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Looking for a way to use that stringy mass of wet, seed-studded squash that you just pulled out of your kids jack-o-lantern? Forget about it, says Leslie Balassone, pastry chef at Calico Restaurant & Patisserie in Rhinebeck, New York. Balassone, like most professionals, prefers canned pumpkin to fresh. Its fully processed, rid of excess moisture, loaded with pumpkin flavor and ready to use. Just be sure youre buying pure pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling.
And if youre looking for a way to work a bottle of sweet Muscat or Asti Spumante into your Halloween celebration, forget traditional pumpkin pie -- its high concentration of pumpkin and sugar can be tough on wine. Balassones elegant pumpkin cheesecake is a better choice, and its just as easy to make. Just be sure to mix the dough for the simple pâte sucreé (sweet butter crust) well in advance of baking. A few hours or more in the refrigerator will allow the dough to relax and yield a more tender crust when you bake it.
Leslie Balassone, Calico Restaurant & Patisserie, Rhinebeck, NY
Yield: 1 8-inch cake, 10 to 12 servings
Special equipment needed: 8-inch springform pan, stand mixer with paddle attachment
For the pâte sucreé:
For the cheesecake filling:
Make the pâte sucreé dough: Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, mix the butter, flour, salt and sugar on low speed until the lumps disappear and you have a smooth, granular mass. Add the egg and briefly mix at medium speed until youve got a smooth, firm dough. Do not overmix at any point, as this can result in a less tender crust. Knead the dough into a ball, flatten it into a disk, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate until its firm, preferably overnight.
When youre ready to bake the crust, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the dough on a cool, well-floured surface until its 1/4-inch thick. Using the bottom of your springform pan, trace and cut out an 8-inch round. Carefully place this on the bottom of the pan, pierce it all over with a fork and bake it for 8 to 12 minutes, until it turns light golden brown. Allow it to cool completely before pouring custard over it.
Reduce oven temperature to 250 degrees, or 225 degrees if your oven tends to run hot.
Make the custard: Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, whip the cream cheese at high speed, stopping occasionally to scrape down lumps, until its considerably lightened -- about 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the butter. Reduce speed to medium and add the brown sugar and white sugar. Reduce speed to slow and add the flour, spices, eggs and egg yolk, ricotta cheese and sour cream. Mix until all these additions are well incorporated, without beating in any air. Add the pumpkin and continue to mix slowly until its incorporated.
Ladle the custard into the springform pan, over the cooled crust. Bake it on a sheet pan for 80 minutes or more, until it no longer jiggles when you shake it. Turn the cake halfway through baking, and take it out immediately if it begins to crack.
Leave the cake in the pan until it cools to room temperature. Run a paring knife around the edge before releasing it. Serve it chilled, with powdered sugar on top. (Balassone suggests a jack-o-lantern stencil for the sugar.)
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