Are you looking for a festive holiday dessert? After making this delicious pumpkin cheesecake recipe with creamy slices nestled on a graham cracker crust, get ready for compliments and smiles!
Table of Contents
- Graham cracker crust
- Pan selection
- Bake the crust first
- The best cheese to use
- Use room temperature ingredients
- Using canned pumpkin
- Filling ingredients that add flavor
- Eggs help with thickening
- Create a water bath
- Baking tips
- Leave it in the warm oven
- Let it cool before serving
- The best way to remove and slice
- Serve this with
- Frequently asked questions
- Don’t overmix the filling!
- Pumpkin Cheesecake Recipe
Big thick slices of cheesecake are not just for fancy restaurants and local diners. You can make this decadent dessert at home all year long. I love to serve it to my family after Thanksgiving dinner. Making this with pumpkin puree and warm spices once fall rolls around adds a nice seasonal touch. At my house, this recipe is a family favorite during the holidays.
Pumpkins have a mild flavor and a hint of sweetness, so I use a balance of tangy dairy products paired with my homemade pumpkin pie spice blend to enhance the flavor. In addition, baking in a hot water bath cooks the custard cheesecake filling gently in a steamy environment, preventing the surface from cracking and drying out. Chilling is essential for texture and making slicing easy. In turn, this recipe is ideal for making in advance.
Graham cracker crust
Without a firm base, cheesecake would be a big blob. Using graham cracker crumbs creates a flavorful bottom layer while adding a much-needed texture contrast. I use a similar crust as my key lime pie recipe, but I add a combination of warm spices that pair nicely with pumpkin; cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves. If you have cardamom, that adds a lovely fragrance and herbal flavor.
The crust needs a binder for the porous and pebbly particles to stick together. Granulated sugar and butter do the trick. Not only does the sugar provide sweetness as it heats up, but it also melts and hardens. The melted butter hydrates the crackers, but the fat also provides a lipid barrier that coats them, so the crust does not get overly soggy when the filling is added.
I use a 9-inch springform pan with 3-inch high sides. This recipe makes for a tall cheesecake, so you want plenty of volume for filling. You can use a 10-inch pan. However, the result will not be as tall, and with more surface area, it will bake slightly faster.
I recommend greasing the sides and bottom of the pan with nonstick cooking spray or melted butter for extra insurance of a proper release. I also like to cut out a 9-inch circle of parchment paper and place it on the bottom, then grease the top. Trust me. It is much easier to remove the crust with a bit of thin paper underneath.
Bake the crust first
Firmly press 1 ½ cups of graham cracker into the greased springform pan. I use the bottom of a large measuring cup to push the crumbs down. Use the remaining ½ cup for the sides of the pan, going up about 1-inch. Although, if using a 10-inch pan, avoid going up the sides. The crust will feel delicate, like making a sandcastle, but the sugars will harden and help it stick together once baked. If you like a thicker crust, you can press all of the crumbs into the bottom.
Bake at a moderate 350ºF (177ºC) for about 12 minutes. This duration helps dry the surface and creates a browned, hardened crust. You will start to smell the lovely aromas from the spices warming up and cooking in the butter. Make sure to let the crust cool down and solidify before adding the cheese filling.
The best cheese to use
Use full-fat brick cream cheese that contains a thickening agent and stabilizer, typically carob bean gum or locust bean gum. These ingredients will help firm up the texture as the cake cools. The cheese spreads and whips sold in plastic tubs have more air and a different ratio of dairy and stabilizers, making for a thinner end product that’s more difficult to slice.
Use room temperature ingredients
Before using, it is crucial that all dairy products and eggs are just below room temperature. I target 65 to 70ºF (18 to 21ºC). When working with cream cheese for desserts like in frostings, you do not want to use it straight from a cold refrigerator. The same goes for cheesecakes.
The cold fat in the cheese will make the texture lumpy instead of super smooth. I add sour cream for a hint of tartness and heavy whipping cream for richness. They should also be at room temperature to not make the fat in the cheese clump up. It is much easier to incorporate the thick egg whites and yolk when they are not cold.
Using canned pumpkin
For this recipe, I use canned pumpkin puree. Since the puree is high in moisture, I reduce the amount of heavy whipping cream to rebalance the liquid to prevent a runny center. Avoid canned pumpkin pie filling products because they have already been sweetened and seasoned. I like to control the levels of my flavoring agents.
Filling ingredients that add flavor
Pumpkin puree alone tastes bland, while cream cheese is slightly sweet with a tang. To balance these two main ingredients, I add two types of sweeteners; granulated sugar and light brown sugar. I like some molasses notes without overpowering the gourd. Using the same warm spices in the crust adds the characteristic holiday taste.
You can also use store-bought pumpkin pie spice. However, each brand varies in the ratio of individual ingredients. I prefer to make a homemade batch of seasoning mix once autumn hits. A little bit of table salt enhances the flavor of the filling but should never taste salty. Sour cream adds a nice acidity and complements the tartness of the cultured cream cheese. Vanilla extract rounds out the baked notes in the filling.
Eggs help with thickening
For a soft and creamy texture, I use eggs to bind and thicken the filling. The goal is not to overcook the filling, which can cause curdling and make the result too firm. The additional fat in the yolks and the emulsifiers like lipoproteins and lecithin give velvety consistency.
The only downside is that there is some weeping during prolonged storage without thickening agents like flour or cornstarch. However, the texture will be more firm when adding those ingredients.
Create a water bath
A water bath makes a steamy environment in the oven that gently bakes the custard, preventing cracks on the surface. It also keeps the edges from cooking too quickly, so they stay creamy and do not overcook. You can make a water bath easily with a roasting pan that is big enough to fit the springform pan. Add just enough boiling water to go halfway up the sides. I find that 4 quarts are typically sufficient for my setup.
Reduce the oven’s heat to 325ºF (163ºC) to cook the custard filling. Once you add the roasting pan, it drops to about 300ºF (149ºC), perfect for a gentle bake. The hot water keeps the environment steamy and moist, preventing the surface of the cheesecake from browning or cracking due to drying out. It takes at least 90 minutes of bake time. The gradual cooking will ensure smooth and creamy bites.
The edges will be firm and just start to pull away, but the center will still wiggle when you shake the pan. You can use an instant-read thermometer to check. The center should be 150ºF (66ºC), while the sides should be about 165 to 170ºF (74 to 77ºC), about 1-inch from the edges.
Leave it in the warm oven
If you take the cheesecake out of the oven, the room temperature will not be warm enough to finish cooking the center. To remedy this, turn off the oven and leave the door slightly open, about 5-inches. This process will keep the environment warm and steamy, with the pan still sitting in the water bath.
Carryover cooking will gently finish the center without drying out the edges or top. The cheesecake will be set after 1 hour.
Let it cool before serving
To prevent the filling from cracking, let it cool completely in the pan on a wire rack for 3 hours. If you place it in the refrigerator right out of the oven, the egg proteins will contract and shrink, causing cracking. It’s essential to let it chill for at least 4 hours before serving.
Overnight is ideal for giving the proper slicing consistency. You can store it for up to 3 days, but the crust will gradually pick up moisture from the humidity in the refrigerator.
The best way to remove and slice
Use a thin paring knife or a small offset spatula and run it along the sides of the pan after taking it out of the oven. If the filling clings to the side of the pan when cold, it could cause cracking on the edges. Carefully remove the outer ring of the pan. Now you can leave it on the bottom pan to slice and serve or run a spatula underneath to release the crust and transfer it to a serving platter.
Use a thin-bladed knife to cut slices, wiping the blade between cuts. I like to dip the knife in hot water, dry then slice it for clean cuts. My professor used dental floss for thin cuts in culinary school, but I still prefer a knife. Now you can enjoy plain or add a dollop of whipped cream and drizzle on some caramel sauce for extra pizzazz.
Serve this with
Frequently asked questions
To make it extra leakproof, use two materials. Tightly wrap and tie a slow cooker liner around the pan, trimming to fit as needed. Then wrap with heavy-duty foil to cover the bottom and sides. You can use a few large 18-inch wide foil pieces or four layers of foil for smaller pieces.
Only if the recipe uses starches like flour or cornstarch. The dry heat will cook the edges faster than the center and may brown slightly on top. You can loosely tent the top if you start to see a color change. I recommend checking for doneness after 60 minutes and then every 5 to 10 minutes after to prevent overcooking.
You can use chocolate graham crackers for a flavored cocoa crust. Gingersnap cookies are another option, although they make the crumb consistency more sticky with the additional sugar already in the formula.
If you don’t have a springform pan, use a 9-inch cake pan that is 3-inches tall. Line the bottom of the pan with a piece of circular parchment paper to make it easier to remove. Grease the sides and bottom. After chilling, run a warm knife along the sides and carefully turn it over to release. You can also line the inside of the pan with foil, leaving edges to grab and lift out the cheesecake. This option might not be as pretty, but it will be easier to remove.
Don’t overmix the filling!
Gently mixing is crucial to achieving a silky smooth cheesecake texture. However, don’t use beyond medium speed on the stand mixer, or you will incorporate too much air into the filling. You need some air to lighten the texture, but large trapped bubbles can cause cracks in the surface. Be sure to tap the bottom of the pan several times after filling it to make the bubbles rise to the surface, then pop any you see.
Graham Cracker Crust
- 2 cups graham cracker crumbs, about 16 full crackers
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling
- 4 quarts water, for water bath
- 2 pounds cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup light brown sugar, packed
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 ½ cups pumpkin puree
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- ⅓ cup sour cream, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream, room temperature
Cinnamon Whipped Cream Topping
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream, cold
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
Graham Cracker Crust
- Heat the Oven – Place the oven rack in the lower-middle position—Preheat to 350°F (176°C).
- Crush Crackers – Break the graham crackers into pieces and add them to a food processor. Pulse on and off until finely ground, about 10 times. Measure out 2 cups into a medium bowl. Alternatively, crush graham crackers in a large resealable plastic bag.
- Prepare the Crust – Add the granulated sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice to the crumbs, stir to combine. Add the melted butter and stir. The mixture should look like wet sand and hold its shape when pressed together.
- Prepare Pan – Lightly grease the sides and bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray or melted butter. If desired, cut out a 9-inch circle of parchment paper and place it in the pan, then grease to make it easier to remove the cheesecake.
- Make the Crust – Pour the crumb mixture into the greased pan. Using the bottom of a measuring cup, firmly press 1 ½ cups evenly into the pan. Use the remaining ½ cup of crumbs and press with fingertips about 1-inch up the sides. For a thicker base layer, do not press up the sides.
- Bake Crust – Bake the crust until the edges turn golden brown and the surface hardens, about 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes.
- Wrap the Pan – Once cooled, tightly wrap the bottom and sides of the pan with heavy-duty foil. Using two 18-inch square pieces works well or four thin sheets in an overlapping cross pattern to ensure water will not seep into the pan when in the water bath. Alternatively, tightly wrap plastic slow cooker liners around the pan first, then wrap in foil.
Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling
- Adjust Heat – Reduce the oven temperature to 325ºF (163ºC).
- Boil Water – In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. This will be used to make a water bath.
- Whip the Cream Cheese – In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or handheld mixer, add the softened cream cheese. Mix on medium speed (setting 5) until smooth and no lumps remain, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl.
- Add Spices – Add the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. Mix on medium-low speed (setting 4) until combined, about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl halfway through.
- Add Pumpkin – Add pumpkin and vanilla, mix on medium-low speed (setting 4) until combined, about 45 seconds, scraping down the bowl halfway through.
- Mix in the Eggs– Adding 1 egg at a time, beat on low speed (setting 2) until combined, about 10 seconds per egg. Scrape down the bowl.
- Add Creams – Add the sour cream and heavy whipping cream, beat on low speed (setting 2) until combined, about 10 seconds.
- Add Filling to Pan – Pour the filling into the springform pan. Gently tap the bottom of the pan on the countertop several times to bring any air bubbles to the surface. Use a toothpick or tines of a fork for popping any bubbles.
- Prepare Water Bath – Place the foil-wrapped pan in a roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come up about halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan.
- Transfer Pan – Carefully transfer the roasting pan to the oven set on the lower-middle rack.
- Bake Cheesecake – Bake until the edges set and just start to pull away from the side of the pan, about 90 to 105 minutes. The center should slightly jiggle when you shake the pan. Using an instant-read thermometer, the center should be about 150ºF (66ºC), and the edges will be about 165 to 170ºF (74 to 77ºC).
- Cool in Oven – Turn the oven off and leave the door open about 5-inches. Keep the cheesecake in the water bath to cool for 60 minutes. This process will gently set the filling and prevent cracking.
- Remove Cheesecake – Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and discard the foil. Carefully run a small knife along the edges of the pan to loosen from the sides. It helps to warm the blade in hot water and wipe dry before using.
- Cool Cheesecake – Cool completely on the wire rack for about 3 hours.
- Chill – Keep the cheesecake in the pan. Tightly cover with plastic wrap making sure not to touch the surface, and cover the top with foil. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 3 days before serving.
- Transfer – Carefully remove the outer rim of the springform pan, making sure that the sides are not sticking. Use a spatula to release the bottom of the crust from the pan and transfer to a serving platter, or serve directly from the pan.
Whipped Cream Topping
- Make Whipped Cream – In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add heavy cream, powdered sugar, and cinnamon to the bowl. Alternatively, if using a hand mixer, use the whisk or beaters attachment and a large bowl or whip by hand. Processing times may vary.Whip the mixture on medium-low speed (setting 4) until the cream is frothy with bubbles on the surface,, 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium-high (setting 8), and whip until a fluffy smooth consistency, about 45 to 60 seconds for soft peaks. Continue to beat in 5-second intervals until stiff peaks form. Be careful as the texture will change quickly. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a star tip.
- To Serve – Top cheesecake with whipped cream.
- Pumpkin pie spice substitute: The cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves can be substituted for pumpkin pie spice. Use 1 ¾ teaspoons for the crust, and 2 teaspoons for the filling.
- Storing: Store whole cheesecakes wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Place slices in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
- Freeze: Once chilled for 4 hours, store on the bottom of the springform pan or transfer to a cardboard circle or plate. Plastic wrap and cover with foil. Freeze for up to 2 months, defrost in the refrigerator before serving.
- Caramel Sauce: Make my homemade caramel sauce to drizzle on top of the cheesecake slices.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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