cut open and scrape seeds and stir into sauce or add the Mexican vanilla extract.  Add a dash of cinnamon.  Pour into a glass jar and store in the refrigerate after it has cooled.    

Drawing the turkey with the cajeta and then embellishing with pecans and chocolate covered sunflower seeds worked alright for the turkey, but if I was going to do it again, I would add the turkey just before serving since he ended up looking a little warped after sitting in the refrigerator for a number of hours.  But it tasted pretty darn good in the end which was really the most important thing.   

Getting started…

I love food.  I love to cook. I love to bake.  Beyond the sheer corporeal enjoyment of eating good food, there’s the creative process of concocting a dish and attending to the aesthetic details of it. Baking is therapeutic.  Sophomore year of college I took organic chemistry which was a notorious class amongst the biology majors.  Studying for the exams usually just stressed me out and left me more confused on all the different rules and hierarchies that determined which chemical reactions will take place, so my ritual the night before all the exams was to look over my notes and then bake a batch of oatmeal cookies.  Somehow I managed to pull a B- both semesters.
I also love how food is such a social focal point—when I have parties, people always congregate around the food—and how sharing food can create intimacy.  Some of the best nights with friends include gathering around a kitchen and preparing a meal.  I’ve had friends from different parts of the world who have shared their culture with me by teaching me how to make certain dishes.  Food makes great gifts—a homemade cake to celebrate a friend’s birthday… or as a thank you… or just to break up the monotony of the week…
A little over two years I discovered that gluten, a protein present in wheat, barely, and rye, was the source of the increasing achiness in my hands.  When I indulge in bread or glutenous goodies, I feel it in my joints—especially during the colder month (which there are quite a few here in Fairbanks).  And so I had to change what I could eat, what I could cook, and what I could bake.  Initially I thought I would elaborately alter the way that I cooked, but quickly realized that it was much more feasible to make easy changes and to focus on recipes that were naturally gluten-free or could have gluten-free ingredients swapped in.  While I love that scene from ‘Stranger than Fiction’ when Will Ferrell’s character presents Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character with a box of different types of flours (instead of flowers), I don’t have the pantry space to keep an extensive library of flours and odd ingredients.
With the increasing awareness of gluten and some people’s sensitivity to it, I get lots of requests from friends for gluten-free recipes.  I’m also fortunate to have recipes shared with me.  So, I’ve decided to start this blog as an easy way to share recipes and inspire myself to test out new ones.