October 28, 2015

Pumpkin Gingerbread Cheesecake Bars

Based on a spike in posts like gingerbread sconespumpkin oatmeal cookies, and maple apple spice cake, I'd say you guys are in the mood to bake stuff, which is why I'm kicking off The Great Fall Baking Marathon of 2015. Get ready for pumpkin, gingerbread, cranberries, apples, and spiced everything. You can lick the bowl, put on a few pounds to keep you warm through the winter, and win over a ton of new friends (or at least that's my plan).

I'm starting with these pumpkin cheesecake bars because it's all the flavors of fall packed into a portable cheesecake, which, let's face it, is the perfect vessel for just about anything. It has three layers: a gingerbread shortbread, pumpkin cheesecake filling, and a gingerbread streusel topping. Bonus: it's even easier than it sounds since the shortbread and streusel are basically the same dough.

The gingerbread shortbread is essentially just a spiced shortbread with some molasses. It starts with flour, baking soda, salt, and my special blend of fall spices. If you have pumpkin pie spice on hand and would prefer to use that, go ahead. Next, I beat some butter and plenty of sugar together until fluffy, then I add some molasses. The molasses adds color and keeps the shortbread moist throughout the long baking process, since cheesecake takes a while to cook. The flour is added to the butter mixture until just combined. You don't want to overwork it or it will get tough.

I take out about a cup of the dough, which should be somewhat sticky. That portion of dough gets combined with some extra flour to make it crumbly and streusel-y so you can actually sprinkle it onto the cheesecake. The rest of the dough is pressed into your baking dish and chilled until firm. This refrigeration step also helps avoid overbaking while the cheesecake cooks and keeps the shortbread flaky (the same process applies to pie crust).

Now for everyone's favorite part: the cheesecake. There aren't any surprising ingredients here--just cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and what makes this recipe special: pumpkin and even more fall spices. I've found that a can of pumpkin is the perfect amount; you get plenty of pumpkin flavor and color without ruining the texture or having random containers of pumpkin left over. If you want to pull an Ina Garten and make your own pumpkin puree, I totally respect that (as long as you aren't all condescending because I'm not using the *good* pumpkin puree). Just be careful that you're using pie pumpkins for this and not your standard Halloween pumpkin. I tried to cook with a regular pumpkin once and it was a terrible, terrible idea.

To assemble the bars, gently spread the cheesecake batter onto the chilled shortbread dough and crumble the streusel on top. Bake it for about 35-40 minutes or until just set. For cheesecake novices, please be warned that the toothpick test definitely does not work on cheesecake. I once baked mini cheesecakes for two hours (until they were practically burnt) because the centers just wouldn't give clean toothpicks. After you bake the bars, it's time to test your willpower. These bars will only be pretty and have the right texture if you let them chill overnight. Technically, overnight refers to approximately 8 hours, so if you wake up in the middle of the night and start eating these with a spoon straight out of the pan I promise I won't judge.

2 3/4 Cups Flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
3/4 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Ginger
1/2 tsp Allspice
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Cloves
2 Sticks Butter, Softened
2 Cups Sugar
1/4 Cup Molasses
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1 15 oz Can Pumpkin
2 tsp Vanilla
2 Eggs

Whisk 2 1/4 cups flour, baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp cloves together. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar together until creamy. Stir in the molasses, then gradually add the flour mixture until just combined.

Remove 1 cup of the dough and combine that with the remaining flour until crumbly. Refrigerate until cold. Press the remaining dough into a deep 9x13" pan lined with parchment and refrigerate until cold.

Heat oven to 350F.

Beat the cream cheese and remaining sugar together until fluffy. Stir in the eggs one at a time, then add the pumpkin, vanilla, and remaining salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves.

Spread the cheesecake filling onto the chilled dough and crumble the streusel on top. Bake until browned and just set, 30-40 minutes.

Makes 24
Recipe Adapted from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody

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