October 28, 2010
I don’t know how, but my grandmother managed to serve everyone’s favorite foods at holiday dinners. Three entrees were a requisite for a Chesapeake holiday feast: meat, fish and fowl. She served roasted turkey, which would not have been on the menu for poor people, except for the fact that her mother-in-law raised turkeys. My grandparents raised and killed their own hogs, and my grandfather harvested oysters from the Sinepuxent Bay that bordered the farm. My grandmother would also stew a chicken to make dumplings. These culinary memories had an aroma that always let me know the winter holidays were just around the corner.
Pleasing everyone required at least three desserts. My mother loved mincemeat. Her brother’s favorite was pumpkin. My father preferred pie, but at Thanksgiving, sweet potato was his choice. I think it delighted mom to see their eyes light up when they spied their favorites. The cousins were equally democratic in their preferences, but after mom passed on and it became my turn to serve the family dinner, I opted for one dessert that we all liked: cheesecake. I developed this recipe that has accompanied me to potluck gatherings as well as family dinners. Any Thanksgiving dinner would not be complete without the smell of pumpkin, and pumpkin cheesecake is the perfect gift. Thank God for cheesecake. Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy!
For the cheesecake: (should all be at room temperature)
2-8 ounce packages cream cheese
1 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup Splenda)
1 Tablespoon cornstarch or cake flour
3 large eggs (or 6 egg yolks)
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sour cream (drained through cheesecloth to remove excess liquid)
1 cup canned pumpkin puree* (drained through cheesecloth to remove excess liquid)
For the crust:
About 20 Swedish ginger cookies
1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare an 8-inch spring form pan by lining the bottom with waxed paper buttered on each side and butter the sides of the pan. Crumble the ginger cookies (I use the food processor.). Chop the walnuts finely but separately or they will bind the crumbs because of their oil content. Mix the crumbs together and use them to “flour” the sides of the pan and the bottom. Pat the remaining crumbs in the bottom to form a crust of about 1/4-inch thickness.
In a mixing bowl, beat the soften cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in the cornstarch, if desired. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides between eggs. Beat in lemon juice, vanilla and salt until blended. Add sour cream and pumpkin puree and blend quickly. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and wrap the pan loosely with aluminum foil. Set the pan in a bain marie and surround it with about an inch of very hot water. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn the oven off, but leave the oven door closed and let the cake cool for one hour. Remove from the oven and set on a rack to cool at least one hour until the cake shrinks slightly from the sides. Loosen the sides of the spring form pan and remove. You can wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate at this point, but I like cheesecake better if it is not refrigerated. Just keep it in a cool place and cover with a lint-free tea towel until time to serve.
The cake can be decorated by sprinkling some of the crumbs used in the topping around the sides or by piping a bit of cream cheese frosting around the edges. Serves 12.