Throughout history, man has embarked upon great quests for discovery. Siddhartha Gautama searched for enlightenment. Crusaders were on a mission to capture the Holy Grail. Christopher Columbus journeyed to find a new world. Following in the footsteps of our predecessors, my mother and I have also pursued a noble search – for the perfect pumpkin pie.
We have searched far and wide, skowered bakeries, farmers markets and grocery stores. What we seek is the gold-standard of fall’s finest pie. That is the perfect blend of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves; a pumpkin filling that is moist, but not custardy; and a crust that is buttery flakiness personified.
We’ve tried pricey gourmet pies, which have almost always been a disappointment. We’ve also cracked open boxed pies from every major supermarket chain. And interesting to note, the closest we’ve come to pumpkin perfection was the Dominion house-brand pie. Sadly, when Metro took over the chain, the delicious and well-price pie nosedived, just like virtually everything else about the grocery store. (Fresh produce and shelves of packaged foodstuffs were cut in half to make room for aisles of frozen foods and a massive prepared food counter. And somehow, they always manage to run short on staple items like skim milk and white rice. Yes, that’s right, rice. But at least they have soggy, bland ready-to-serve perogies).
Over the past few years, we’ve bounced from pie to pie at Thanksgiving. Though, even the whipped cream we dollop on our slices can’t mask our feeling of emptiness, and longing for that perfect piece. This year, however, I decided to take a slightly different approach. Rather than leave the pumpkin pie quest up to fate, I was going to take matters into my own hands and bake my own pie.
I opted for a pumpkin cheesecake recipe from Martha. I’ve had good luck with my Oreo version, and figured it could only get better with some pumpkin puree and a little pumpkin pie spice. The recipe itself was pretty easy. The filling was just a combination of cream cheese, sugar, a bit of flour, pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla, salt and eggs. Didn’t take too long to blend everything together. The crust, which I changed slightly from the originally recipe, was equally simple. Dump cookies and sugar in the food processor, then mix with a bit of butter.
However, the biggest hassle associated with this recipe was the monolithic baking time. Each cheese cake had to be in the oven for an undisturbed three hours! Forty-five minutes of actually baking, then two hours sitting in the oven with the heat off. Supposedly, this is needed for the cheesecake to set. But I’m not sure that I buy it, since my Oreo recipe called for no such thing.
I certainly gave my oven a workout, since I made the recipe three times over the past several days, yielding a whopping total of six cheesecakes! No, we didn’t have an army over for Thanksgiving dinner. I made one for a bake sale, one for my boyfriend’s mom, one for my neighbour, one for our dinner, one for back-up and a set of mini-cheesecakes for fun.
The end result was pretty tasty. Everyone seemed to like the spicy pumpkin flavour, with an undertone of sweet creamy cheesecake. And, to satisfy our craving for the traditional, my aunt baked an absolutely delicious pumpkin pie. It was exactly the kind that has been so elusive to us in recent years. As such, I think I will be borrowing her recipe next year!
*Recipe makes two cheesecakes
- 2 cups of ginger snap cookie crumbs per cheesecake (original recipe calls for graham crackers)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 4 packages (8 ounces each) bar cream cheese, very soft
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
- 2 tablespoons pumpkin-pie spice
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- Whipped cream, for garnish if desired
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with rack in center. Assemble a 9-inch non-stick springform pan, with the raised side of the bottom part facing up.
- Make the crust: Place cookies and sugar in food processor. Blend until cookie crumbs are fine. Remove from food processor and mix in butter until moistened. Press cookie mixture firmly into bottom of pan. Bake until golden around edges, 10 minutes.
- Make the filling: With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar on low speed until smooth; mix in flour (do not overmix). Add pumpkin puree, pie spice, vanilla, and salt; mix just until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until each is incorporated before adding the next.
- Place springform pan on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour filling into springform, and gently smooth top. Transfer to oven; reduce oven heat to 300 degrees. Bake 45 minutes. Turn off oven; let cheesecake stay in oven 2 hours more (without opening).
- Remove from oven; cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours. Unmold before serving.
- Garnish with whipped cream, if desired.