High Country Baking: Pumpkin cheese tart is perfect finish to a big dinner | SummitDaily.com

High Country Baking: Pumpkin cheese tart is perfect finish to a big dinner

Vera Dawson
High Country Baking

High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.

Halfway between a pumpkin pie and a cheesecake … that's how I describe this tart. It's similar to the time-honored pie, but lighter in taste and texture, and it's smooth and airy, like a light cheesecake, but not as rich. It's a great choice for our November feast day, when most of us are stuffed after the main course. It's less substantial than the traditional desserts but just as pleasing. I've served it numerous times over the years, tweaking the recipe each time I make it. This is my current, and I think best, rendition.

Be sure to bring the cream cheese to room temperature before you start the filling and plan ahead because the tart must be chilled for at least 12 hours and up to two days.

Pumpkin Cheese Tart

Make in a 9-inch non-stick tart pan with a removable base

Crust

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1 ¼ cups cinnamon graham cracker crumbs — 8 large Nabisco crackers, not yet broken into sections

1/3 cup pecans

2 tablespoons superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker's

1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

Filling

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sour cream, regular or light

½ cup superfine granulated sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup packed canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Whipped Cream, optional

1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon confectioner's sugar

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 325° with the rack in the center position. Lightly grease your tart or pie pan and set it aside. Break up the graham crackers, place them in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse until crumbs form. Measure a 1¼ cups of crumbs. Return crumbs to the processor, with the pecans and sugar, and pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add the melted butter and pulse until the mixture is moist and holds together when you press it between your fingers.

2. Pour the mixture into your pan. Press it into the sides, making a rim about ¼-inch thick. Press the remaining mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan. If you use a tart pan with 1-inch or lower sides, you may not need all of the mixture. Bake the crust for 8-10 minutes until it's set and aromatic, then remove it to a cooling rack to cool completely.

3. Make the filling: Preheat the oven to 375°. (Scrape the bowl several times during this step.) Beat the cream cheese and sour cream in a medium bowl until fully blended and smooth. Gradually add the granulated sugar, beating again until smooth, scraping the bowl several times Add the eggs, one at a time, beating just until each is blended into the mixture. Remove a ½ cup of the mixture and set it aside.

4. Add the pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger and cloves to the larger amount of the cheese mixture (in the medium bowl, not the ½ cup) and stir until fully blended. Spread it in the cooled crust, filling to just below the rim. It puffs while it bakes so don't fill it to the top. You may not use it all, depending on the depth of your pan. Smooth and level it. Drop little mounds of the reserved ½ cup of cheese mixture over the pumpkin filling, leaving spaces between them. Swirl the mounds into a pattern with the tip of a knife. Place the filled tart on a cookie sheet for ease in moving it in and out of the oven. Bake the tart until it is puffed and firm (check in the center), about 23-30 minutes depending on the depth of your pan.

5. Cool the tart completely on a rack (it will deflate as it cools) and then refrigerate it. Once it's cold, cover it with foil and continue to refrigerate it for at least 12 hours and up to two days. Keep the tart refrigerated and serve it cold, right out of the fridge. Slice it with a thin, sharp-bladed knife, cleaning the blade after each cut.

6. Make the optional whipped cream border: Chill a bowl and the beaters of your mixer in the freezer for at least 20 minutes. Up to an hour before cutting and serving, add the cream, sugar and vanilla to the chilled bowl and beat with the chilled beaters until stiff peaks form. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a small star tip and pipe a rim of rosettes around the edge of the tart's crust.

Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbooks "Baking Above It All" and "Cookies in the Clouds," (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco), is a high-altitude baking teacher. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at veradawson1@gmail.com.