Pumpkin Cheesecake with Cinnamon Chai Buttercream

pumpkin cheesecake with cinnamon chai buttercream frosting

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Finally, I remembered the sugar.

The last time I tried to make this cake, it took until it had been sitting in the fridge for a few hours for me to realize, mid-bloggery, that I had forgotten to put in the sugar. This time, I remembered. As Juliet would say, “wa-lah!” (It’s her version of “voila.”)

When it comes to a full-on decadent dessert maker, you can’t really go wrong with Paula Deen. I did actually lighten things up just a tiny little bit, but mostly I was just focused on making this a worthy dessert for tonight’s Thanksgiving table at Dad & Michael’s. To that end, I started with a graham cracker crust.

I mixed together graham cracker crumbs, light brown sugar, and cinnamon (more than suggested, as always).

graham cracker crumbs

Juliet popped by at this point to see if she could help.


I was letting her stay up a little extra late, and she was very happy about it.

Next I added the melted butter to the graham cracker mix.

adding melted butter

Once that was mixed, I pressed it into the bottom of a springform pan.

crust in pan

Then I set that aside to focus on the cheesecake itself.

Three 8-oz packages went into the bowl of my stand mixer. One of them was light cream cheese, just to ease things up a bit. The instruction was to beat until smooth, which was perplexing given that cream cheese is already pretty smooth, but I did my best.

cream cheese, beaten until smooth

I added the pumpkin and the (light) sour cream.

pumpkin and sour cream

And then, the once-but-not-this-time-forgotten sugar.


Nathaniel is my new expert nutmeg grater. He loves doing it and has been waiting for me to bake something with nutmeg again so he could show off his mad skillz.

Nathaniel grating nutmeg


I added the nutmeg, plus some cinnamon (a full heaping teaspoon), cloves, and just shy of half a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice, which wasn’t called for in the recipe but seemed like a good idea. Then the kids took turns cracking the eggs and we added those too: three eggs, plus one extra yolk. The mixer whirred.

added eggs

The last ingredients to go in were two tablespoons of all purpose flour, and a teaspoon of vanilla.

flour and vanilla

Once everything was mixed well, I poured it into the pan, over the crust, and wrapped the bottom in tin foil so I could bake it in a water bath, to avoid cracks.

pan with foil

In it went, for an hour. I must have looked at ten different sites describing how to tell when a cheesecake is done, and it still made me nervous trying to guess. I read the descriptions to Dave and we mutually agreed that it was ready.

cake in water bath, done

It looked pretty good!

cheesecake, baked

Enjoy the perfection; it didn’t last. When I stretched out the plastic wrap to cover it, some of it grazed the top of the cake, and now it has these weird marks on it. It was too late to smooth it over, I was worried about making things worse, so I just let it be, and put it in the fridge over night. Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, we actually have enough room in the fridge for a cheesecake. (Mixed blessing.)

It chilled overnight, and now it’s Thanksgiving day, so this morning, Juliet stopped by in her special Thanksgiving costume.

Juliet on Thanksgiving

And then I went to work on the frosting. I took the recipe from the Vanilla Chai Cupcakes I made for Nathaniel’s in-class birthday, but halved it since I knew I wasn’t going to need to cover a lot of surface area.

I started by beating the butter until smooth, then added in some vanilla and half of the leftover chai spices from the cupcakes.

butter, spices, vanilla

Then I slowly added the powdered sugar, plus a tablespoon of milk, and kept the mixer going until the frosting took shape.

frosting wide

frosting close-up

And then I used my new decorator to go around the edges of the cake. I’m not very good at this yet, but I did my best. (I ran out of frosting with one little “bloop” to go, so I reloaded and added it in last. Tension!

cake with frosting

cake side view

The frosting tastes great, and after we eat the cheesecake tonight, I’ll come back and post the results. Fingers crossed.

Update: The cheesecake was a hit, and the frosting turned out to be the perfect complement. It added a sweet lightness to contrast the natural heaviness of the pumpkin, and all the spices went together beautifully. There was less than half of it left tonight and Rosie happily agreed to the idea of leaving her the leftovers. Here it is at the Thanksgiving table. (I snapped this with my iPhone.)

Thanksgiving table



My version of Pumpkin Cheesecake with Cinnamon Chai Frosting


1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick melted unsalted butter

2 (8-ounce) packages regular cream cheese, at room temperature
1 (8-ounce) package light cream cheese, at room temperature
1 (15-ounce) can pureed pumpkin
3 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup light sour cream
1 1/2 cups cane sugar
1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon 1% milk
2 teaspoons chai spice (ingredients listed below)

Chai spice mix:
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray or grease a springform pan.

First, make the crust. In a medium bowl, stir together the crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon, mixing thoroughly. Add the melted butter and stir until well combined. Press into a springform pan, spreading evenly along the bottom. (A good way to do this is to use the bottom of a flat measuring cup.)

Set that aside while you make the filling. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat all 3 packages of cream cheese until very smooth.

Add the pumpkin, eggs, egg yolk, sour cream, sugar, and spices. Beat on medium speed until combined.

Add the flour and vanilla. Beat on low speed until well mixed.

Pour mixture into crust. Spread out as evenly as you can.

I like to bake my cheesecake in a water bath. I use a big roasting pan and put enough water in it that it might come up about 1/4 of the height of the springform pan. Wrap the bottom of the springform pan in foil to prevent any leaks, place in the roasting pan with the water, and bake at 350 for about an hour.

You will know the cheesecake is done when you tap the side of the pan with a wooden spoon and it jiggles together as one piece, with only the middle really moving much. Do not open the oven in the first half hour no matter what! If you have never made a cheesecake before, there are many videos and descriptions on the web to help.

When it’s done, remove from the oven and let it sit for about 15 minutes. Then cover it with plastic wrap — I used a disposable shower cap — and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Tip: Cheesecakes are best made the day before eating!

When the cake is completely set and cooled, make the frosting. Using a stand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until completely creamy.

On low, beat in the vanilla and the chai spice mix.

Then slowly start adding the powdered sugar, about 1/3 at a time. If the buttercream is too thick, add the milk. (Feel free to use more if you need it.)

I like to use the star tip to make just a little flourish around the edges, and one big one in the middle.  Here is a picture of the most recent one I made, snapped with my iPhone:

pumpkin cheesecake on Thanksgiving table 2013

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