Not quite cake, not quite pie, definitely all delicious
Cheesecake is like a little miracle, in no small part because it is two of my favorite things: cheese and cake. And even though the cake part is misleading, since the creamy filled crust always feels more like a pie, I’m not going to argue. I live in Chicago, where Eli’s Cheesecake has been making delicious ones my whole life. They even make chocolate-dipped cheesecake on a stick, which is pure bliss.
However, a type 2 diabetes has seriously curtailed my cheesecake consumption. Too much sugar on top of a carby crust means it's reserved for a very special occasion indulgence. But a recent dinner party in need of an out-of-the-box cheese course got me thinking: What about savory cheesecake? As it is pumpkin spice season, and you can’t turn around without being accosted with the images of pumpkin everywhere, pumpkin became a natural addition. A Parmesan almond crust keeps the carbs down and adds a bit more flavor than a traditional crumb crust, and nods to a cheese platter in a great way.
This makes a lovely appetizer, or even a light lunch with a salad, and if you want to serve it as part of a cheese platter, cut it into small squares and garnish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze. It also freezes beautifully, so sometimes I divide this recipe into two 5- or 6-inch springform pans and freeze them to have on hand for smaller spontaneous gatherings.
Savory Pumpkin Cheesecake
2 cups ground almonds (pecans or hazelnuts also fine, walnuts get a little too bitter)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg white
3 egg yolks
2 pounds cream cheese, softened
½ pound goat cheese, softened
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
4 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
2 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
½ teaspoon espelette pepper
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound pumpkin puree, fresh or canned
Preheat your oven to 400°F degrees. Wrap the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with foil, line the bottom with parchment and grease with butter. (or two 5- or 6-inch pans) In a bowl, mix nuts with cheese and egg white just until mixture is blended, and press into bottom of the pan in an even layer.
In the bowl of your stand mixer with a whisk attachment, or in a large bowl with your electric hand mixer lightly beat eggs and yolks until frothy, then add softened cheeses and beat until thoroughly mixed. Add in nutmeg, thyme, shallot, zest, pepper, and flour and beat briefly just to mix. Then add the cream and pumpkin puree. Beat until smooth.
Pour into the crust and place the springform pan on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 300°F degrees and bake 50 to 60 minutes longer. The cake is done when there is just the gentlest wobble in the center two inches of the pan when you shake it. Not a loose liquid look, but more of a soft rolling movement.
Turn off heat and allow cake to cool in oven about two hours with the door cracked open. They may crack slightly on top, which I like. If you hate that look, you can cook in a water bath, but it might take a few minutes longer. Remove from the oven and let rest on the counter another hour or so until not noticeably warm to the touch, cover and chill in the fridge overnight. You can garnish with balsamic glaze, fig jam, date syrup or pomegranate molasses, or a fine dice of quince paste. Crème fraiche or sour cream mixed with a hint of brown sugar makes a lovely topping, especially sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds (the green hulled ones, not the white whole ones)
To serve, take the cake out of the fridge about an hour before serving. Remove spring-form, and slice into thin wedges or small squares. You can wrap this well in plastic and foil and freeze for up to three months. You can also make in muffin tins for individual portions, just reduce baking time. For muffins, I strongly suggest using baking cups or the pans with the removeable bottoms as they can be a bear to get out.