Sunday, November 21, 2010

Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake Bites with Spicy Nuts

 This recipe is a hybrid of several.  I love to browse my cookbooks and magazines to get ideas, and then I let them percolate in my head until I come up with what I really want to make.  I think these would be a great alternative to plain pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, and the beauty is that they work very well to make ahead.  It's even more fun if you have a special kitchen helper like me to assist (and a 50mm/f1.4 lens to take cool pictures...I rediscovered the fun of low aperture).

 I discovered these gingerbread flavored graham crackers a couple of weeks ago.  I imagine that they're only a seasonal item, so snatch them up if you see them!  I've used gingersnaps for crusts before, but it's hard to find ones that are the right texture.  These are the perfect graham texture with a zippy kick of ginger, and the inspiration for this recipe.

 Don't forget to stop and snitch a little bit.  After all, what's the good of cooking if you don't get to taste test?
 I'm all about convenience.  Mash your graham crackers up, and then pour the melted butter into the same bag to mush it all around nicely.  I lined the pan with foil - two layers going opposite directions - both for easy clean up, but also to lift the bars out for easy slicing.
 You will do the filling in layers.  Smooth the plain cream cheese layer down, then dollop blobs of the pumpkin stuff evenly spaced on top and carefully spread it out until it covers the plain layer completely.
 (I would like you to note that this handmixer, #6 in the last 12 years, is on it's way out.  #5 lasted 2 whole weeks.  This one has been kicking around since spring but started making desperate noises this week when I forced it to plow through all of the cream cheese.)
 While the cheesecake is baking, make your white chocolate ganache.  It needs to chill for a while before being whipped.  It's quite simple and can either be done on the stove top or in the microwave.

 Bake the cheesecake until it is uniformly puffed across the top surface and no longer jiggles.
 Another task while waiting for the cheesecake to bake or chill is to make the spiced nuts.  Don't be afraid of cayenne pepper!  Once these are sprinkled on top of the creamy cheesecake, the kick is totally mellowed out.  I think next time I'll put even more pepper.
 Chill the cheesecake for a while.  At least 3-4 hours.  I was in a hurry and only chilled it for 2, but when I tasted leftovers later that evening that had chilled longer, I was far more impressed with the flavors.
 Use the handy dandy foil to lift the cheesecake out of the pan, slice it into 36 even squares, whip the ganache and pipe it on top, and sprinkle with chopped spiced pecans.
Voila!  Sweet, spicy, creamy, smooth, crunchy - all sorts of wonderful flavors in one little tasty mouthful.

Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake Bites with Spicy Nuts

12 gingerbread graham crackers
4 T. butter, melted

3 8 oz. bricks cream cheese
3 T. cream
1 cup sugar
2 T. real vanilla
3 eggs
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 t. each cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger
2 T. flour

1 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup + 3 T. cream, divided

1/4 c. sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
1 cup pecan halves

Crush the gingerbread grahams and mix with melted butter until evenly distributed.  Line a 9x13 pan with foil with pieces going both directions and overhanging the edges.  Press the graham crumbs evenly into the bottom of the pan and bake at 325 for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat 3 bricks cream cheese (softened at room temperature) until smooth, then beat in the cream, sugar, vanilla and eggs until well incorporated.  Reserve 2 cups of cream cheese mixture and spread the remainder in an even layer over the graham crust.

Into the reserved cream cheese mixture, beat pumpkin, spices and flour.  Spoon dollops evenly over the plain cream cheese layer, then spread carefully until the pumpkin layer completely covers the plain layer.

Bake for 60 minutes at 325 degrees, until it is puffed all the way through and no longer jiggles.  Remove to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes before putting in the fridge to chill for 3-4 hours.

Meanwhile, make the ganache.  You may either bring the 1/2 cup cream just to a simmer in a saucepan on the stovetop, remove from heat, add the chips and let them sit for a couple of minutes before whisking until smooth, or melt the chips in the microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring in between until smooth, then whisk the cream in.  Either way works just fine.  Chill the ganache in the fridge for an hour or so.

Make the nuts by pouring the nuts into a skillet over medium heat.  Cook for about 5 minutes until they start to lightly brown and smell toasty.  In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, cayenne and cinnamon.  Pour all but 2 T. of it over the nuts and stir constantly as the sugar melts to coat all the nuts evenly.  Once the sugar is melted, remove from heat and immediately pour the remaining 2 T. of sugar on and toss to coat.  Pour the hot nuts out onto a piece of parchment paper to allow them to cool.  Chop into medium pieces.

Once you are ready to assemble the bites, pull the ganache out of the fridge and add 3 T. of cream.  Whip with a handmixer for 2 minutes, or until it is fluffy and reaches a piping consistency.  Lift the cheesecake out of the pan with the foil handles and cut into squares.  Pipe the ganache on top with a large star tip, then sprinkle pecans over the ganache.  You may either serve immediately, or return to the fridge until you are ready.


whiting family said...

YUM! I want some of those!

Tycksen Family said...

This is what you brought to our Relief Society Meeting in November right?! SO YUMMY!!!!

Nurse Heidi said...

Yep, though I should have put them in the fridge while we were waiting - I didn't realize that dessert was going to be after the program. They're really good chilled.