My favorite season came, lingered only for a short time and is on its way out as I type. Autumn, oh how I love every single little thing about it. The cold, crisp air, the beautifully rich colors that the trees put on display for the world to see, and of course...the days become shorter, which means less sunlight. I LOVE cloudy, gloomy days. Sometimes I think I was raised on the wrong continent...England seems to suit my likes and dislikes for weather better than any place I've lived in all of my life. But that is a story for another day...
One of the ingredients that pops up MOST in harvest season cooking and baking is pumpkin. The ONE thing I can't seem to get my Mister to fall in love with. I will admit, when I was a child...if it wasn't chocolate, I wasn't interested. But, I had a momma that was SUPER "gung ho" about making sure her children had a diverse palate. Momma succeeded. You can thank her later...
So, I thought of one of my favorite sinful desserts...and how could I make it say "It's autumn up in here!!" quickly...and easily. I had seen a recipe from the Cook's Country folks that was a great start for the pumpkin cheesecake part but...it looked so rich (In fact they called for a cup of cream for the filling...I didn't add it), it needed something acidic with it. That is how the Harvest Cheesecake was born. I know, I know. I JUST posted a cheesecake recipe 2 weeks ago. But c'mon people...a harvest spiced graham cracker crust, a fabulously creamy pumpkin cheesecake center, caramel apple topping, and garnished with some pecan halves... Excuse me while I wipe the drool off of my face. You go ahead and wipes yours too and we'll move on...
Although pumpkin was one of the easiest directions to take this cheesecake, the pumpkin was the most challenging part. Pumpkin is quite watery...water doesn't mix well with cream, in fact not at all. So to get around this I took my 14 ounces of pumpkin and put it in a kitchen towel, twisted, and squeezed. It wrung out the water JUST like it would for grated zucchini or cucumber before making it into cake or tea bread. Pumpkin is so fibrous that it worked like a charm! And I know, I know....my last recipe post was a cheesecake as well. I have one thing to say about that. So what?? Next week is Thanksgiving, you should really have one of these on the table...
9 whole graham crackers
3 T. organic cane sugar
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
6 T. unsalted butter, melted
1 1/3 c. organic cane sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. salt
15 oz can of organic pumpkin puree, NOT pumpkin pie filling
3 oz. pkgs. of full fat cream cheese, room temperature
1 T. vanilla
1 T. lemon juice
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 c. organic cane sugar or brown cane sugar
6 T. unsalted butter
1/4 c. brown rice or corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. heavy cream
3 granny smith apples; peeled, cored, and sliced
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 T. unsalted butter
Cinnamon Whipped Cream
1 1/2 c. whipping cream
3 T. organic powdered confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
dash of salt, optional
pecans for garnish, optional
Before beginning anything else, squeeze the excess water out of your pumpkin so it is ready when YOU are for the filling to be made. Just drape a thin kitchen towel into a small bowl, use a rubber spatula to get all the pumpkin out of the can and onto the towel, then gather it up like a ball in your hand and twist the excess towel around at the top of the ball until little to NO water is dripping out of the bottom of the towel any longer. Plop the pumpkin into a clean dish and set it aside for the filling portion of the show.
For the crust, adjust oven rack to middle of the oven and preheat
oven to 325 F. Spray bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan
evenly with nonstick cooking spray. Pulse crackers, sugar, and spices in
food processor until evenly and finely ground, 30 seconds. Drizzle melted butter into processor while it is on the lowest setting, mix until crumbs are evenly moistened. Turn crumbs into
prepared springform pan and, using your hand, spread crumbs into even layer.
Using something with a flat bottom (like a ramekin or a drinking glass) press crumbs evenly into
pan bottom. Bake for 15
minutes, and then cool on wire rack while you making your filling.
To make the filling, first whisk sugar, spices, and salt in small bowl; set aside. Then, beat cream cheese at medium speed in a stand mixer to break up and soften slightly for 1 minute. Scrape beater and bottom and sides of bowl well with rubber
spatula. Add about one third of sugar mixture and beat at medium-low
speed until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape the bowl and add remaining
sugar in two additions, scraping bowl again after each addition. Add in your drained pumpkin,
vanilla, and lemon juice and beat at medium speed until combined, about
45 seconds and scrape your bowl again. Add 3 of the eggs and beat at medium-low until
incorporated, about 1 minute and scrape the bowl again (this is always important...cream cheese likes to stick to metal and hide). Add remaining 2 eggs and beat
at medium-low until incorporated, about 45 seconds; scrape bowl. Using rubber spatula, scrape bottom and sides of bowl and give final
stir by hand.
Set springform pan with cooled crust on 18-inch-square doubled layer
heavy-duty foil and wrap bottom and sides of the springform pan with foil; set wrapped
springform pan in roasting pan or half sheet sized cake pan. Pour your filling into springform pan and jiggle it a bit to
smooth the surface; set roasting pan in oven and pour enough hot water into the pan
to come about halfway up side of springform pan. This prevents cracking and gives you an even texture throughout the cheesecake.
Bake until center of
cake is slightly wobbly when pan is shaken, about 1 1/2 hours. Set roasting pan on wire rack and use paring knife to loosen cake
from sides of pan. Cool until water is just warm, about 45 minutes.
Remove springform pan from water bath, discard foil, and set on wire
rack; continue to cool until barely warm, about 3 hours.
While this beauty is cooling peel, core, and slice your apples. If you aren't a fan of Granny Smith apples, Pink Lady apples and Jonathan apples are a good fit for these flavors as well. In a medium sized skillet allow the butter to begin to melt. While it is melting toss the apples with the cinnamon in a small bowl and then turn them into the skillet. Fry the apples until the juices have mostly come out and the apples are no longer hard, about 10 minutes. When they are done set them aside to cool.
For the caramel sauce, in a large saucepan melt butter, sugar, syrup, and cream together on medium-high heat. This needs to be stirred constantly and brought to 238-240 degrees. This can take 10 minutes...all of the water content has to boil out of the butter and the cream before it can hit that temperature. Use a candy thermometer to keep track of the heat. Once the sauce hits 238-240 degrees, remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Once the cheesecake has completely cooled, arrange your apples on the top however you'd like to. I sort of fanned mine out into two circles and made what I hoped looked like a little flower in the middle. I suppose if your cheesecake cracks even after all of the precaution taken with the hot water bath...this will help you with your presentation aspect. But...it shouldn't crack. This was a perfect recipe.
After you've arranged your apples, cascade your still slightly warm caramel over the top of the apples. Allowing the caramel to drip down the sides of the cheesecake where it will...don't worry, it just adds character and ooey gooey beautifulness to the final product. You can either arrange a small amount of pecans on the top like I did or you can smash the pecan halves and sprinkle them on top. Either way, you need to do it while the caramel is still warmish so the nuts stick to the caramel.
After you have allowed the whole kit 'n' caboodle to set up and chill in the fridge for 4 hours or more, serve it with fresh whipped cream. I added cinnamon and a dash of salt to the cream before whipping just to give it a little more flair of flavor. Whipped cream is pretty easy to make. Chill your bowl and stand mixer whisk in your freezer for 30 minutes or so. Remove it from the freezer and immediately pour in your cream, cinnamon, sugar, and salt. Start whipping the ingredients at a low to medium speed. Whip for about 1 minute. Then increase the speed to high and whip for another 2-3 minutes. When stiff peaks form stop whipping. Serve a healthy dollop on top of each slice of Harvest Cheesecake.
The very LARGE fly in my ointment on this plan is that once you envelope that apple topped pumpkin cheese cake in the caramel...OOFDAH! Cutting through it can, and most likely WILL turn your cheesecake into a mess. SO!...when you make this...do NOT drizzle the caramel over the top. Wait until just before serving and drizzle the caramel on each individual slice to the amount of the eater's liking. Then slap on your dollop of cinnamon whipped cream. I garnished with just a small dusting of extra cinnamon to help cut through the sweet of the caramel sauce on the top.
The flavors were all there but I am SO picky about presentation that I have to make this one more time so you can see the difference of what happens when you don't pour the caramel sauce on the top until you serve it. It pains me to look at the picture of all of those beautiful apples covered up with a layer of caramel and the clunky way I arranged the pecans on top...it looks so amateurish. There is a better way. The only great news is that, after trying a slice, my Mister and I passed the rest of it along to a very large family to take care of the rest and they quite enjoyed it.
I suppose if presentation is my only problem with this dessert, I can still put it in the "win" column. But, whatever you do..do NOT skip the apples on this dessert. All of that rich and sweet NEEDS some kind of acid. Even if you want to put some sauced cranberries on top instead of apples, it will need something to balance it. Some people do a sour cream layer on top of the pumpkin but, that only breaks up the sweet and ADDS more rich. So really think through whatever you are contemplating, it would be a shame to waste all those ingredients and all of that time in the kitchen. But as always...no matter what, have fun in the kitchen!