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A Pumpkin Recipe From My X-Files


When you're making dessert, whether it's for a Halloween party or a holiday season meal, it's always so much fun to come up with something surprisingly different -- a recipe that not only makes people take excited notice from the moment you serve it, but also continues to win happy "oohs" and "ahs" all the way to the last bite.

That's certainly what happened a couple of years ago when I made a special pumpkin dessert during an appearance on the "Live with Regis and Kelly" show. My assistant for that cooking lesson was guest co-host David Duchovny of "The X-Files" fame, and he definitely added a surreal and funny spirit to the proceedings.

I wanted to make a pumpkin cheesecake. But the last thing I wanted it to be was the usual kind with a crumb crust. So I decided, instead, to show a crustless cheesecake.

In a way, a crustless cheesecake is similar to a classic egg custard, or flan, only with cream cheese and sour cream added. So, I thought, why not give my pumpkin cheesecake the same delicious flourish that a classic European-style flan often has: a coating of rich caramel, that lines the sides of the pan in which it is molded and then covers and runs down the sides of the dessert after unmolding.

So that's what David Duchovny and I proceeded to do. I must admit that, at times, preparing this cheesecake with him felt more like an investigation into paranormal phenomena. But logic prevailed, especially the few tips I want to share with you.

First, be sure to use a heavy pan for making the caramel. Clip to its side a candy thermometer that will help you judge the moment the caramel is done, so it won't overcook and burn, turning bitter. And always be especially careful when handling hot syrups, which can spatter and cause injury.

And bake the cheesecake in a water bath, the easy preparation of which I describe in the recipe. This provides an especially gentle, moist cooking environment, which will help your pumpkin cheesecake cook evenly to a smooth, tender consistency.

One of the many great things about this dessert is that it works even better if you make it a day or two ahead, keeping it covered in the refrigerator. That time lets the cheesecake firm up a bit more and allows the caramel to melt, resulting in even easier unmolding.

I'd made a few of them ahead of time for the audience at "Live with Regis and Kelly." And I can tell you, it was positively spooky how much they loved it. Like a ghost, the pumpkin cheesecake had vanished in a matter of seconds.


Serves 8 to 10

1/2 cup water

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1-1/2 pounds organic cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest

5 large cage-free eggs, at room temperature

1 can (15 ounces) organic pumpkin puree

1/2 cup organic sour cream

Lightly whipped cream, for garnish

Put the water, 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar, and lemon juice in small, heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. When the mixture begins to simmer, continue cooking undisturbed until it turns a caramel-brown color and reaches about 340 degrees F. on a candy thermometer. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture into a 9-inch (22.5-cm) round cake pan, swirling the pan to coat its bottom and sides with the caramel. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Bring a kettle of water to a boil.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large mixing bowl, put the cream cheese. With the paddle attachment of the stand mixer, or with a hand-held electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on low speed until smooth. Add the remaining granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and orange zest; continue beating on low speed until smooth, about 2 minutes longer.

One at a time, beat in the eggs until thoroughly blended, stopping after each addition to scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the pumpkin, beating it in until thoroughly combined, and then scrape down the bowl again. Finally, add the sour cream, beat it in until smooth, and scrape down the bowl.

With the help of the spatula, transfer the mixture into the caramel-coated pan. Place the pan inside a larger roasting pan. Pull out the middle shelf of the oven and place the roasting pan on the shelf. Carefully pour boiling water into the roasting pan until it comes about halfway up the side of the cake pan, forming a water bath. Very carefully slide the oven shelf into the oven and bake until the cheesecake is slightly firm to a light touch, about 1 hour.

Carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven and lift out the cake pan. Leave at room temperature to cool for about 1 hour. Then, cover loosely and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to two days.

To unmold the cheesecake, invert a flat 12-inch plate or platter over the pan. Firmly hold the pan and plate together and invert them. Then, carefully lift off the pan. Serve cut into wedges, garnished with whipped cream.


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