This recipe comes to us courtesy of Tracy Wolf, lead spice associate at our Castro Valley shop.
This cheesecake is based on the recipe that we used in my own bakery. We love it because it is easy, delicious and yields a perfect texture. I’ve tweaked the recipe by adding Oaktown Spice Shop’s spices to create a holiday spice version that is really over-the-top delicious.
I’ve also added an optional garnish of dried fruits, crystallized ginger and candied walnuts to give this cheesecake an extra fall-into-winter vibe. Feel free to add those extras or just keep it simple, depending on your tastes.
And extra bonus—no water bath!
About four hours before making your cheesecake, make sure to bring all your ingredients to room temperature, especially the cream cheese, eggs and sour cream. This is important for easy mixing and making sure the cheesecake bakes evenly.
Graham Cracker Crust:
2 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs (approx. 2 inner packages of whole graham crackers, crushed)½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted½ cup walnuts, chopped fine
Holiday Spice Cream Cheese Layer:
4 cups cream cheese (2 lbs, or 4 x 8 oz blocks)1⅓ cups granulated sugar2 ½ teaspoons Indonesian Ground Cinnamon2 ½ teaspoons Ground Ginger¾ teaspoon Nutmeg, freshly grated (Microplane Zester recommended)4 large eggs
Sour Cream Layer:
3 cups sour cream⅔ cups granulated sugar
Fruit Garnish (Optional):
¼ cup pitted dates, sliced¼ cup dried Mission figs, sliced¼ cup dried apricots, sliced¼ cup dried cranberries¼ cup crystallized ginger
Candied Walnuts Garnish (optional):
¾ cup walnuts3 tablespoons granulated sugar¼ teaspoon water
Make the crust: Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl using your hands until the mixture sticks together with a little squeeze like sandcastle sand. If needed, add up to one additional tablespoon of melted butter.
Set aside ½ cup of loosely packed crust mix if you plan to garnish.
Otherwise, add remaining mixture to a 10” springform pan. Using your hands or a measuring cup, compress crust into a flat layer at the bottom of the pan.
Make the cream cheese layer: For this section, make sure to avoid overbeating. Incorporation of air by mixing at high speed or for too long will create a dry, cracking cheesecake.
Mix cream cheese, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg together using an electric mixer at low to medium speed until there are no remaining lumps of unmixed cream cheese. Scrape any unmixed cream cheese mixture from the sides and bottom of the bowl into the middle of the mixture.
In a small bowl, crack eggs and mix lightly to break up yolks. With electric mixer on low to medium speed, gradually mix egg into cream cheese mixture. Scrape the filling from the sides and bottom of the bowl into the middle of the mixture. Mix again at low speed to make sure everything is evenly mixed.
Pour cream cheese mixture over the crust in the springform pan and spread the filling evenly.
Bake at 375 F for 28-32 minutes, or until set.
The cream cheese layer is set when it wobbles all at once when moved in the oven. If only a separate puddle in the center moves, it still needs to cook for a few more minutes.
When done, remove from oven to cool for 5-10 minutes before adding sour cream layer.
Leave oven on at 375 F because you’ll need it soon.
Make the sour cream layer: Combine sour cream and sugar in a medium mixing bowl.
Add the sour cream mixture one dollop at a time to the top of the slightly cooled cheesecake. When all of the sour cream mixture has been added, smooth the surface.
Return cheesecake to the oven at 375 F for 7-9 minutes in order to set the sour cream layer.
Carefully remove cheesecake from oven, and set on a cooling rack or trivet for 30 minutes. Store in refrigerator overnight to finish cooling before serving.
When you are ready, remove your cheesecake from the springform pan and put it onto a serving dish. (See notes below if you're new to springform pans.)
Make the optional fruit garnish: Mix all the dried fruit and spice together in a bowl.
Sprinkle the reserved graham cracker crust mix into a ring on top of your cheesecake.
Next, sprinkle your dried fruit and spice mixture on top of the graham cracker crust mix.
Make the optional candied walnuts:
This is a fast and relatively easy method for making caramel in small quantities that works particularly well for coating seeds and nuts with a crispy and shiny coating. Because the finished caramel coating will dissolve in moisture and get tacky in moist air, I recommend making these the day you are serving the cheesecake and adding them right before serving.
First, set up a workspace because this process goes really fast and you won’t have time to look for things you will need. Also, a word of caution—this sugar will reach 300 F or higher. Work carefully to keep it from touching bare skin. Allow to cool completely before touching.
On a heatproof surface close to your stove, set up a silicone mat or some aluminum foil that has been coated with oil or butter. A cookie sheet on a cooling rack can work as your heatproof surface. This will be the landing pad for your caramel-coated walnuts.
Measure the ingredients and place near the stove. Add sugar to a nonstick skillet and place it on a burner. Heat the pan with the sugar over high heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, until the smallest grains begin to stick together or melt.
Using the stirrer, gather some of the hot sugar into a small pile in the pan. Add the water (only a few drops) to the pile of sugar. Stir this spot, adding more hot sugar into that puddle as you stir. Caramelization will go quickly at this point—watch closely! Continue to cook until all the sugar is in a puddle and turns a light amber color, approximately 30 seconds.
Add the walnuts to the skillet and stir them in a bit. Lower heat to medium and cook, stirring and turning walnuts over constantly until sugar begins to coat both sides. Keep going until the nuts and sugar turn a medium caramel color, about 30 to 90 seconds.
Once the sugar and nuts are a rich caramel color, pour this mixture onto your prepared landing pad. Carefully separate the nuts with a spoon or other utensil. You will have about 2 minutes to work before the sugar begins to solidify. Allow to cool completely.
Place your cooled candied walnuts on top of your cheesecake. Now it’s ready to present and enjoy!
If springform pans are a new experience, here are the steps:
Pro Tip: Ever wonder how pastry chefs get perfect sides on their cheesecakes? It’s a simple trick! Using a knife or a small decorator’s spatula, smooth around the outside of the cheesecake by holding the knife or spatula vertically against the side of the cheesecake, and slide the knife around the cake. This will scrape off a little bit while leaving a smooth surface behind. If the knife or spatula builds up a bit too much cheesecake on it, wipe your tool clean then keep going until the sides are “cleaned up” as we say in the business.
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