12 January 2009

Pecan Do It

I'm not a competitive person. I just don't see the point.

If someone wants to let their ego rule the day- and if it's that satisfying to their immaturity- go right ahead, push to the front. I don't need to evaluate my accomplishments in terms of yours.

The only exception comes when faced with a culinary challenge. I've been tricked into making apple pies and brownies, chocolate-chip cookies and scones, all at little more than a few words' suggestion that someone else's- or heaven forbid, a prepackaged version- is better than mine. Even though I know what's happening, I can't help it; the compulsive baker takes over and I find myself up at 1 a.m., measuring out sugar and greasing pans, muttering This'll show them tomorrow as I mix up a batter.

At least it's not a self-destructive habit- the only damage is to my sleep schedule. And since I'm compelled to share the finished goods (out of generosity, not anything as base as gratification), it's less selfish than typical competitive behavior.

Still, the most intense challenges tend to come not from an innocent outside remark, but from within, like when I spotted this pumpkin cheesecake with praline sauce on the last page of the November 2008 Food & Wine. Give me a break, I thought, noting the total time of six hours, plus overnight chilling. Who would be asinine enough to waste that much time making a cheesecake?

A month and a half later, the presumptuousness of such a recipe still had me foaming at the mouth- or was it salivating at the thought of those caramel-covered pecans oozing down the side of a slice? I didn't care if it took over a day. I needed to prove that this recipe wasn't worth it.

You know how this one turns out.

I ended up buying a can of pumpkin and a bag of pecans later that morning and before I knew it, I was waiting the directed two hours for the puree to dry and figuring out which tea would go best with the spicy, brown-sugar flavors. I certainly had the time to think about it.

Pumpkin Cheesecake
Makes: 12 servings.

1 15-ounce can (1 3/4 cups) pumpkin puree
8 whole graham crackers, broken
1/2 cup (2 ounces) pecans
1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing pan
1 1/2 cups (14 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Set a rack over a counter and line the rack with 2 layers of paper towels. Spread pumpkin puree over the paper towels and let drain for 2 hours, until puree is fairly dry.

2. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter the bottom and side of a 9-inch springform pan. In a food processor, pulse graham crackers until finely ground. Add pecans and brown sugar and pulse until finely ground. Add melted butter and pulse just until incorporated. Press crumbs onto the bottom of prepared pan. Bake crust for about 5 minutes, just until fragrant and lightly browned. Let crust cool completely.

3. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with paddle, beat cream cheese until very smooth. In a small bowl, whisk granulated sugar with salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. With machine on, add spiced sugar to cream cheese and beat until creamy, scraping the bottom and side of bowl. Carefully add drained pumpkin puree and beat until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down bowl between each addition. Beat in heavy cream, lemon juice and vanilla until batter is smooth.

4. Pour cheesecake batter over the cooled crust and bake at 350° for 12 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 225° and bake the cheesecake for about 1 1/2 hours, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 150°; the center will be very jiggly but not liquidy. Let cheesecake cool on a rack, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

5. Run a hot knife around cheesecake and loosen springform ring. Carefully remove ring and transfer cake to a plate. Using a warm knife, cut into pieces and serve with the Pecan Praline Sauce (recipe below).

A note on the recipe: I adapted it a bit from F&W's original, which I believe had some serious timing issues. I also halved the praline sauce and found it still ample for the entire cheesecake, but by all means double it and challenge yourself to put it on everything, if you're like that.

Pecan Praline Sauce
Makes: 1 1/2 cups.

3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
6 tablespoons dark-brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (4 ounces) pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a large saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until smooth. Stir in heavy cream and salt and bring to a boil. Simmer just until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Let the caramel cool.

2. Spread pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 6 to 8 minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Transfer pecans to cutting board and let them cool. Coarsely chop the nuts, stir into cooled caramel and serve sauce. Leftovers can be refrigerated up to one week (and tastes fabulous on vanilla ice cream); rewarm gently before serving.

As soon as I tasted that rich, creamy, tangy-pumpkin bite along a plain black tea (something not too overpowering, like Darjeeling, works best) the next day, I knew it was worth it. Damn you, you delicious, interminable cheesecake.

But I still think I won.


Camille said...

Oh, my, this is making my mouth water! I imagine a plain cup of black tea would be a nice compliment without making the whole experience too rich. I keep staring at the photos and that praline is calling my name!

Tartelette said...

Sorry for my long absence dear! Happy New Year!

Yes, you win the pecan praline cheesecake! Hands down the creamiest!!

hmstrjam said...

mmm delicious! I want to try the new ben and jerrys flavor- Yes Pecan

Kevin said...

That looks so good!

christine said...

Okay, you're out of your mind.