Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake

Thanksgiving might be over, but this cheesecake is still vivid in my memory!

At some point over the past 10 years, I found this recipe and it forever changed my approach to Thanksgiving traditions. While in graduate school, my ritual was to fly home to my parents house late in the evening on Wednesday and start baking this cake around 11pm. I was so determined to serve up this dessert on the Thanksgiving table… even if it meant staying up until 2 in the morning.

All these years later, I have somehow managed to find time to make this cake during day light hours, but it remains my Thanksgiving tradition nonetheless.

In all starts with the crust… syrupy and crunchy from the brown sugar, graham crackers and pecans as they meld together in gooey harmony. Not only does the crust give this cake its base, but it is also steals the show. Yum! Next comes the sumptuous pumpkin spice mixture that gets whipped into a creamy cheese batter. The addition of 3 large eggs adds fluff that is seldom seen in other cheesecakes. The bourbon punches up the flavors without being boozy (although, boozy isn’t always a bad thing, is it?) Just as the kitchen begins to smell wonderfully of nutmeg and ginger, it’s time for the completion of the cake to begin… with the topping. Not only does the sour cream topping give the cake a beautiful 3 tiered effect, but it also adds a sourness that will delight your taste buds as it balances this decadent dessert.

So, with Thanksgiving in our wake, this year for Christmas or New Years add a new cake to the traditional holiday spread. If Christmas is not your thing, I am sure you have an extra can of pumpkin that is just begging to be whipped into a delightful creation for no reason whatsoever. Make this cheesecake… it will impress your friends. I promise!

For crust
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (from five 4 3/4- by 2 1/4-inch crackers)
1/2 cup pecans (1 3/4 ounces), finely chopped
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For filling
1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
3 large eggs
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
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 freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

For topping
2 cups sour cream (20 ounces)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon (optional)

Garnish: pecan halves

Make crust:
Invert bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (to create flat bottom, which will make it easier to remove cake from pan), then lock on side and butter pan.

Stir together crumbs, pecans, sugars, and butter in a bowl until combined well. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1/2 inch up side of pan, then chill crust, 1 hour.

Make filling and bake cheesecake:
Put oven rack in middle position and Preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl until combined.

Stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt in large bowl. Add cream cheese and beat with an electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, then add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth.

Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, then put springform pan in a shallow baking pan (in case springform leaks). Bake until center is just set, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool 5 minutes. (Leave oven on.)

Make topping:
Whisk together sour cream, sugar, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl, then spread on top of cheesecake and bake 5 minutes.

Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours.

Chill, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Remove side of pan and bring to room temperature before serving.

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