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Published November 08, 2009, 12:00 AM

Looking for an alternative to pumpkin pie? Try this tasty tart

It happens every year in November. It never fails. It’s already happened this year.

By: Sue Doeden, Bemidji Pioneer

It happens every year in November. It never fails. It’s already happened this year.

I was visiting with friends about plans for Thanksgiving. The discussion included where we will be, who will be with us and, of course, what we will eat. Most families have favorite dishes they serve for Thanksgiving dinner, all steeped in tradition, including the turkey, along with dressing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and pecan pie.

And then it happens. I mention there will be no pies for dessert at my house. A silence falls on our conversation. All eyes turn on me. “No pies? No pumpkin pie? You don’t like pumpkin pie?” It’s true. I feel a little un-American as I say, “That’s right. I don’t care for pumpkin pie.”

It’s not that I don’t like pies or pumpkin, in general. I’m just not fond of pumpkin pie. But stir pureed pumpkin into a cheesecake and I’m right there with my fork.

This year, I’ve decided to combine pumpkin puree with traditional pie spices, a crunchy oat and nut crust and a maple-pecan topping. No one will have to decide between pumpkin pie and pecan pie after a big turkey dinner. It’s two pies in one cheesecake.

The granola-like crust, patted into a tart pan and baked before filling, is crunchy and not too sweet. It’s the crust that allowed me to convince myself it was just fine to have a slice of Pumpkin Cheesecake Tart for breakfast. What a decadent way to start the day.

The filling in this tart is smooth and creamy. The hint of pumpkin pie spices will satisfy anyone who thinks traditional pumpkin pie is the only way to go.

Maple-Pecan Topping is the pecan pie part of the dessert. Big chunks of pecans are sweetened with honey and maple syrup and cooked with a little butter. The warm, sweet nut topping crowns each piece of Pumpkin Cheesecake Tart.

The dramatic presentation and exquisite flavors of Pumpkin Cheesecake Tart don’t stop there, though. Whipped cream is a must. I like to flavor it a bit with vanilla and powdered sugar.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Tart with Maple-Pecan Topping and Sweet Cream could be the start of a new Thanksgiving tradition. At my house, anyway.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Tart with Maple-Pecan Topping and Sweet Cream

Crust:
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup broken pecan halves
1 cup coconut
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small bits
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Filling:
12 ounces cream cheese
1 (15-ounce) can pure pumpkin puree
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Maple-Pecan Topping
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla

Sweet Cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a food processor or blender, whirl rolled oats, pecans, coconut, sugar and cinnamon until it becomes a coarse mixture. Add butter and vanilla. Pulse mixture until it will hold together. Press evenly into a 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom or a 9- to 10-inch springform pan.

Place pan on a baking sheet before sliding it into the oven. This will protect the oven in case any butter leaks out of the pan while baking. Bake the crust in preheated 300-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until it is golden brown and feels firm. Remove from oven and increase heat to 350 degrees.

Prepare filling. In the same food processor work bowl or in a mixing bowl with an electric hand mixer, blend cream cheese, pumpkin puree and dark brown sugar. When the mixture is smooth, add remaining filling ingredients. Blend until very smooth. Pour filling over warm baked crust. Return pan to the oven. Bake the tart in preheated 350-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until center of filling is set, but slightly jiggly. Cool on rack to room temperature. Cover the tart and refrigerate. Tart can be prepared a day or two before serving.

At serving time, remove tart from refrigerator and allow it to warm up a bit while you prepare the topping. Prepare Maple-Pecan Topping by combining butter, honey, maple syrup and brown sugar in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture just starts to bubble. Stir in chopped pecans. Cook and gently stir for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer mixture to a bowl.

Make Vanilla Cream by combining whipping cream and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Beat at medium speed of an electric mixer until mixture is foamy. Add powdered sugar and beat until soft peaks form.

Serve each slice of Pumpkin Cheesecake Tart with Maple-Pecan Topping and Sweet Cream. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Tips from the cook

--Customize the spice mixture in this cheesecake to suit your pumpkin pie desire. Options include nutmeg and allspice. Or use a couple of teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice if you have it.

--Maple-Pecan Topping can be prepared ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Warm it up in a microwave-safe bowl at a very low power.

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