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~ Oh My Cup of Tea: Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares~

IMG_7545I love cheesecake -- on many levels, it's my ultimate-indulgence dessert.  For me, a slice of cheesecake is a celebration on a plate.  Ponder that last statement for one moment.  Now: Would you rather celebrate your birthday with a candle in a slice of real-deal cheesecake, or, no matter how moist and decadent, a piece of cake or a cupcake?  You've guessed my answer.  I'm guessing I'm not standing anywhere close to alone.  I hear a resounding cry for "cheesecake"!

7a75ba5e054018efd64a5f44fa32ce5dA bit about cheesecake:  Cheesecake, a sweet dish of one more layers, is a beloved dessert around the world.  A lot of Americans are under the impression it was was invented in New York City, but, it actually dates back over 4,000 years to ancient Greece. The Greeks believed it to be a nutritional source of energy and it's said that cheesecake was served to athletes at the first Olympic Games in 776 B.C.   They also served cheesecake at important or festive gatherings, and, Greek brides and grooms also served cheesecake at wedding celebrations.  

The original Greek cheesecake, which was quite firm, contained flour, wheat, honey and a tangy cheese, which got pounded to a paste and baked in a brass pan.  When the Romans conquered Greece, cheesecake was a spoil of war, and they are the ones who added eggs, to make a softer version, which was occasionally baked in a pastry under a hot brick and served warm.  As the Roman Empire expanded, cheesecake got introduced to the rest of Europe.  By the 18th century, cheesecake began to look slightly more like what we currently eat, and, we can thank our immigrant European ancestors for bringing their ethnic recipes along with them.  Then:

A little invention called cream cheese changed the cheesecake world.

IMG_3439In 1872, William Lawrence, a NY dairyman, created the first American cream cheese in a failed attempt to reproduce Neufchatel.  He made the cheese in the same manner as Neufchatel, with cream added to the milk mixture. He named his company Empire Cheese, but named his product Philadelphia Cream Cheese, because he sent it to Philadelphia for packaging and shipment to his buyers.  In 1903, Phoenix Cheese of NY bought Empire Cheese along with the "Philadelphia" trademark for it. Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese was bought by Kraft in 1928. James L. Kraft invented pasteurized cheese in 1912, and: Pasteurized Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese was born!

Yes, you can substitute our American-style Neufchatel cheese for American brands of cream cheese in all cheesecake recipes, and, to learn more about this, click on the Related Article link below and read my post ~ Neufchatel vs Cream Cheese:  Are they the same? ~.

The rest is American cheesecake-style history!

All over the world, each country has its own cheesecake style.  The Italians use ricotta to make theirs and the Greeks use mizithra or feta.  Germans use quark, which is similar to cottage cheese, while the Japanese use a combination of egg white and cornstarch.  Depending upon "which immigrants settled where" in the USA, our country has several cheesecake styles: New York-, Pennsylvania Deutsch-, Philadelphia-, Chicago- and Country-style are the most well known.   Some are dense and heavy, some are light and creamy.  Most are made with some sort of a bottom pastry crust or a sponge-cake layer, others are made with a crunchy graham cracker or cookie crust (like vanilla or chocolate wafers).  All are delicious and none are particularly hard to make.  I'm sharing my Thanksgiving-style cheesecake with you today.  Gobble, gobble!

IMG_7571Part One:  Making the Gingersnap Crust

IMG_73308  ounces gingersnap cookies, processed to crumbs (1 1/2 cups crumbs after processing)

3  ounces salted butter, melted and slightly cooled (3/4 stick)

IMG_7336Step 1.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, process gingersnaps to crumbs, 40-45 rapid on-off pulses followed by 10-15 seconds of processing.

IMG_7343 IMG_7342Step 2. With motor running, in a thin stream, add butter through feed tube and continue to process until crumbs are coated in butter, about 15 seconds.

IMG_7348Step 3. Using a large rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the processor bowl with a large rubber spatula and transfer IMG_7350 IMG_7353the crumbs to a 9" x 9" x 3"-square cheesecake pan with a removable bottom that has been lined with a square of parchment paper.  Using your fingertips and/or a tablespoon,  evenly distribute the crumbs across the bottom of the pan.

IMG_7356~ Step 4.  Using a heavy, flat-sided meat pounder (or the flat bottom of a measuring cup), gently tamp the crumbs into the bottom of the pan.  

IMG_7361Use the fingertip of your index finger to make sure they are tamped down around the edges and into the corners.  Check to be sure the crust isn't too thick or IMG_7363too thin in any spots.  

~ Step 5.  Bake crust on center rack of preheated 325 degree oven for about 7-8 minutes, or, until almost firm to the touch and fragrant.

Remove from oven and place on a rack to cool to room temperature about 45-60 minutes.  Crust can be prepared one day in advance.

Lower the oven temperature to 275 degrees.

Part Two:  Preparing the Two-Layer Cheesecake Center

IMG_7370For the basic cheesecake filling (yields 5 cups total throughout recipe):

2  pounds cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1  cup sugar

4  large eggs at room temperature

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

For the pumpkin mixture, for the top layer (yields 1 cup):

1  cup 100% pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling

1  teaspoon cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon ground ginger

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

IMG_7372 IMG_7373~ Step 1.  In a small bowl combine the pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Set aside. Note:  In this recipe, 5 cups of cheesecake filling will be prepared and 3 cups will be used to form bottom layer.  The pumpkin mixture will be added to the remaining 2 cups to form the top layer.

IMG_7377 IMG_7381Step 2.  In a large bowl, place the cream cheese and the vanilla extract, then, on low speed of mixer, thoroughly combine.  Add the sugar and once it is incorporated, increase the mixer speed to medium.  When the sugar is incorporated:

IMG_7392 IMG_7385Begin beating in the eggs, one at a time.  

IMG_7389When all of the eggs are added, increase mixer speed to high and continue to beat for about 1 minute, until filling is ultra-smooth.

IMG_7406~ Step 3.  Using a 1-cup measure, remove and transfer 3 cups of the cheesecake filling to the prepared pan, placing it on top of the cooled gingersnap crust.  

Using a tablespoon and a light touch, gently and carefully spread the filling evenly across the top of the crust, then, holding the pan firmly on the countertop, give the pan a couple of back-and-forth shakes to level the mixture out.

IMG_7397 IMG_7402~ Step 4.  Add the pumpkin mixture to the 2 cups of remaining cheesecake filling in the large bowl. On lowest speed of mixer, fold the pumpkin into the cheesecake filling, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula until:

IMG_7414The mixture is uniform in color.

IMG_7410~ Step 5. Using a tablespoon dollop spoonfuls of pumpkin-cheesecake mixture over top of cheesecake filling.  When all the pumpkin mix is in pan, using the tablespoon and a super-light touch, "connect the dots" to evenly spread the mixture over the surface.

Note:  DO NOT pour the pumpkin-cheescake filling onto the top of the cheesecake filling. 

IMG_7420~ Step 6.  Bake cheesecake on center rack of 275 degree oven for 45-50 minutes -- surface will look dry and center will not look done (it will be "jiggly").  Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.

IMG_7424~ Step 7. Insert the tip of a paring knife to a depth of 1/4" and run it around all 4 sides of pan. 

This will help to prevent cracking as the cheesecake cools.  Allow to cool to room temperature, 3-3 1/2 hours prior to covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating for 6-8 hours or overnight.

Part Three:  Making the Caramel-Pecan Topping

IMG_74256  tablespoons salted butter

6  tablespoons firmly-packed dark brown sugar

6  tablespoons heavy or whipping cream

1  generous cup chopped and lightly-toasted pecans (about 1 1/4 cups)

IMG_7428~ Step 1. Chop pecans, placing them in a single layer in a small, shallow baking pan (for small quantities of nuts, I use a pan that will fit in my toaster oven).  Roast on center rack of 350 degree oven, until lightly-toasted and fragrant, 5-6 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool about 10-15 minutes.

IMG_7433 IMG_7435 IMG_7438 IMG_7439~Step 2.  In a 2-quart saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Stir in the brown sugar and keep stirring until sugar is dissolved, and mixture is simmering, about 45-60 seconds.  Add the cream. Increase heat to medium and bring to a boil.  Add the toasted pecans and stir until evenly-coated.  Remove saucepan from heat.  Allow mixture to cool and thicken at bit, 15-20 minutes.  

IMG_7451 IMG_7441~ Step 3. Remove cheesecake from refrigerator. Spoon the topping onto the center of the cold cake, then, using the spoon, gently and carefully spread it to within 1/4" of edges.  Return the cheesecake, uncovered, to the refrigerator until topping firms up, 2-4 hours.

IMG_7473~ Step 4.  Remove  cheesecake from refrigerator.  Run a paring knife around the insides of the pan, then, by pushing up on the removable bottom, lift the cheesecake up and out.  Slice into 16, 2 1/4" squares and serve chilled or at room temperature.  Note:  For clean slices, wipe the knife with a wet cloth between each cut.  Cover and store leftovers in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

Everyone smile for the camera and say, "Cheesecake"!!!

IMG_7477Sliced chilled & served at room temperature...

IMG_7573... this gorgeous glamour-girl dessert is one guys can't resist!

IMG_7558Oh My Cup of Tea:  Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares:  Recipe yields 16, 2 1/4" squares of cheesecake.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; 1-cup measuring container; 9" x 9" x 3" square cheesecake pan; parchment paper; large rubber spatula; hand-held electric mixer; cooling rack; sharp paring knife; plastic wrap; cutting board; small, shallow baking pan; 2-quart saucepan

IMG_6433Cook's Note:  November is indeed the month to celebrate the flavor of pumpkin spice.  Another one of my favorite recipes of the season,   ~ Pumpkin Cookies w/Cream Cheese Frosting ~ can be found in Categories 7 or 18! 

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)


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