With a tangy, rich flavor and velvety consistency, cheesecake's characteristic qualities make it well-suited to variation: Lemon cheesecake, chocolate cheesecake and berry cheesecake are all common. But our favorite variation might just be pumpkin cheesecake.
We love the way the tangy cream cheese offsets the warm-spiced pumpkin, and we set out to create a streamlined version in the form of a pumpkin cheesecake bar.
To avoid a soggy, heavy bar, we knew the key would be to remove excess moisture from the canned pumpkin, so we cooked the puree on the stovetop to reduce it. This step also concentrated its flavor and enhanced its sweetness so it wasn't overshadowed by the cream cheese.
Adding pumpkin pie spice to the puree as it cooked allowed its flavor to bloom. We thought a gingersnap crust would be a fitting match for the pumpkin filling; but while the flavor of the crust was great, we found that the crushed gingersnaps baked up unappealingly hard.
To get the flavor of gingersnaps without the tooth-breaking snap, we used the traditional graham crackers and simply added ground ginger to the crackers to spice them up.
PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE BARS
Start to finish: 3 hours
1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
15 whole graham crackers, broken into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) plus 1 1/3 cups (9 1/3 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
8 tablespoons butter, melted
1 pound cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
Cook pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, and salt in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, 6 to 8 minutes. Let pumpkin mixture cool for 1 hour.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 F. Make foil sling for 13 by 9-inch baking pan by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil; first sheet should be 13 inches wide and second sheet should be 9 inches wide. Lay sheets of foil in pan perpendicular to each other, with extra foil hanging over edges of pan. Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing foil flush to pan. Grease foil.
Process graham crackers, 1/4 cup sugar, and ginger in food processor to fine crumbs, about 15 seconds. Add melted butter and pulse until combined, about 5 pulses. Sprinkle mixture into prepared pan and press firmly into even layer. Bake until just starting to brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Let crust cool completely in pan on wire rack.
Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat cream cheese and remaining 1 1/3 cups sugar on medium-low speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add lemon juice, vanilla, and pumpkin mixture and mix until combined. Increase speed to medium; add eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Pour filling over crust and spread into even layer.
Bake until edges are slightly puffed and center is just set, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cheesecake cool completely in pan on wire rack, about 2 hours. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours. Using foil overhang, lift cheesecake from pan. Cut into 24 pieces before serving.
Nutrition information per serving: 188 calories; 104 calories from fat; 12 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 67 mg cholesterol; 180 mg sodium; 19 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 16 g sugar; 3 g protein.
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