Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake

Growing up in Texas, our summers were oppressively hot, humid, and long.  While folks on the East Coast shifted gears to sweaters and boots, we were still wearing shorts and tank tops in October.  Sometimes I wonder if this is why fall has always been my favorite season.  Because even if I was sweating buckets after only a couple of minutes spent outdoors, at least the appearance of pumpkins and apple cider and (fake) autumn leaves allowed me to pretend that Texas had distinct seasons.

Once I started high school, fall became inextricably linked with marching band and football season.  We had band practice every afternoon on the school parking lot, and I doubt I’ll ever forget the feel of the unforgivable sun searing my skin.  And on Friday nights, there were football games.  Ten years after my high school graduation, the sight of a lit-up high school football field still triggers intense waves of nostalgia.  It makes me think of warm muggy nights, drum cadences, dancing in the stands, hair plastered to my forehead after performing the half-time show, eating nachos with fake cheese beneath the bleachers during the third quarter….

During college I discovered my unabashed love for Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte, which to me is the epitome of fall drinks.  During those four years, fall meant feeling energized for a new school year full of interesting classes, clubs out in full force on Sproul Plaza trying to recruit new members, the best months of Bay Area weather, little gingerbread-flavored pumpkin-shaped cookies at Andronicos, and reuniting with the boy I loved after some time apart during summer vacation.

When I moved to Boston, I fell head over heels in love – as expected – with fall in New England.  The cities and towns here wholeheartedly celebrate the season, and rightfully so.  There’s no denying that the crispness of the air, the slight change in the light, the fiery colors of the leaves, and the apples ripe for picking elevate fall in these parts to a league of its own.  New England was made for fall, as if these centuries-old little towns were created to serve as backdrops for pumpkins and strewn leaves.  You know how something can be so beautiful that it hurts you?  That’s how I feel every year from mid-September through early November.

This year, I welcomed fall with a bourbon pumpkin cheesecake.  It’s not an in-your-face, obviously fall-ish dessert like pumpkin pie.  Those will come later.  Rather, it gently eases you into the transition with subtle hints of fall – the pecan pieces buried in the crust, the pumpkin and spices mixed with cream cheese.  It’s time to put away the breezy dresses and the sandals, and break out your sweaters and scarves.  The best season of the year is upon us.

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake

From Smitten Kitchen

Serves 12-15

Personally, I thought the sour cream topping tasted too strongly of bourbon and could also be a little sweeter.  Next time, I’d reduce the amount of bourbon in the topping by half and add another tablespoon or two of sugar.

Crust

3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (from five 4 3/4 in. by 2 1/4 in. crackers)

1/2 cup pecans, chopped

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Butter a 9-in. springform pan.

Stir together graham cracker crumbs, pecans, both sugars, and melted butter in a bowl until well-combined.  Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1/2 in. up the side of the pan.

Chill crust for 1  hour.

Filling

1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin

3 large eggs

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon (optional)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature

Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream (or milk), vanilla, and bourbon (if using).

In a large bowl, stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, spices, and salt.  Add cream cheese and beat with an electric mixter at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes.  Reduce speed to medium.  Add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth.

Pour filling into crust.  Smooth top with a spatula or jiggle the pan.  Put springform pan on a shallow baking pan (I used a large cookie sheet) in case springform pan leaks (mine did).  Bake until center is just set, 50-60 minutes.  (It’s okay if the center jiggles slightly, but you don’t want to see any liquid consistency.)  Let cool for 5 minutes while leaving oven on.

Topping

2 cups sour cream

2 tablespoons granulated sugar (add a tablespoon or two more if you want the topping sweeter)

1 tablespoons bourbon liqueur or bourbon (optional)

Whisk all ingredients together, then spread on top of cheesecake.  Bake another 5 minutes.

Cool cheesecake completely in the pan, about 3 hours.  Cover and chill until cold, at least 4 hours.  Remove side of pan and allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Note: The baked cheesecake can be kept in the fridge, covered, up to 2 days.

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