Pumpkin Cheesecake

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Are you looking for a festive holiday dessert? After making this delicious pumpkin cheesecake with creamy slices nestled on a graham cracker crust, get ready for compliments and smiles!

slice of pumpkin cheesecake on a white plate
Table of Contents
  1. Graham cracker crust
  2. Pan selection
  3. Bake the crust first
  4. The best cheese to use
  5. Use room temperature ingredients
  6. Using canned pumpkin
  7. Filling ingredients that add flavor
  8. Eggs help with thickening
  9. Create a water bath
  10. Baking tips
  11. Leave it in the warm oven 
  12. Let it cool before serving
  13. The best way to remove and slice
  14. Serve this with
  15. FAQ
  16. Pumpkin Cheesecake Recipe

Big thick slices of cheesecake are not just reserved for fancy restaurants and local diners. You can make this decadent dessert at home all year long. However, using 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 the cheesecake in a hot water bath gently cooks the custard filling 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 simply be a big blob. Using graham cracker crumbles creates a flavorful bottom layer while adding in 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 too.

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.

Pan selection

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.

springform pan with crushed crackers

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. At this point, 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 in 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.

stand mixer bowl filled with cream cheese

Use room temperature ingredients

Before using, it is crucial that all of the dairy products and eggs are at just below room temperature. I target for 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 in 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.

If you are curious, you can also easily make pumpkin puree. Note that different types of pumpkin are suitable for baking, like sugar pie, which are available at most grocery stores during the fall.

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 for binding and thickening 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 a very velvety consistency.

The only downside is that there is some weeping during prolonged storage without any 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. 

Baking tips

Reduce the heat of the oven 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 about 165 to 170ºF (74 to 77ºC), about 1-inch from the edges.

pumpkin cheesecake cooling inside a metal pan

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.

The carryover cooking that takes place 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, thoroughly cool the cheesecake 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. 

piping whipped cream on top of a cake

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 in between cuts. I like to dip the knife in hot water, dry then slice it for clean cuts. My professor used dental floss for very 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

pumpkin cheesecake with decorative topping

FAQ

The best way to wrap the pan before adding to a water bath?

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.

Can I bake the cheesecake without a water bath?

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.

Can you make the crust another flavor?

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.

Can I use a cake pan?

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.

slice of pumpkin cheesecake

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 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.

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Pumpkin Cheesecake

This holiday season, treat your family to a delicious pumpkin cheesecake with tall creamy slices nestled on a flavorful graham cracker crust.
Pin Print Review
4.71 from 17 votes
Prep Time1 hr
Cook Time2 hrs 10 mins
Total Time7 hrs 10 mins
Servings 12 servings
Course Dessert
Cuisine American

Ingredients

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
  • teaspoon ground cloves
  • 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
  • teaspoon ground cloves
  • teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 ½ cups pumpkin puree
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 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

Instructions 

Graham Cracker Crust

  • Place the oven rack in the lower-middle position—Preheat to 350°F (176°C).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Reduce the oven temperature to 325ºF (163ºC).

Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling

  • In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. This will be used to make a water bath.
  • 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 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 and vanilla, mix on medium-low speed (setting 4) until combined, about 45 seconds, scraping down the bowl halfway through.
  • Adding 1 egg at a time, beat on low speed (setting 2) until combined, about 10 seconds per egg. Scrape down the bowl.
  • Add the sour cream and heavy whipping cream, beat on low speed (setting 2) until combined, about 10 seconds.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Carefully transfer the roasting pan to the oven set on the lower-middle rack.
  • 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).
  • 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 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 completely on the wire rack for about 3 hours.
  • 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.
  • 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

  • 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.
  • Top cheesecake with whipped cream and caramel sauce if desired.

Notes

  • Pumpkin pie spice substitute: The cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves can be substituted for pumpkin pie spice. Use 1 3/4 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.

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Nutrition Facts
Pumpkin Cheesecake
Amount Per Serving
Calories 543 Calories from Fat 333
% Daily Value*
Fat 37g57%
Saturated Fat 20g100%
Trans Fat 1g
Polyunsaturated Fat 2g
Monounsaturated Fat 10g
Cholesterol 167mg56%
Sodium 483mg20%
Potassium 246mg7%
Carbohydrates 47g16%
Fiber 2g8%
Sugar 37g41%
Protein 8g16%
Vitamin A 6124IU122%
Vitamin C 1mg1%
Calcium 134mg13%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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4 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Judy says

    Oh Jessica, you just keep tempting us with all these pumpkin recipes. We ran out of the Pumpkin Chocolate Chip bread about 4 days ago and we were both saying gosh I miss having a slice of that with coffee in the evening. Thanks for all your seasonal, holiday and every day recipes that are all so delicious.

  2. Judy says

    Will you be doing a video on this Jessica? We were just checking and didn’t find one. We were looking under you on YouTube.

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