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Holiday Desserts: Pumpkin Cheesecake

UCLA Pastry Chef Ray Works' recipe for pumpkin cheesecake, plus his professional cooking advice and garnishing tips.

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By Alison Hewitt, Photos by Reed Hutchinson '71

Published Nov 24, 2008 4:14 PM


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Pumpkin Cheesecake

Why pumpkin cheesecake instead of pumpkin pie? "This is a cheesecake-eating nation," Works says. This twist on the classic holiday pie is for ambitious chefs, but it's worth it, Works says. "This is the most phenomenal cheesecake ever known to man. It's nice and light and wonderful and doesn't feel heavy."

He developed it when a survey from the dining halls determined that students wanted more cheesecake, and more pumpkin pie. "This fills both of those voids," Works says. "This is my favorite cheesecake recipe, and the best pumpkin pie recipe that I have. I just mixed them together 50-50 and it came out wonderful."

Get more

UCLA desserts

Sugar cookies

Gingerbread

Read more about UCLA Pastry Chef Ray Works at UCLA Today.

That's right — UCLA students get to eat this treat every week during the holiday season, as part of their regular meal plan.

A note

For purists, the complete, uninterrupted recipe appears at the end of this page. For the full cooking-school experience, read the annotated version of the recipe below, with tips and interjections from UCLA Pastry Chef Ray Works.

Annotated recipe, with tips

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Ingredients

Cheesecake:
3 lbs. of cream cheese
14 oz. sugar
8 oz. sour cream
3 ½ oz. heavy cream
7 large eggs
— Works recommends using only grade-A large eggs. That way, you know they're always going to be 2 ounces, Works says. "It keeps the proportions just right," he explains. "That's how I know my recipes will turn out right."

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UCLA Pastry Chef Ray Works with his pumpkin cheesecake. Photo by Reed Hutchinson.

Pumpkin pie filling:
2 lbs. of canned pumpkin
— "Always buy Libby's," Works insists. "It's the best on the market and the only one I use. Any good pastry chef will tell you it's the standard in the industry, and so far superior to any generic brand. It's the most expensive pumpkin on the shelf, I'm sure, but you don't want to go cheap. Why would you want a pumpkin pie that's watery? Buy the Libby's. Trust me."
13 oz. brown sugar
½ oz. pumpkin spice
— You can buy this in the baking aisle or spice section of most grocery stores, or make your own with Works' recipe: one part cinnamon, one part powdered ginger, and one part nutmeg.
¼ tsp. salt
4 large eggs
15 oz. sweetened condensed milk
13 oz. evaporated milk

Graham cracker crust:
1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup sugar
½ cup melted butter

Garnish: (optional)
Whipping cream
Cinnamon
Chocolate
Chopped sweetened hazelnuts

Directions

Prep:
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Set aside two cake pans: one large cake pan, which will be used as a water bath for a smaller cake pan (8-10 inches across and 2-3 inches deep).
"What the water does is, the water keeps the eggs from cooking and fluffing as though it were an omelet," Works says. "It keeps the cheesecake from getting too hot, and that gives the eggs good bounce. You don't want your eggs to cook like scrambled egg. You want it like a custard, nice and smooth." Thoroughly spray or grease sides and bottom of the smaller round cake pan. "You've gotta spray the sides if you want to get the cheesecake out later," Works emphasizes. A springform pan can make it easier to remove the cake later, but Works recommends against it, because the looser form can allow water leakage along the sides of the cake.

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UCLA Baker Preston Hollister pours the graham cracker crust mix, and Baker Larry Bombach packs it down. Photo by Reed Hutchinson.

Crust:
Blend graham crumbs and sugar together with a paddle. Add melted butter, then firmly pack about 1 ½ to 1 ¾ cups of the mixture into bottom of sprayed/greased smaller cake pan. Firmly pack the crust to prevent it from loosening and mixing with the cheesecake later.

Cheesecake:
If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment to avoid whipping air into the cheesecake. Works recommends a 5-quart mixer. If using a hand mixer, "It will be a lot more work," Ray Works jokes — but you won't have to worry as much about adding air. Add the sugar to the cream cheese and cream well. Add the sour cream, the heavy cream and the seven eggs. Scrape bowl well and mix for five minutes on low. Be sure to get the lumps out, or you'll end up with white blobs of cheesecake in your orange pumpkin cheesecake later.

Pumpkin pie filling:
Combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, pumpkin spice and salt and mix together well. Add the four eggs, condensed milk and evaporated milk. Scrape down the bowl and mix slow for two minutes.

Pumpkin Cheesecake:
Mix the cheesecake and pumpkin batter together until incorporated. Pour into sprayed round cake pan with graham-cracker crust in bottom.

Cook:
Place the pumpkin cheesecake into the water bath (see above for tips on the water bath), and bake for approximately two and a half hours at 250 degrees. Let cool. Garnish as desired. Works recommends letting the cake cool to room temperature, then placing it in the refrigerator to let it cool. Once the cake is cool, float it in warm water for about 2 minutes to loosen the cool cake from the pan. Put a flat plate, cutting board or other flat surface on top of the pan, and flip it upside down to remove the cake. Flip the cake onto a serving dish to turn it right-side up again.

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Garnish: Whipped cream and cinnamon are delicious toppers. Works recommends sprinkling the cinnamon on top using a sieve to shake it out evenly, or even mixing it directly into your cream to make cinnamon whipped cream. Works also hand-presses finely chopped sweetened hazelnuts onto the sticky sides of the cake.

For a real flourish, try making his chocolate bamboo: Lay out a large sheet of wax paper on a flat surface. Melt some chocolate at a low temperature to avoid scorching. Dip a spoon or other utensil into the melted chocolate, and whip it back and forth along the wax paper to create thin chocolate lines. Create a layer of parallel lines in one direction before switching to perpendicular lines, creating a crosshatch pattern. Cool in the refrigerator until chocolate is firm and peels off of the wax paper. Snap into small rectangles and nestle the pieces into the edges of the cake.

Uninterrupted recipe

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Ingredients

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Before and after. Photo by Reed Hutchinson.

Cheesecake:
3 lbs. of cream cheese
14 oz. sugar
8 oz. sour cream
3 ½ oz. heavy cream
7 large eggs

Pumpkin pie filling:
2 lbs. of canned pumpkin
13 oz. brown sugar
½ oz. pumpkin spice
¼ tsp. salt
4 large eggs
15 oz. sweetened condensed milk
13 oz. evaporated milk

Graham cracker crust:
1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup sugar
½ cup melted butter

Garnish: (optional)
Whipping cream
Cinnamon
Chocolate
Chopped sweetened hazelnuts

Directions

Prep:
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Set aside two cake pans: one large cake pan, which will be used as a water bath for a smaller cake pan (8 to 10 inches across and 2-3 inches deep). Thoroughly spray or grease sides and bottom of the smaller round cake pan, and prepare graham-cracker crust in the bottom.

Crust:
Blend graham crumbs and sugar together with a paddle. Add melted butter, then press about 1 cup of the mixture into bottom of sprayed/greased smaller cake pan.

Cheesecake:
Add the sugar to the cream cheese and cream well. Add the sour cream, the heavy cream and the seven eggs. Scrape bowl well and mix for five minutes on low.

Pumpkin pie filling:
Combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, pumpkin spice and salt and mix together well. Add the four eggs, condensed milk and evaporated milk. Scrape down the bowl and mix slow for two minutes.

Pumpkin Cheesecake:
Mix the cheesecake and pumpkin batter together until incorporated. Pour into sprayed round cake pan with graham-cracker crust in bottom.

Cook:
Place the pumpkin cheesecake into the water bath, and bake for approximately two and a half hours at 250 degrees. Let cool. Garnish as desired.

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