Well, special things are happening this fall. I totally finished the painting and the mini-reno downstairs. I also began building a couple of bookcases and end tables, because I have no good sense. Why not? You can follow along on Instagram to see how they end up. So, in the hopes of getting to celebrate something autumnal, I made this Cinnamon Cheesecake and topped it with Spiced Poached Pears and drizzled some of my Spiced Toffee Sauce over it. Again, just because I can. Now you can as well.
I am a military brat, which means I have no “hometown”, but NYC is where I consider “home”. It’s where my mother’s family arrived from Puerto Rico when she was 5. My family life is centered in New York City because the majority of my family still lives there. It’s also a pretty dope place- in most aspects. New York City is mostly known for its amazing cheesecakes. While Junior’s Cheesecake in Brooklyn is a favorite among many; there are a wide variety of amazing purveyors in the Big Apple. I, however, believe that my cheesecake- and among them, this cinnamon cheesecake- is, by far, better than anything you can get out of a storefront.
The proof of an incredible cheesecake is found in the creaminess of the final product. A perfect cheesecake is dense, yet creamy. Fluffy and silky, all at the same time. I could, truly, go on and on about what a perfect cheesecake looks and tastes like. Instead, I’ll teach you how to make one.
For this cheesecake, I want to add a dose of Autumn. After finding some beautiful Bosc pears at the grocery store, I came up with the idea of creating a Spiced Poached Pear topping. Truth is, it sounds much classier and fancier than it really is. Quite simply, poaching anything is cooking it in a barely moving hot liquid. “Barely moving” is in direct contrast to rapid boiling, so your liquid should be shimmering as if it wants to start simmering.
To start with, however, you need to bring your liquid (in this case water and apple-pear brandy) to a boil to dissolve the sugar that’s in it. We’re also adding spices to the poaching liquid in the form of cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, fresh ginger, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. Bring the liquid to a boil and decrease the heat until it is barely moving. Cook for 5 minutes in order to steep the spices.
While that’s happening, we need to halve and core the pears. A ripe pear should only require the use of a tsp to core it. The flesh should give way to minimal pressure and you can scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Slice them into 1/4″ thick slices and set aside while you cut the remaining pears.
Place the pears into the poaching liquid and cook them for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the pears to sit in the liquid while you continue preparing the Cinnamon Cheesecake.
All great cheesecakes, but especially this Cinnamon Cheesecake, start with a base. You can be as creative as you wish when it comes to your base. Junior’s uses a spongecake base. I switch mine up depending on the type of cheesecake I’m making. For this cheesecake, I’m using crispy gingersnap cookies. I’m considering the overall flavor profile I want to achieve. I want spiced, warm flavors when my guests (or I) taste each bite. The gingery-molasses flavor of the gingersnaps adds those qualities without much effort. Simply pulse the gingersnaps in your food processor until you have crumbs. Stir in melted, unsalted butter until a handful clumps together without falling apart. Pack it, as shown, into the bottom of a cheesecake pan and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while you move onto the base.
Cinnamon cheesecake aside, the most important factor of any quality cheesecake is the base. You give me a season, and I’ll create a cheesecake to celebrate it. The only thing that changes the cheesecake, with few exceptions, are the flavorings added to it.
The cheesecake base of high-quality cream cheese (my favorite is made by Challenge Dairy), eggs, sugar, cornstarch, salt and vanilla will always be the same. When you are making a cheesecake, you must be mindful to bring the cream cheese to the proper temperature prior to using it. This often means leaving the cream cheese to sit out on your counter for at least 24 hours beforehand. Most, if not all, of the cream cheese manufactured these days is pasteurized and contains minimal amounts of water. Both of these factors allow for you to leave your cream cheese out for an extended period of time without risking a food safety incident. Add to that the fact that you are baking and then storing under refrigeration, and the risk is further diminished.
Bakeries and pastry shops all over the world have used this method of warming cream cheese to the proper temperature in order to cream beautifully. It will, no doubt, work for you as well. All that being said, if you feel uneasy about using cream cheese that has been left out overnight, you may soften it in your microwave as the manufacturer directs. I just advise against this method because you are partially cooking the cream cheese, and because it doesn’t truly soften the cream cheese as well as the countertop method. The key is to have very soft cream cheese that is capable of being stirred smooth even with only the use of a spoon. We won’t be using a spoon, though. Ain’t nobody got time for that; so we’re using a handheld mixer (a stand mixer works well, too).
Once the cream cheese is blended perfectly smooth, the sugar is added. Scraping down bowls frequently, whenever you are mixing batters, is a very overlooked technique. Failure to scrape down the sides and bottoms of bowls with a rubber spatula leaves bits of unmixed batters and ingredients that will unbalance the formula of the recipe. Granted, it may not be enough to create a culinary disaster, but it does waste money in the form of unused ingredients being washed down the drain. Hello?!?! Don’t you want those new shoes you’ve been lusting over? Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat the cream cheese-sugar mixture for 5 minutes, or until perfectly smooth and fluffy. You want the the fat of the cream cheese to encase the rough edges of the sugar and create an almost airy consistency.
Another ingredient that should be used at room temperature while baking are eggs. Eggs act an emulsifier. So, basically, that means eggs are the marriage counselor for ingredients that don’t want to get along. When used cold, it takes longer for the eggs to emulsify, which means you’re having to beat your batter longer. When making things like cakes or quick breads, that’s a cardinal sin. Things like cheesecakes aren’t as fickle when it comes to beating; but, I mean really, we want to actually get this cinnamon cheesecake in the oven. So, room temperature eggs they must be. Add the eggs, one at time, and don’t forget to scrape down your bowl after each addition. Once the egg is fully incorporated into the batter, add the next one.
A cheesecake’s creativity shines through in the addition of spices, extracts, toppings, or other add-ins. Ground cinnamon is added in this cheesecake’s case. While a larger quantity of cinnamon is needed to really impart that “cinnamon-y’ flavor; that’s all it takes to create a Cinnamon Cheesecake! The only thing that limits you is your imagination. Blend the cinnamon, and a pinch of salt, into the cheesecake. Add the cornstarch, which is what gives the cheesecake it’s body. The cornstarch is optional, but I find that cheesecakes, which are to be topped, hold up better when sliced when you add it.
Fill the cheesecake pan with the cheesecake filling, wrap the bottom in foil twice (to prevent leaks), and place it inside a bain-marie (or hot water bath; read more about it here). Now, top with the drained poached pears in a decorative pattern. Bake for one hour. After an hour, turn off the oven and prop the oven door open, using a spoon if necessary. Allowing the Cinnamon Cheesecake (and all other cheesecakes) to cool gradually this way prevents the dreaded top crack. After another hour, remove it from the oven and allow to cool for thirty minutes at room temperature before refrigerating it for at least 8 hours (preferably overnight).
Once your cheesecake has thoroughly cooled, remove it from the pan and drizzle the warmed Spiced Toffee Sauce over it. All. Over. It. I’m so sorry. It’s been nine months, and I’ll take any excitement I can get. Pour the sauce over your Cinnamon Cheesecake and enjoy!
Pin this recipe to your Fall Desserts (or any dessert) Board, and stay tuned for more of my seasonal cheesecakes!
Cinnamon Cheesecake topped with Spice Poached Pears
Yield 10 servings
Autumn is celebrated with this spiced, comforting cheesecake.
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup apple-brandy, or dry white wine
2 cinnamon sticks (about 4" long),or 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
3 cardamon pod seeds, or 1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp whole cloves, or 1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 nutmeg seed, or 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 allspice seed, or 1/4 tsp ground allspice (optional)
3 Bosc pears, halved, cored and sliced in 1/4" thick slices
8 oz gingersnap cookies (or 2 sleeves graham crackers), crushed into crumbs
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
4 8oz pkgs cream cheese, softened at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
pinch of kosher salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
Toffee Sauce found here (optional)
- Preheat your oven to 350°F. Set out a pan that is large enough to hold your cheesecake pan for baking. Boil water for a bain-marie which will be used to bake in.
- In a medium saucepan, dissolve the first quantity of sugar in the water. Bring the water to a boil. Add the brandy (or wine) and the spices; stir and continue boiling for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low, making sure the water is barely moving. Add the sliced pears and poach for 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the pears to steep while you prepare the cheesecake.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the cookie crumbs and melted butter. Stir to form a mixture that holds together when grabbed. Pack the mixture into the bottom of a cheesecake pan and level out. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, or until toasted. Remove and set aside to cool.
- While your crust is baking, begin creaming your cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. Once it is smooth, add the sugar, followed by the eggs (one at time). Make sure to scrape down the bowl after the addition of each item, and mix the batter completely after each as well.
- Mix in the vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. After scraping down your bowl, add the cornstarch and beat until combined.
- Wrap the bottom of your cheesecake pan in two layers of heavy duty aluminum foil. Pour the batter into the pan and top, decoratively, with the pears.
- Carefully, pour the hot water into your larger pan, then set the cheesecake pan into the larger pan. Place the pan into the oven and bake for 1 hour. After 1 hour, turn the oven off and prop open the oven door. Allow the pan cheesecake to cool for an additional hour. Finally, remove from the oven and the bain-marie and cool for an additional 30 minutes. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill for 8-24 hours before un-panning and topping with Toffee Sauce. Enjoy!
Inactive time includes 8 hours of chill time.
Check out these other seasonal favorites of mine: