Fall is officially upon us in New York City. The leaves are turning, the coats have come out, and of course, winter squash is everywhere–which, in my opinion, is one of the few consolations for cold weather. Sweet, creamy, and healthy? Sign me up.
If you’ve never ventured beyond butternut, I urge you to try kabocha, an adorably plump green-skinned Japanese pumpkin that’s widely available here in NYC. Canned pumpkin will work (even if it’s not always really pumpkin), but I love this cheesecake most with homemade kabocha purée–its creaminess, sweetness, and light orange color add the perfect touch to this fall dessert.
- Rinse your kabocha, then microwave on high for 2 minutes. This softens the squash, making it easier to chop.
- Slice the squash in half and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Chop the squash into large chunks and steam for 10-15 minutes, until very soft.
- Separate the orange flesh from the green rind (it’s fine if there’s a little left over) and purée in a blender until smooth.
- Adjust a rack to the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F / 175°C. Line the base of a 6” springform pan with a circle of parchment paper.
- In a food processor, pulse the graham cracker sheets and sugar until finely ground. Add the melted butter and continue pulsing until the mixture sticks together. (If you don’t have a food processor, place the graham crackers in a ziploc bag and crush with a rolling pin, then transfer to a mixing bowl and stir in the sugar and butter.) Press the graham cracker mixture evenly into the base of the springform pan.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes, until set. Remove from the oven and set aside on a wire rack to cool. Keep the oven on while you prepare the filling.
Filling(adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)
- Fit a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Beat the cream cheese and granulated sugar on medium-high until smooth and creamy, 2-3 minutes. Add the sour cream and vanilla extract and beat to combine.
- Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating on medium-low just until blended. Overmixing will deflate the batter, so stop mixing as soon as they’re combined.
- Scoop 1 cup of the cream cheese batter into a mixing bowl. Stir in the kabocha pureé, cinnamon, and pumpkin spice until the color is uniform.
- Alternate dropping large spoonfuls of the kabocha batter and the plain cream cheese batter onto the crust. Gently shake the pan to even out the surface. Use the tip of a butter knife to draw a #-shaped grid across the surface. Swirl a little more if you’d like, but don’t go overboard, or the colors will blend together.
- Boil a kettle of water. Place a 9” cake or 8” square baking pan in the middle rack of the oven and carefully pour in at least 1” of boiling water. Wrap the bottom and sides of a springform pan in two layers of aluminum foil to prevent leaks. Gently place the springform into the baking pan, so it’s immersed in the boiling water. (The steam from the water bath helps regulate the temperature in the oven and create a moist environment, preventing cracks.)
- Bake for 50-75 minutes, until the center of the cheesecake wobbles ever so slightly when you jiggle the pan. Turn the oven off, crack the oven door, and leave the cheesecake inside for an hour to cool gradually.
- After an hour, remove the springform pan to a wire rack and allow to cool to room temperature. Transfer to the fridge for at least 4 hours to allow the cheesecake to set.
- Run your thinnest knife between the cake and the rim of the pan. Unmold the cake from the springform and set the ring aside. Slide the knife under the parchment round and transfer the cake to a cutting board. Use a cake spatula to smooth the edges of the cheesecake.
- Use a sharp chef’s knife to slice the cheesecake, wiping it clean between each cut for the neatest slices. If you’re feeling decadent, top with ice cream, candied pecans, and/or caramel syrup. Leftover cheesecake can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days or frozen for longer-term storage (see tips).
- Freezing cheesecake: Cheesecake freezes remarkably well, which makes it a great dessert to stash away for a surprise gathering. Slice the cheesecake and transfer to a freezer-safe tupperware, making sure to leave space between each slice so they don’t stick together. When ready to serve, defrost in the fridge overnight or at room temperature.
- Do I have to use blocks?: I can’t advise using cream cheese spread (the type that comes in tubs) to make cheesecake, as it becomes granular and wet when exposed to heat. The blocks are your best bet.
- No 6” pan? Simply double the ingredients and bake the cheesecake in a 9” pan. Note that it may take a few minutes longer to bake through.