Spoiler alert for my Thanksgiving guests: We’re having cheesecake for dessert. This cheesecake, which could be the best ever. From the most beautiful baking book ever. Last month, 13 pastry chefs came to my house with desserts they had made from this stunning new book, and I heard the most raves for the pumpkin cheesecake. If I can make it—and I did for this photo—so can you. What’s Thanksgiving without pumpkin? And what’s a meal without cheese?
I knew the recipe would be flawless because the author is a fanatic perfectionist. I met Cenk Sönmezsoy nine years ago in Istanbul, where he lives, when my husband and I were there on vacation. At the time, he was writing a food blog that was just gaining traction—it’s huge now—and teaching himself food photography. He had lived in San Francisco during graduate school and missed the city terribly. Cenk took us to the farmers’ market in Istanbul and cooked a meal for us in his apartment, and I turned the experience into a story for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Not long after, he quit working for his father’s ad agency to devote himself full time to food writing. Soon enough, he had a cookbook contract from a Turkish publisher. That book, which took almost five years to complete, became the best-selling cookbook ever in Turkey. The first printing sold out in three days. Gourmand World Cookbook Awards deemed it 2015’s “Best in the World.”
And now this gorgeous work has been released in English as The Artful Baker. The desserts are Western but with Turkish accents, such as the pistachios that garnish the cheesecake.
Like most great pastry chefs, Cenk is painstaking in his methods and disapproves of shortcuts. I am not that person. He makes cookies and grinds them for the crust. I bought graham crackers and ground them in a food processor. I used dense-fleshed kabocha squash, as did the pastry chef who made the recipe for my book party. Be sure to choose a natural cream cheese, with no stabilizers. West Coast folks should have no trouble finding the Gina Marie brand.
Deeply Pumpkiny Pumpkin Cheesecake
Note that you will need a cleaver to cut into a whole kabocha. (A chef’s knife will suffice for cutting chunks after that.) If you don’t have a cleaver, purchase pre-cut squash. The vanilla extract is my addition. Adapted from The Artful Baker by Cenk Sönmezsoy (Abrams).
- 3-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for the pan
- 1-3/4 cups fine homemade graham cracker crumbs
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 5-pound kabocha squash, halved with a cleaver
- 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
- 14 ounces full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
- ½ cup crème fraîiche, lightly whipped
- 2 tablespoons very finely ground pistachios
Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square baking pan. Line the pan with two overlapping strips of parchment paper that are the width of the pan bottom and long enough to cover the bottom and sides with 2 inches of overhang on all four sides. Butter the bottom sheet of parchment to secure the top sheet.
To make the crust, in a medium bowl, stir the butter, crumbs, and cinnamon together with a fork until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and press it with the back of a spoon into an even layer on the bottom only. Bake until set, about 12 minutes. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool completely. Leave the oven on.
To make the filling, discard the squash seeds and stringy fibers in the cavity. Cut the squash into 3-inch chunks (no need to peel). Put them in a roasting pan and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until the squash is tender when pierced, 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours. Let cool, then scoop the flesh out of the skin. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
Puree the squash in a food processor until completely smooth. Pass the puree through a food mill fitted with the fine disk. Measure out 1-1/2 cups puree and reserve any remainder for another use. Transfer the puree to a bowl and stir in the sugar and vanilla.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the cream cheese at medium speed until smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the squash puree and beat until blended, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs and cream and beat on low speed until blended, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Fill a tea kettle with water and bring to a boil.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Set the pan inside a large roasting pan and set it on the oven rack. Add enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the center of the cheesecake jiggles slightly when the pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Turn the oven off, prop the door slightly open with a wooden spoon, and let the cheesecake cool in the oven for 1 hour. Carefully remove the pan from the water bath and set the pan on a wire rack to cool completely. Cover the pan with aluminum foil, poke holes in the foil to prevent condensation, and refrigerate for at least 5 hours or preferably overnight.
To serve, using the parchment overhang as handles, lift the cheesecake out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut the cheesecake in half, then cut each half into 4 or 5 rectangles. Transfer the pieces to a serving plate. Fit a pastry bag with a medium closed 7-point star tip (Ateco #846). Fill with crème fraîche and pipe a star onto each rectangle. Sprinkle the ground pistachios over the stars and serve.