Deeply Pumpkiny Pumpkin Cheesecake
Note that you will need a cleaver to cut into a whole kabocha squash. (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). Sönmezsoy makes his own cookies for the crumb crust, but I am happy with store-bought graham crackers blitzed in the food processor.
3-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for the pan
1-3/4 cups fine graham cracker crumbs
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 pounds 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 fraîche, 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. 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 completely smooth. Add the squash puree and beat until well blended. 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.