I’d been daydreaming about a thanksgiving dinner menu since earlier last week. There’s not too much to decide on given that we eat ttoday (Monday) and without a following day-off for digestion, I want to keep things simple: turkey, dressing, a vegetable dish and a small chance of mashed potatoes. Oh, and dessert of course. Not of course but THE course – it could be the only course if I had my way.
The usual online recipe haunts had options: pumpkin pie, cake, or crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e, apple pie, pecan pie, ginger cake, etc. but being a Capricorn, I couldn’t imagine not having pumpkin pieâ€¦â€¦â€¦or cheesecake? I’ve had cheesecake in the past and I know two dinner guests love it. But would it be too heavy? Could a “lighter” dinner balance things out?
Or could I circumvent having to decide between deliciousnesses by baking a marriage of the two? A pumpkin cheesecake pieâ€¦?Â
I sketched out my vision and then started to research recipes. The biggest question was: were bake time and temperatures for pumpkin cheesecake and pie fillings similar enough that they could be baked together? I found pie recipes at Williams-Sonoma, Joy of Baking, Epicurious (pumpkin pie, perfect pumpkin pie and the ultimate pumpkin pie), and in the Pillsbury Complete Book of Baking. For pumpkin cheesecake recipes I again went to Williams-Sonoma, Joy of Baking, Epicurious (Bon AppÃ©tit November 1997 and October 2002), and the Pillsbury Complete Book of Baking. Ingredients and cooking times for all these recipes are summarized in these two spreadsheets.
The cheesecakes were all baked at 350Â°F (in one recipe they reduced the temperature to 325Â°F for the last 10-20 minutes) while pie recipes ranged from 325Â°F – 375Â°F but most were at 350Â°F so I settled on that baking temperature. Baking times varied but pies generally took an hour or a little under and cheesecakes a little longer. I figured I would bake the cheesecake pie for 50 minutes or so and then continue baking, checking on it every 10 minutes until it seemed done.
Ingredients-wise, I knew I would use my regular pie crust recipe (was tempted to try a tip from the Cook’s Illustrated in which half the water is substituted with ice-cold vodka but decided to save that for another experiment) and the joy of baking cheesecake recipe as it has the highest gingersnap content.
Joyofbaking.com is my go-to site for most traditional baked-goods recipes but I had been unimpressed the last time I made their pumpkin pie. I was also nervous about the pumpkin cheesecake as there is a lot of heavy, bland-tasting cheesecake out there. So instead of picking a single recipe, I pulled ingredients from all the recipes: either common ingredients (what works) or ingredients/measurements in favour of my preferences (lots of spice, using whipping cream and a medium amount of sugar). The result:
Pumpkin pie filling:
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 cups pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
~3/4 cup whipping cream
Pumpkin cheesecake filling (half a regular cheesecake recipe):
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/2 lb cream cheese
1 1/2 eggs
a bit more than 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
I also decided to pre-bake the pie crust and cheesecake crumb together. Some of both pie and cheesecake recipes called for a pre-baked crust. Thinking about it, I figured it would be good to do as maybe double crust could equate to a higher chance of soggy crust? The crust was baked at 375Â°F for 14 minutes. Guessing that the crumb would be enough weight, I didn’t use pie-weights. The pastry still bubbled up (you can kind of see below). If you care about bubbles, use weights. If you want to bake like me, stop caring.
While the crust was cooling I made the pumpkin cheesecake filling. There wasn’t a moment when I didn’t imagine this to be under the pie filling as cheesecake is (I think) the denser of the two. Once I finished mixing the filling, I realized my assumption led me to believe that it would be denser before baking too. But no, it was soup * dur *
If I were to pour the pumpkin pie filling on top, the two would definitely mix. A snag! Though remembering that the average baking time for cheesecake is 72.5 minutes while the average for pie recipes is 55 minutes, I figured it might work to first bake the cheesecake filling on its own and then pour the pie filling in. Hopefully the cheesecake would become dense enough to support it.
After 20 minutes in the oven a finger test demonstrated substantial increase in viscosity…
…and enough to support the pie filling.
The whole pie was now on its way (with two ramekins of extra cheesecake filling) and I played guitar moh for about 50 minutes…dah dee dah dah dah daaah…dah dee dah…dah dee dah…
*ding* it was done. The edges looked on the verge of cracking and the center still look a little wet so I stuck a pastry cat in it.
The finished slice:
And the verdict? Well unfortunately I didn’t feel like I was hanging out with my two buddies, Cheesecake and Pie, as planned. Both were soft and mixed together immediately after hitting your mouth. But I did make a new friend – one whose smooth cheesiness was accentuated with full spiced pumpkin flavour. There was way more pumpkin flavour than what pumpkin cheesecake usually has. On the whole, I’d layer the two fillings in a pie again.
The crust I was not very impressed with. Pastry plus a crumb layer made it too thick to easily cut through with the edge of a fork. The pastry was still flaky but tougher than usual – could this be due to more baking time than I usually give it? A generally requirement of any pie and cake is that it should be edible with a single utensil (fork or spoon or fingers, no knife) and easily so – no effort to get from plate to mouth (unless you’re making an effort to keep things tidy, that’s something we bring upon ourselves and never the cake/pie’s fault.) As such, the difficult crust was unacceptable.
Next time I would either make the cheesecake crumb layer very thin (the Joy of Baking pie recipe actually includes an optional pecan gingersnap layer) or bake it in a separate pan and break it into “cheesecake bottom wafers” to be served as a garnish with the pie’s whipped cream.
Hmm…I gotta get a turkey in the oven. Happy thanksgiving!