’Tis the season for cheesecake! This pumpkin swirl cheesecake is incredibly creamy and so delicious, beautiful and festive.
A double dose of gingerbread flavor — in the crust and then in the gingerbread caramel topping — complements the pumpkin so well, making this the perfect cheesecake to take you through the holiday season.
This is truly one of the best cheesecakes I’ve ever made, and I’ve made countless cheesecakes. I recently served this to my pumpkin-loving best friend. As she finished her first bite, she confirmed what I already knew, declaring, “This is the best cheesecake I’ve ever tasted!” (a bold statement because she has had my classic cheesecake many times).
This is the cheesecake that makes converts of those “Oh, I don’t like cheesecake” people.
For me, cheesecakes are such a special part of the holidays. It was my dad’s tradition to make and give them as gifts each year. He made two types of cheesecake: classic and chocolate rum. Everyone just went wild for them. I have such vivid memories of seeing our countertops lined with cooling cheesecakes, as far as my eyes could see.
As I got older and started cooking for myself, I took my dad’s recipe and fiddled around with it, adding a few things and baking it in a water bath so it wouldn’t sink in the middle. Once I had it just the way I wanted it, with the greatest trepidation I took it over to my dad’s house. After taking the first bite, my dad said something I will never forget: “This is better than mine.” And with that comment, the torch was passed. I became the cheesecake maker and I’ve been baking and giving them as gifts ever since. Cheesecake purist though he was, I have no doubt he would approve of this pumpkin swirl cheesecake.
Carrying on his cheesecake legacy is even more important now that he’s no longer here. As bittersweet and painfully nostalgic as it can sometimes be to make these recipes, I’m so thankful that I grew up watching him make his cheesecakes and that I took an interest in learning how to do it myself.
My goal was not to make mine better than his already perfect-to-me cheesecake. I just wanted it to look a certain way. But the changes I made, plus the water bath, did result in a more light and creamy texture, which is just so irresistible. It is the reason so many people have told me my cheesecake is the best.
Until now, I have never publicly shared my cheesecake recipe. Only a few friends have been gifted the very personal, very special recipe. So here is my holiday gift to you. If you just leave the pumpkin out of this recipe and use a graham cracker crust, you will have my classic cheesecake.
Much like my dad, I was a cheesecake purist for the longest time. I kind of turned my nose up at all the wild varieties out there, and I’m sure I would have turned my nose up at this pumpkin swirl cheesecake years ago. Slowly though, I’ve softened and broadened my cheesecake horizons.
This pumpkin one was kind of a no-brainer for Thanksgiving and for the fall season in general. Pumpkin is delicious and is very welcome in my kitchen, along with the spices that compliment it best: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and allspice. I like to call this my Fall Spice Blend, as it is so good with apples, pears, basic muffin and cake recipes, pancakes, waffles and, of course, pumpkin. (You can feel free to call it pumpkin spice if that makes you happy.)
The base for this pumpkin swirl cheesecake is made of gingersnap cookies that I grind up with soft butter (no need to melt it), some sugar and a bit of that Fall Spice Blend. It is filled with my classic filling, from which I take a couple cups and stir in some pumpkin puree and more warming spices. Then, using a large ice cream scoop, I alternate scoops of each filling, swirling with a chopstick or a butter knife once the pan is filled.
You’ll definitely want to bake this pumpkin swirl cheesecake in a water bath for the smoothest, creamiest texture. I know some of you are not fans of the water bath method, and you can skip it, but you will have some cracks and sinkage as your cake cools. It will still taste delicious.
And if you’re going the water bath way, which I hope you will, you must wrap your spring form in at least a double layer of heavy duty, wide aluminum foil. I use three layers sometimes. As much as I hate the waste, it really is the only way to prevent water from seeping in and ruining your crust. Trust me, I speak from experience.
Also, I highly recommend a candy thermometer for this particular caramel because it is made with dark molasses. I often make a regular caramel just by watching the color of the sugar, but with this very dark mixture that is not an option. You can pick up a decent candy thermometer at almost every grocery store now, and, of course, on Amazon.
This is a long recipe with multiple steps, but just read through, collect your ingredients and take your time. You got this!
Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake
For Fall Spice Blend:
1/4 cup cinnamon
2 tablespoons ginger
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cloves
30 or so gingersnap cookies
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) soft butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons Fall Spice Blend
5 8-ounce packages cream cheese at room temperature
1.5 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs plus 3 yolks
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
2 teaspoons Fall Spice Blend
For gingerbread caramel sauce:
1/2 cup water
1.5 cups brown sugar
1.5 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup molasses
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1.5 sticks cold butter (12 tablespoons), cut into small pieces
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
To prepare caramel:
Combine molasses, water and sugar in a heavy, large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and cook until you reach 250 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and whisk in cream, butter, salt and spices. Stir until all butter is melted and combined. Return to heat and allow to boil for another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, add bourbon if using and allow to cool to room temperature. Transfer to jars and store in refrigerator. Gently warm before serving.
To prepare crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place a pan of water or a tea kettle on to boil. Place all crust ingredients in a food processor and pulse until you have very fine crumbs. The mixture will resemble damp sand. Press this into the bottom and just slightly up the sides of spring form pans. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to sit at room temperature while you prepare the filling. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees.
To prepare cheesecake:
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together cream cheese and sugar until very soft and creamy and no lumps remain. This should take about 5 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and beater a few times during this process.
With mixer on low, add eggs and yolks one at a time, beating well between each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl a couple times during this process too. Really take your time here to avoid lumps of cream cheese in your final batter.
Once eggs are all mixed in, add vanilla and sour cream and mix on low until combined. Remove 2 cups of batter to a separate bowl and stir in 1 cup of pumpkin puree and 2 teaspoons of Fall Spice Blend. Mix thoroughly.
Using a large ice cream or cookie scoop, place 4 scoops of plain batter in the bottom of the pan. Next, place 4 scoops of pumpkin batter in between the scoops of plain. Repeat this process until you have filled the pan almost to the top. Using a butter knife or a chopstick, swirl in a figure-8 pattern while rotating the pan until you have made one full rotation.
To bake and cool cheesecake:
Lay your 2 to 3 sheets of foil down on a flat surface. Place the cheesecake on top. Wrap first layer tightly around pan, then repeat with remaining layer (or layers). Lay a thin kitchen towel or a layer of paper towels in the bottom of your large baking pan. Place the foil-wrapped cheesecake on top. Place the pan in the middle of the oven with the rack pulled out.
Carefully pour recently boiled water into baking dish until it comes about half-way up the sides of the foil-wrapped pan. Be very careful not to get water in-between the foil and the spring form pan. Slowly push the oven rack in and close the door.
Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Leave the oven door closed. Lower oven to 300 degrees and continue to bake for 50 to 60 more minutes until the cheesecake is browned on top and set but still wiggly. The center should not look wet or soupy at all. It should just gently wiggle when you move the pan. It will be puffed up a bit, but will settle and firm as it cools.
Turn oven off and carefully remove the entire baking tray. Carefully lift the foil-wrapped pan out of the water bath and onto a cooling rack or a kitchen towel. Allow to cool to room temperature for about an hour. Transfer to refrigerator to cool overnight (at least 8 hours or up to 3 days covered with plastic wrap).
To remove cheesecake from pan:
Once the cheesecake is completely cooled in refrigerator, slide a very thin knife around the outer edge. I like to use my boning knife as it is long, very thin and flexible. Gently release the latch on spring form pan and lift it straight up and off the cheesecake. At this point, you can serve it straight from the spring form base or you can slide a long offset spatula between the bottom crust and the pan, rotating all around to make sure the cake is loose. Slide the cheesecake carefully onto a serving tray.
Serve with gingerbread caramel and softly whipped cream with a few extra crumbled gingersnaps if desired. Enjoy!
- You can make this in a very large bowl using a hand mixer if you don’t have a stand mixer.
- Having very soft, room-temperature cream cheese is essential to a smooth cheesecake.