All photos: Laura Hobbs, Fayetteville Flyer
Pumpkin pie can be a funny thing. I’ve had slices that make me swoon with delicate, fluffy filling and a perfectly flaky crust. Then I’ve had slices that make me cringe with a soggy, under-baked crust and weepy, mealy filling. How can such a simple pie have two so very different outcomes? Isn’t pumpkin pie supposed to be the quintessential Thanksgiving accoutrement? Have we as Americans lost our knack for making this classic and historic dessert? Is it something we force upon ourselves out of tired tradition and blind faith? Commence existential crisis.
After eating a giant Thanksgiving meal, I have a litmus test for any dessert that crosses my path: “Is it worth eating?” Meaning, is it worth 1) the real estate in my stomach, 2) the likely gastric distress to follow, and 3) the calories (like it really matters at that point). So often after the biggest meal of the year, we dazedly fill our dessert plates in a tryptophan-induced haze with a smattering of sweet items: some well-worth eating, some questionable, and some well-worth hiding in the garbage disposal. Where’s the strategy behind our decisions? Where’s the due diligence and consideration?
I remember one Thanksgiving meal when I forewent the dessert table altogether. I cruised the options: weepy pumpkin pie, gelatinous pecan pie, Wal-Mart cake (really?) accompanied by Wal-Mart cream cheese danish. (REALLY?) You may scoff at my pretension, but ask yourself: “Are any of those items actually worth eating?” Your likely answer is the same as mine: “No. I’ll have a cup of coffee and a Tums, please.”
So it goes without saying that when I’m tasked with bringing the dessert to a Thanksgiving feast, I put some serious love and elbow grease into my creation. I make sure that my dessert ends up in satisfied bellies, not stuffed into a napkin or secretly shoved into the garbage disposal.
This task has me consulting online resources and my library of cookbooks for the perfect recipe. Cue the shameless plug for an amazing new cookbook: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. Deb has this lil’ ol’ blog, www.SmittenKitchen.com, which has a lil’ ol’ following of several hundred thousand rabidly devoted fans. I preordered the book on Amazon and sat on my hands until it arrived in my mailbox. When it finally did, I devoured each page slowly with my eyes. Good stuff, Deb, good stuff.
Of the many delicious recipes Deb offers in her new book, one stood out as a true Thanksgiving masterpiece: Marbled Pumpkin Gingersnap Tart. As she puts it, this is her “all-in-one Thanksgiving dessert, an earnest attempt to find a singular pumpkin dessert that would please my whole family.” With pumpkin pie batter swirled with cheesecake batter in a crispy gingersnap crust, this seemed like a surefire winner to me.
But can I ever be satisfied with recreating a recipe verbatim? Of course not. I upped the gingersnap-to-graham ratio, and instead of using sugar in the cheesecake batter, I opted to turn up the autumn-ness with the substitution of maple syrup. Don’t go using that Mrs. Butterworth’s stuff though, you hear me? Real maple syrup. From a tree. Hand-poured by a lumber jack with a big beard and a plaid shirt. Last criterion optional.
This tart has just enough pumpkin mixed with just enough cheesecake, and the whole thing is brought together with the crispy crumbliness of the buttery gingerbread crust. Add an oversized dollop of whipped cream, and you’re sure to impress even the most pretentious (hi!) dessert eater. Enjoy!
Pumpkin Maple Cheesecake Tart
(inspired by Smitten Kitchen)
6 oz. Gingersnap cookies, broken into chunks (about 20 cookies)
2 oz. Graham crackers, broken into chunks (about 3 sheets)
5 Tbs. salted butter, melted
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 Tbs. real maple syrup
1 large egg yolk
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 1/4 c. pumpkin puree
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
Few fresh grates of nutmeg
1 c. heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 425°. Finely grind the gingersnaps and graham crackers together in a food processor. Add the melted butter and pulse until the crumb mixture is moistened. Press the mixture firmly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom (or a Springform pan). Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.
Whisk together the cheesecake ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. Set aside.
For the pumpkin batter, beat the egg and egg white lightly in a large bowl. Whisk in the pumpkin, sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Gradually whisk in the cream.
Pour the pumpkin batter into the crust. Dollop the cheesecake batter into the pumpkin batter, and marble the two together with a knife – be careful not to pierce the bottom crust. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350° and bake another 35 minutes, until a knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the tart completely. Serve at room temperature or cold. Store leftovers in the fridge.
Laura is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville, but has recently moved to Boulder, Colorado. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more from Laura, check out her food blog, Prana & Pie.