Each year when Thanksgiving rolls around, I engage in a furious internal debate about what to make for dessert for the big dinner. The classics – pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple pie – are always a safe bet, yet the recipe developer in me prefers a more creative choice. This cake is an ideal solution, a classic with a twist: part cheesecake, part pecan pie. Because the cheesecake has a high ratio of sour cream in it, its texture is ultra-creamy and not at all dense. I bake it in a water bath, with the cake inside a turkey-size oven bag, which insulates the crust from any possible water intrusion. The cake’s topping is a wet version of a pecan pie filling, with a hint of dark rum and lots of crunchy toasted pecan halves. Give this cake a try – it might just become a beloved Thanksgiving family tradition.
Makes one 9-inch cake, serving 12
Special equipment: one turkey-size oven bag (available here)
- 1 ½ cups (180 grams or 11 ½ whole crackers) graham cracker crumbs
- ¾ cup (75 grams) pecans, finely ground
- 2 tablespoons (27 grams) light brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 pound (454 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 ½ tablespoons (11 grams) cornstarch
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla paste or extract
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 cup (232 grams) heavy cream
- 2 cups (484 grams) sour cream
Pecan Pie Topping:
- 1 ¾ cups (175 grams) pecan halves
- 4 tablespoons (56 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- ½ cup firmly packed (108 grams) light brown sugar
- 1/3 cup (77 grams) heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon pure cane syrup (such as Lyle’s Golden syrup) or maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon dark rum (optional)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- Rounded 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
Make the crust:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Set the pan aside.
- Place the crumbs and ground pecans in a medium bowl, add the sugar and stir until well blended. Add the melted butter and stir until blended. Pat the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan and about an inch up the sides. Bake the crust for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Set the pan on a wire rack and cool the crust completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 325˚F.
Make the filling:
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese at medium speed until very creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until light and creamy, about 2 minutes more. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula once or twice. Stop the machine and sift in the cornstarch, then add the vanilla and salt and mix until blended. Add the heavy cream and sour cream and mix until blended, scraping down the bowl again to make sure the mixture is evenly blended. Pour the batter into the cooled crust (you can pass the batter through a fine-mesh sieve first, if you like – this will ensure the smoothest filling possible).
Bake and chill the cake:
- Carefully place the cake pan into the turkey-size oven bag, with the opening at the top, then place the whole thing in a roasting pan. Leave the bag open, bunching it up around the top of the pan like a short collar. Fill the roasting pan with hot water so that it comes about a third of the way up the side of the cake pan. Place the roasting pan in the oven, making sure that the turkey bag is not touching the top element of the oven, and bake the cake for 1 hour – the center will still be quite wobbly. Turn the oven off (don’t open the door), and let the cake stay in the oven for another hour.
- Remove the cake from the water bath and the roasting bag and let it cool completely on a wire rack; the filling will be wobbly, but will firm up as it cools.
- Refrigerate the cake for at least 6 hours before adding the topping and serving.
Make the topping:
- Preheat the oven to 350˚ Scatter the pecan halves on a baking sheet and toast for 8 to 10 minutes, until fragrant. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream and syrup. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the butter is melted and the mixture comes to a full boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the rum, vanilla, salt and toasted pecans. Set aside to cool completely.
- Once completely cool, spoon the topping evenly over the chilled cheesecake. Serve the cake right away, or refrigerate. Remove the cake from the refrigerator about an hour before serving, so that it’s just slightly chilled.