A swirl of luscious pumpkin makes this cheesecake a showstopper for Thanksgiving

  • Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake will be a showstopper on your holiday dessert table.

    Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake will be a showstopper on your holiday dessert table. Courtesy of Penny Kazmier

Posted11/17/2021 6:00 AM

I have made no secret about my love of pumpkin but had never found a pumpkin cheesecake I liked. Some were dry and others didn't have enough pumpkin flavor for me. But I credit my friend Vickie with making the best pumpkin cheesecake ever.

Vickie's cheesecake is creamy and swirled with a pumpkin pie-like mixture, all sitting atop a gingersnap crust. It is the perfect combination of cheesecake, pumpkin and spices. Lucky for all of us, she was willing to share her recipe.


There are some basic rules to baking cheesecake, but the most important tip I can give is to start with room-temperature ingredients.

Allowing all of the ingredients to come to room temperature will make it easier to combine them. Cheesecake ingredients should be stirred gently to prevent too much air from being incorporated into the mixture, as this may cause your finished cheesecake to have high sides and sink in the middle, instead of being a uniform thickness throughout.

The second tip is to combine the cream cheese and sugar by hand. I think of it like grains of sand breaking down the cream cheese. Even at room temperature, cream cheese can be lumpy if combined with eggs before being fully incorporated with the sugar. Once the cheese and sugar are thoroughly combined, add eggs one at a time and only mix as much as necessary.

Cracks in my cheesecake don't bother me, as long as it is not overbaked. But if this bothers you, you may want to try baking your cheesecake in a water bath. Be sure to wrap the bottom and sides of the pan in aluminum foil. This will keep any moisture from the water bath from creeping into your crust.

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake is topped with ginger snap crumbs and whipped cream.
Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake is topped with ginger snap crumbs and whipped cream. - Courtesy of Penny Kazmier
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If there are still cracks in your cheesecake despite your best efforts, try to spread the top with a bit of sweetened sour or whipped cream. If you want to take decorating a step further, sprinkle the top with graham cracker, or in this case, ginger snap crumbs.

I believe cheesecake also improves with age and like to make mine a day or two ahead of time if possible. I made this one a week ahead and, before adding any toppings, froze it tightly wrapped in plastic wrap. The defrosted cheesecake was still creamy and delicious when served.

Temperature is also essential to flavor and texture, so be sure to remove your cheesecake from the refrigerator 20 to 30 minutes before serving.

I will be honest, my first attempt at making this recipe had its challenges, and I hope you can learn from my mistakes.

The recipe says to place the cheesecake in a cold oven, close the oven door, turn the oven on, and bake for about one hour. While this worked beautifully for Vickie, it did not work as well for me.


I usually bake using the convection setting on my oven, and while I am not an oven expert, I believe this was part of the problem. After polling some friends, I discovered everyone's ovens heat at different rates. My son's will reach the desired temperature within 15 minutes, while mine takes longer and differs depending on which setting I use: convection, conventional or convection bake. On top of that, the heat source on every oven is different, with some being on the top while others are on the bottom, and in my case, even on the sides.

My first cheesecake was mixed in a food processor and baked using a convection oven setting resulting in a sunken center and an overdone top.

After doing my research, I decided my second attempt would include combining the ingredients by hand and using a conventional oven setting. Voila! Cheesecake perfection.

Just in case you are wondering if this cheesecake might be able to be a stand-in for a traditional pumpkin pie, I can assure you the pumpkin layer is as close to a traditional pumpkin pie filling as possible, including warm spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

I brought my second cheesecake to a friend's home for dessert, so I decided to jazz it up a little by topping it with homemade cinnamon whipped cream and crumbled ginger snaps sprinkled over the top. In the end, it tasted as good as it looked. Happy Thanksgiving!

• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge. Contact her at food@dailyherald.com.

You can see where the pumpkin mixture is mixed in with this Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake.
You can see where the pumpkin mixture is mixed in with this Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake. - Courtesy of Penny Kazmier
Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

1¼ cups crushed gingersnaps

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

3 tablespoons salted butter, melted

32 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ cup sour cream, at room temperature

4 large eggs, whisked and at room temperature

¾ cup pumpkin puree

¼ teaspoon ground or grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ cup light brown sugar, packed

Sweetened whipped cream (fold in a little cinnamon if desired)

Spray a 9-inch round springform pan with cooking spray or lightly grease with butter. Set aside.

Combine the gingersnap crumbs, brown sugar and melted butter in a small bowl. Pour the crumbs into the prepared pan, covering only the bottom of the pan, pat down to form an even layer.

In a large bowl, use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on low speed to cream the cream cheese. Mix gently until it is smooth. (I prefer to do this by hand.)

Add in the brown sugar, vanilla and sour cream. Mix on low speed until combined. Add half of the eggs and lightly beat them into the cream cheese just until combined. Add the remaining eggs and mix on low speed just until combined.

Scoop out one cup of cheesecake batter and place it in a medium size bowl.

To this one cup of batter, add the pumpkin, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and brown sugar. Mix well with a rubber spatula.

Pour half of the plain cheesecake batter into the prepared springform pan. Then pour in half of the pumpkin batter.

Use a knife to gently swirl the two batters together.

Add the remaining plain cheesecake batter and then the remaining pumpkin batter.

Use a knife to swirl the batters together.

Allow the cheesecake to rest for 5-10 minutes so that the batter settles and any air bubbles come to the top. Gently tap the pan on the countertop 5-6 times to help remove air bubbles.

Place the pan in a cold oven and close the door.

Set the oven to 350 degrees and bake for about 60 minutes.

At the end of baking time, the cheesecake should still be slightly jiggly in about a 5-inch in diameter circle in the center. Turn off the oven and allow the cheesecake to sit for 30 minutes in the hot oven with the door closed. Then open the oven door and allow the cheesecake to sit until the pan is cool enough to touch it (at least another hour).

Remove the cheesecake from the oven and allow it to rest until it is at room temperature.

Remove the outer ring of the pan, cover the cheesecake and store it in the refrigerator overnight.

To serve, slice the cheesecake and top it with whipped cream and gingersnap crumbs.

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Serves 12.

Penny Kazmier

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