It all begins with a craving.
When people pose the prosaic query, “where do you find your inspiration?” my answers always come out jumbled and contradictory, but the truth itself remains the same: my cravings. You see, there is a direct line of communication between my stomach and my brain and their conversations generally result in carbs.
Occasionally, however, they lead to cupcakes and cheesecake: two of my most favorite things in this world.
I knew that I wanted to make you an extra special cheesecake for fall. A cheesecake you could rightly offer up at Thanksgiving as a welcome replacement for the dull and placid pumpkin pies of yesteryears.
With that vague idea in mind, I strolled through Trader Joe’s only to stumble upon this lovely labeled bottle. They had me at bourbon barrel…
There, in that gilded bottle of maple syrup lay my inspiration.
Maple is one of those fall flavors that I LOVE when I love it, but can only take so much, you know?
For this cheesecake, I reduced the maple syrup to create an extra thick and flavorful syrup that would work in my very favorite cheesecake recipe. The result is subtle but undoubtably present, and it pairs so marvelously with the cinnamon. The combination really is a dream - a lovely, caramel-coated and cinnamon-spiced dream.
Let’s talk caramel.
To top off this incredible cake, we are making a pecan caramel. It is so simple, and it rounds out this dessert with so much pizzazz and a bit more of those deep, caramelized flavors we are all craving around this time of year.
Stunning, isn’t it?! I live for those golden drips of caramel.
The caramel-enveloped cheesecake is a show-stopper to be sure, but I have to tell you that pouring the entire batch of caramel over the entire cheesecake will not likely be your best move.
Because homemade caramels stiffen when chilled, pouring the entire batch over the entire cheesecake is not advisable unless you are planning on serving/eating the entire thing right then and there.
As soon as you return that cake to the refrigerator, the caramel will harden and you will be left with a cheesecake that is impossible to cut and caramel that is impossible to chew. Trust me on this, I might just be speaking from experience.
However!! If you store the caramel and cheesecake in the refrigerator separately, you can warm up and soften the caramel as needed, pouring just enough over each individual serving of cheesecake, and dodging a major bullet.
All that said, the most important thing to remember is to actually just make this cheesecake. It is really, really so wonderful and just what we need on a rainy, October Thursday.
MAPLE CINNAMON CHEESECAKE WITH PECAN CARAMEL
makes one, 10-inch cheesecake, about 16 servings / recipe adapted from Ina Garten
for the crust
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (10 crackers)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
pinch of kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cut a circle of parchment paper the same diameter as your pan and lay it in the bottom of a greased 10-inch springform pan.
In the work bowl of your food processor pulse graham crackers until completely crumbled. The crackers should now have the consistency of cornmeal. Add melted butter, granulated sugar, and kosher salt; pulse to combine. Pour the crust into the pan and press it down tightly with your fingertips. Bake for 8-10 minutes; until the edges are golden brown. Allow the crust to cool while you prepare the filling.
for the cheesecake
1 1/2 cups pure Grade A amber maple syrup
2 1/2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
5 whole large eggs, at room temperature
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees F.
Pour maple syrup into a small, 2-quart saucepan and bring to a slow simmer over medium high heat. Once the syrup is simmering, reduce heat to medium and simmer until the syrup has reduced down to 1 cup. Allow to cool until just warm.
In the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, combine cream cheese and sugar. Beat on medium-high speed until fluffy; about 5 minutes. Reduce the speed and add eggs and egg yolks, 2 at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the sour cream, reduced maple syrup, ground cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Pour the filling into your cooled crust.
Bake for 15 minutes then reduce the oven temperature to 225 degrees F and bake for an additional 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Turn off the oven and prop open the door. Allow the cake to cool in the open oven for 30 minutes, then transfer to your countertop and allow the cake to sit for 3 hours at room temperature before wrapping in plastic and transferring to the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.
The next day…
Remove the cake from the springform pan by running a knife that has been dipped in warm water along the edge of the cheesecake. Carefully lift the cake from the bottom of the springform pan (leaving the parchment attached to the crust) and transfer to a cake stand. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Make the pecan caramel.
for the pecan caramel
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons filtered water
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup chopped raw pecans
Cook’s Note: Homemade caramel will top a store bought jar any day, but homemade caramels also come with their own set of rules. You will want to pour this caramel over the cheesecake just before you plan on serving it, or pour it over one slice at a time if you are expecting leftovers. The reason for this is that homemade caramels become hard and stiff in the refrigerator and will make the cheesecake nearly impossible to cut. So, unless you are going to serve the entire cheesecake right away, it is best to keep the caramel in its own jar so that you can warm it up and pour over each slice as needed. To soften, simply microwave the jar of caramel for thirty seconds, stir, and repeat as needed.
In a wide, 10-inch sauté pan combine sugar, butter, and water. Set over medium heat and stir until the butter and sugar have melted and the mixture is simmering.
Do not stir the mixture again, but swirl the pan every so often so that the sugar caramelizes and browns evenly.
After about five minutes the caramel should be amber in color. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in heavy whipping cream. Stand back from the pan as it will steam and bubble furiously. Return the caramel to the heat and continue to whisk slowly until the caramel is smooth.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in pecans and vanilla extract, being very careful not to scrape against the sides of the pan as this will cause the caramel to crystalize.
Allow to cool until warm, but not hot. Pour over cheesecake or transfer to a lidded jar and refrigerate until ready to use! To soften, simply microwave the jar of caramel for thirty seconds, stir, and repeat as needed.