One of the best cheesecakes ever …

Thanksgiving seemed to sneak up on me this year. Not only did I lose most of the past week either tending to or being ill, but I got the designated day wrong — I thought it was on the 29th, but it’s the 22d. That’s this Thursday! (eek)

Well, I did know Thanksgiving was this month, anyway, and coaxed our friend, Brandon, to share his recipe for the fabulous dessert he brought to our Thanksgiving table last year. The photo is actually of his cake before it was set upon after dinner. I’m not a huge dessert eater, and while I like cheesecake, they are generally very dense and I find it hard to eat more than a few nibbles. Not so with this cake. It is light and creamy, and the flavors are nuanced and layered: the pecans in the crust meet the candied pecan topping, the gingersnap crust echos the ginger and spices of the filling, the crunchy crumb crust and candied pecans sandwich the meltingly rich middle. Even after a full Thanksgiving meal, this cheesecake was a welcome touch of sweetness with our post-prandial coffee and digestifs.

Brandon will be literally a world away this Thanksgiving, probably working, but definitely missed in Hawaii. (And, yes, ladies, he not only bakes, he’s single too!) Stay safe, Brandon, and Mahalo for letting me share this recipe.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Candied Pecans

1-1/2 cups/135g gingersnap cookies (about 25 cookies), or Lebkuchen
1/3 /40g cup pecan halves
1/4 cup/50g light brown sugar
4 TBL/58g unsalted butter, melted

Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan.

In a food processor or blender, combine the gingersnaps and pecans, and blend to a fine crumb. Add sugar and butter, and pulse for a few seconds to combine. Transfer to prepared pan. Pat the mixture into the bottom and evenly all the way up the sides of the pan. Refrigerate for 20 minutes, or until firm.

3/4 cup/150g light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
(in the alternative, you can substitute 1-3/4 tsp “pumpkin pie spice” for all these separate spices, the ratio will still be about the same)
1lb/454g cream cheese, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 cup/180g pumpkin puree

Preheat an oven to 350°F.

Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and cloves. Using a large bowl and an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and creamy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the brown sugar mixture, beating until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the pumpkin puree, beating until smooth. Pour into chilled crust and smooth top.

Bake until set or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

1 cup pecan halves
2 TBL. unsalted butter
2 TBL. granulated sugar

Pre-slice cake before garnishing

Set aside 10 pecan halves and coarsely chop the rest. In a small pan set over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add all the nuts, sprinkle with sugar and cook, stirring, until the sugar melts and the nuts are toasted and coated. Transfer the mixture to a plate and cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

Just before serving, slice the cake into 10-12 slices, then scatter the candied nuts over the cheesecake, and arrange the halves evenly around the perimeter. Serve with creme fraiche or lightly sweetened chantilly cream (perhaps laced with bourbon to bring out the pecan flavors).

We’ve entered this post in the Festive Food Fair event hosted by the lovely Anna at Morsels & Musings. This event highlights celebration foods from all traditions, East and West, and around the world. Look for the round-up starting the week of December 10-14th. I can’t wait to see what wonderful stories and recipes are shared!

UPDATE: The Festive Food Fair Round-up has been posted — check it out HERE!