Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake with Salted Caramel and Candied Pecans

It's been far too long since I've given you guys a proper update on things around here. Let me tell you, it has been crazy. For the past three weeks, we've had a whole string of houseguests trying to get in as much snuggle time with Sebastian as possible. Brent's parents stayed for two weeks, and then immediately following my mom and sister arrived. This past week was officially the first time Sebastian and I have been home alone since his birth, 8 weeks ago.

A few things that I have learned this past week; Sebastian is unable to nap during the day without being in someone's arms. Cuddling to sleep is really all he's ever known, so you can see the challenges ahead. I'm currently trying to work on getting him to nap in his crib, and lucky for us he's not a big crier. He mostly grunts and then when he's really upset he starts making spooky ghost noises. It's adorable and way less stressful than having to hear baby cries. Our current sleep schedule is non-existent, but we are trying to work on this. This past week has been somewhat of a success, and last night he slept for 7 hours straight. I am learning that each day with a newborn is different, and what works one day may not work the next.

Sebastian loves to eat, but we have had some challenges. Whenever he feeds, he falls asleep within 5 minutes, and then I put him in his crib and he wakes up 10 minutes later hungry. I've tried all of the tricks - changing him, pinching his feet, a cold cloth, but nothing seems to work. I have just started pumping a ton of breast milk, so when he's feeling extra sleepy I fill him up that way. Clearly, he is getting enough nutrition because he is now 13 pounds!

These days, most of my time is spent breastfeeding and trying to get Sebastian to sleep, but last Wednesday I actually managed to make an apple crisp and later in the week I pulled off this cheesecake, which feels like such a big accomplishment. 

If you were to ask me what my favorite pie is - hands down, it's pumpkin. If you were to ask me what my favorite dessert is - I would probably teeter between cheesecake and pie. Naturally, at this time of year, combining these two desserts just made sense. It also helps that Brent LOVES pumpkin cheesecake, so he will usually eat a good portion, a nice change from our usual roles where I eat the whole thing and he has only one slice.

I started experimenting with pumpkin cheesecake a few years back. I began by sampling various frozen varieties from the grocery store, trying a slice at the Cheesecake Factory, and I think I've ordered a few slices here and there from various restaurants. I've come to the conclusion that homemade cheesecake is way better than anything you can find in the store. 

This cheesecake recipe is one that I have been making for a while. I love it so much that I really haven't thought of trying anything else. The consistency is more of a creamy pumpkin pie than your typical New York style cheesecake. The crust is made up of graham cracker crumbs, butter, and sugar. The crust is sweet and crisp, and you could argue that it may be the best part! I like to cover the cheesecake in a salted caramel sauce because of the flavor of pumpkin and caramel pairs so well together. The crunchy candied pecans add texture and depth to an otherwise uniformly creamy and smooth dessert. The whipped cream is like the icing on the cake. It enhances the flavors from the brown sugar, cinnamon, and spices. I made this cheesecake for Brent's birthday on Sept 4. I have been waiting awhile to share it with you guys since, and I am so grateful that Brent is at home watching Sebastian while I sit here in the coffee shop eating a croissant and sipping on a soy latte and typing up this post. Have I mentioned how much I love him?

Thanks to the folks over at Kraft for sponsoring this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Be sure to check out the  Kraft Product Locator to find ingredients near you.

PUMPKIN SPICE CHEESECAKE WITH SALTED CARAMEL AND CANDIED PECANS

serves 8

prep time: 30 minutes

cooking time: 2 hours

crust:

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

2 tbsp granulated sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

filling:

15 oz pumpkin puree

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp cloves

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup heavy cream

16 oz Kraft cream cheese

2 large eggs

caramel:

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 tbsp water

1/4 cup cream

1/4 tsp salt

candied pecans:

1 cup pecan halves

3 tbsp granulated sugar

2 tbsp unsalted or salted butter

whipped cream:

1 cup heavy cream

2 tbsp granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350ยบF.

Grease a 7-inch springform pan.

In a small bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and sugar. Stir in the melted butter. Pour the mixture into the springform pan. With your hands or the bottom of a cup, press the crumbs flat against the bottom and then slightly up the sides of the pan (1/2 inch). Place the pan into the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool while you prepare the filling. Reduce the oven heat to 325ยบF.

Arrange the oven racks so that one is on the bottom and the other is in the middle. Place a large casserole dish filled with hot boiling water into the oven on the bottom rack.

Combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt into a small saucepan on low-medium heat. Bring to a sputtering boil. Once boiling, cook for 5 minutes stirring continuously.

Remove the pumpkin from the heat and place into a food processor. Pulse until smooth, 1 minute. Drizzle in the cream and pulse until combined, 10 seconds. Add the cream cheese and pulse until combined, 20 seconds. Add the eggs and pulse until combined, 15 seconds. Do not over mix the filling or you will incorporate too much air and the cheesecake will rise too high during baking, and then fall, leaving a crater in the middle.

Pour the filling into the springform pan. Place in the oven on the middle shelf and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Resist the urge to open the oven door. Once the cheesecake has cooked, turn off the oven, open the door and let the cheesecake cool for 60 minutes in the oven. Do not touch it. Remove the cheesecake from the oven, and gently remove the edge of the springform pan. Let it cool on the counter until room temperature. Store in the fridge until ready to serve.

To make the caramel sauce, place the sugar and water in a small saucepan on medium heat. Whisk to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved, do not stir until you add the cream. Let the sugar mixture boil until 350ยบF or until it turns a caramel color, roughly 10 minutes. Turn the heat to low and slowly whisk in the cream and salt. Let the caramel bubble on the heat for a minute or two to thicken. Transfer to a storage container to let cool.

To make the candied pecans, heat the butter and sugar in a frying pan on medium heat until it starts to bubble. Add the pecans and cook until they brown. Place onto a piece of parchment paper to cool.

To make the whipped cream, add the heavy cream and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer that has been chilled. With the whisk attachment, whip until stiff peaks. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to use.

To assemble the cheesecake, remove it from the bottom of the springform pan and transfer to a serving plate or stand. Drizzle the cheesecake with the salted caramel. You may need to heat it up in the microwave for 10 seconds to get it to a more pourable consistency. With a whipped cream dispenser, a piping bag or a spoon, decorate the cheesecake with whipped cream. Place half of the candied pecans in the middle of the cake, and reserve the rest for snacking. Cheesecake can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days.