Pumpkin Cheesecake with Candied Crunch and Amaretto Whipped Cream

I adore pumpkin. Its bright orange shell is such a relief, during a season when the grey of winter is settling in. But my love of pumpkin goes beyond its brilliant color. Its luscious texture and earthy sweetness make it perfect for baking all kinds of desserts: pumpkin creme brulee, classic pie, breads and cheesecake. When pumpkin is pureed smooth, it has a custard-like texture, so it lends itself beautifully to this silky cheesecake. For a nice contrast to cheesecake, add candied almond crunch and a dollop of Amaretto whipped cream.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Makes: one 8-inch square cake

Prep time: 30 minutes

Bake time: 1 ¼ hours

Skill: Easy

For the crust:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 9 crackers)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake:
3 packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 can or 15 ounces pureed roasted pumpkin
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the almond crunch:
1 cup raw slivered almonds
1 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon egg white

For the Amaretto whipped cream:
1 cup heavy whipped cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon Amaretto

To make the crust:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8x8-inch square cake pan and line with parchment.

In a food processor, mix together the graham crackers, brown sugar, salt and butter. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and press it out in an even layer. Bake for about 12 minutes, until it starts to color. Let cool on a rack.

In a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed with the paddle attachment for about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and mix for another 30 seconds. Add the brown sugar and mix for about 1 minute. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides after each. Add the pumpkin, sour cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and salt. Mix for 30 seconds.

Pour the cheesecake mixture onto the cooled crust. Place the cheesecake in the oven on a cookie sheet that has about a 1/4-inch hot water in it. This will help the cheesecake bake evenly and have a silky texture. Turn the oven down to 325°F and bake for about an hour or until it is just set in the middle.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

To make the almond crunch topping:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

In a bowl mix together the almonds, sugar, salt, zest, and egg white.

Spread the almond mixture onto the cookie sheet and bake for about 1o minutes. With a wooden spoon or spatula, stir the almonds, so the edges don't get too much color. Bake for an additional 5 minutes or until golden brown. Let the crunch cool completely and then break into small pieces.

To serve the cheesecake:

Using a sharp, thin bladed knife dipped in hot water, cut the cheesecake into 16 pieces.

Whip the heavy cream with the confectioners' sugar and Amaretto until medium peaks.

Serve the cheesecake with the whipped cream and almond crunch and I found these tasty figs at the co-op.

Zoë François, author of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day  and Artisan Pizza and Flatbreads in Five Minutes a Day , studied at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. She now calls Minneapolis her home, where she has worked with some of the top talent in the culinary world — Steven Brown, Andrew Zimmern and many chefs at the D’Amico company. In addition to writing, Zoë teaches baking classes and consults at restaurants. You can find her writing and recipe creations on Devour, on her baking blog, zoebakes.com and on the site, www.breadin5.com.

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