For Pumpkin-Pie Haters

Cheesecake you can't resist.

Let me just say right off: I am not fond of pumpkin pie.

I know this makes no sense, but I thoroughly love pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin ice cream, and pumpkin cheesecake. Just not pie.

Don’t get me wrong, I love pie in general. But there’s just something that turns me off about pumpkin pie. Too much of a one-dimensional flabby texture? Perhaps. All I know is that if pumpkin pie is the only option for dessert, I’d rather go without. And for a dessert lover like me, that’s saying a lot.

Yet I love the drama and festiveness of a big, beautiful dessert decked out in the color of fall. So that’s why I was thrilled to find this extraordinary cheesecake recipe by renowned New York Pastry Chef Pichet Ong, a University of California at Berkeley grad, who has worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and La Folie in San Francisco, as well as Jean Georges, and Spice Market, both New York restaurants owned by celebrated Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Ong now is chef and owner of P*ONG, a cutting-edge dessert spot in New York City, where his creations fuse both the sweet and the savory.

Kabocha squash or Japanese pumpkin

His recipe for Kabocha Squash Cheesecake with Walnut Crust comes from his cookbook, “The Sweet Spot” (William Morrow). No pumpkin here; only kabocha squash. Also known as Japanese pumpkin, it’s probably most familiar to you as a component in assorted Japanese tempura. I don’t know about you, but the orange curve of golden-battered squash in the mound of fried veggies and shrimp is the tempura piece I covet most.

I love its natural honeyed, nutty sweetness, and its fluffy, starchy texture that’s like roasted chestnuts or a roasted russet potato.

Mixed with cream cheese, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and eggs, the unique flavor of kabocha still shines through. Unlike other cheesecakes, this one has a modest amount of cream cheese, too — only 8 ounces. It makes for a cheesecake that’s not so over-the-top rich, a cheesecake you can still easily finish a slice of, even after having your fill of turkey and fixings.

Even better, bake the cheesecake the day before Thanksgiving, and let it cool and firm up in the fridge overnight. That leaves your oven free for other things on the actual holiday.

Serve the cheesecake with the accompanying recipe for Sweetened Condensed Milk Chantilly, or dollops of lightly-sweetened, thick whipped cream.

One bite may just make you forget all about pumpkin pie.

Kabocha Squash Cheesecake with Walnut Crust

(makes one 9-inch cheesecake, about 10 servings)

For kabocha squash filling:

One 3-pound kabocha squash

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/3 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons brandy

2 large eggs, at room temperature

For walnut crust:

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing pan

½ cup walnuts

½ cup packed light brown sugar

11 graham crackers, crushed into fine crumbs, about 1 ½ cups

2 teaspoons grated lime zest

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon salt

For sweetened condensed milk chantilly (optional):

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

1/8 teaspoon salt

To make filling: Prepare a steamer by filling a large round casserole with water to a depth of 3 inches; the casserole should be able to hold the squash comfortably and have a tightly fitting lid. Put a steamer rack or enough crumpled heavy-duty aluminum foil to support the squash on the bottom; the rack or foil should be just above the waterline.

Set over medium heat and bring to a steady simmer. Put whole squash on rack, cover pot, and steam until a knife pierces the flesh easily, about 1 hour.

Remove from heat, uncover the pot, and cool squash in steamer until cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, make the crust: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan, line with parchment paper, and butter the paper. Set aside.

Spread walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast, shaking pan occasionally, until fragrant, about 15 minutes. Cool completely. Turn oven down to 300 degrees.

Put walnuts and ¼ cup of brown sugar in bowl of a food processor and pulse until walnuts are coarsely ground. (You can also crush the walnuts by hand, gently pounding them with a heavy skillet or rolling pin.) Transfer walnuts to a mixing bowl and add graham cracker crumbs, lime zest, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and remaining ¼ cup brown sugar. Mix well, then add melted butter and mix with your hands until everything is evenly moistened. Transfer mixture to prepared pan and press into an even layer on the bottom.

Bake crust until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Cool completely. Leave oven on.

When squash is cool enough to handle, remove it from steamer, cut in half, and scoop out and discard seeds and strings. Scoop out 2 ½ cups of squash flesh into a small bowl. Reserve any remaining squash for another use.

Put cream cheese, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt into bowl of a food processor and process, scraping down sides and bottom of bowl occasionally, until mixture is light and smooth. Add squash and process again, scraping down sides and bottom of bowl occasionally, until smooth. Add brandy and eggs and process just until they are incorporated. Transfer to a bowl and finish mixing with a rubber spatula.

Transfer filling to the cooled crust. Bake until center is set but still slightly jiggly, about 1 hour. Cool completely. Refrigerate six hours or overnight, then unmold.

To make sweetened condensed milk chantilly: Whisk cream until soft peaks form. Add sweetened condensed milk and salt, and whisk until medium-soft peaks form. (When you lift the whisk from the cream, a peak should form and the very tip should fall back down.) Makes 2 cups.

Serve cheesecake with condensed milk chantilly, if desired.

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  • Terrific! Your cheesecake looks really good! I love that walnut crust.




    Hi Carolyn,

    I am still enjoying your wonderful blog everyday. It’s the first thing I read every morning.

    I’ve attached the link to Sunset Magazine’s recipe for Roasted Sweet Potato Cheesecake with Maple Cream. It is in the November issue, where they have all the past favorites. It is delish and a nice alternative to pumpkin pie.

    Also noteworthy is the Parmesan Artichoke Stuffing in that same issue. I have made it a few times and it’s really good. They also have a Swiss Chard Parmesan stuffing in that issue that sounds good too.

    Have a great holiday and keep up the great work on your food blog!


  • OK, I looooove pumpkin pie! I even love making it from the can! I think it’s because I love custard and it sometimes reminds me of that in texture, but with all the holiday spiced flavors! Anywho, I thought the photo was a pumpkin cheesecake, but it’s a pseudo pumpkin cheesecake! 😉 Squash is squash, so if you use kabocha to get over pumpkin, that should be fine. I bet you could make that for Thanksgiving and call it pumpkin cheesecake and nobody would know!

  • I tell ya, Single Guy, it’s weird: I love custard! But something about pumpkin pie….

    And Theresa, I am actually goiing to try that Swiss chard Parmesan stuffing for Thanksgiving. I had dinner recently with Margo True, the food editor of Sunset, and she said it’s a great stuffing recipe. And thank you for the link to the sweet potato cheesecake. Mmmm, that one sounds mighty good. I might have to try that next Thanksgiving. Or heck, even this Christmas! 😉

  • CJ, How can you love all that pumpkin can offer and not enjoy pumpkin pie? I enjoy everything that you do, plus the pumpkin pie. The pumpkin cheesecake recipe I got from the Libby’s website is a real hit whenever I make it.

    I love the picture of the “Pom Kin” above. At least that’s what my folks used to call it. It brings back very fond childhood memories of the Japanese pumpkin that my Ma used to make for us on cold Fall and Winter evenings.

    I will be using my Ma’s stuffing recipe, as I typically do each year. It’s so tasty and it is just like the nicest reminder of the wonderful memories I have of my folks. Although I have to confess that we now bypass the traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day. My brother carves the turkey and I immediately fry the bacon and prepare the fixings for our Ogi Family clubhouse sandwiches. Yum!

  • Val, I love how the Ogi family doesn’t wait until AFTER Thanksgiving to enjoy the turkey sandwiches. That is too cute! Thanksgivings are all about keeping traditions and starting new ones. Sounds like your family has succeeded in doing both very well. Happy holidays to you!

  • Thanks CJ! Honestly, it took a couple of years after our eldest sister, Irene, passed away, before we had this Thanksgiving epiphany. As kids, we always looked forward to the Friday after Thanksgiving. Our folks always made sure to buy plenty of bacon, tomatoes, lettuce, bread and mayo for our secondary feast. We’d always put plenty of turkey and bacon on the bottom layer. Lots of mayo on the each layer. Tomatoes and lettuce topped off the top layer. it would be held together with tooth picks and sliced into quarters. A side of stuffing and it’s a hearty meal!

    Now that it is just Darrell and yours truly, we decided to skip the formal stuff and get down to the best part of Thanksgiving! New traditions indeed!

  • Hi Carolyn,

    I agree with you…I’m not thrilled with pumpkin pie, but I love pumpkin anything else. In fact, I make a pumpkin bread pudding with Amaretto cream sauce that’s so good that dinner guests swear off pumpkin pie forever after tasting it.

  • By the way….speaking of pumpkin: Food & Wine magazine has a slideshow called “pumpkin desserts”. Here’s the link:

    The Caramelized Pumpkin Trifle sounds awesome!

  • If I break my chef’s knife trying to hack into that spectacularly large squash, will you reimburse me? As a cheesecake fanatic, it really looks divine.

    p.s. When are you going to invite me out for cupcakes and cheesecake?

  • Cheryl, actually that’s the beauty of this recipe. No wrestling with trying to crack open a hard squash. Instead, you steam the whole kabocha for an hour. After that, it cuts like buttah!

    Oooh, we should go for cupcakes. Did you see Kara’s Cupcakes has finally opened in Santana Row? I think we should rendezvous there for provisions. Are you game?

  • That cheesecake looks so good!

  • FG: Didn’t you make a pumpkin dessert for a Thanksgiving chef-off one year in the Merc? I remember thinking that sounded delicious.

  • Judith: I did make a pumpkin tart for a Thanksgiving story. You have a good memory. The tart’s filling is less dense than pumpkin pie. It’s more custardy, which is why I think I liked it so much more than pumpkin pie. But tell me you aren’t already planning your Thanksgiving menu in August!! 😉

  • This looks delicious! It’s Thanksgiving this weekend in Canada, and I just bought kabocha last week – perfect timing.

  • I made this gorgeous dessert last week, and it was much loved. Yay! I subbed Red Kuri squash (also known as Uchiki Kuri or Orange Hokkaido, and I used pecans instead of walnuts. The day I bought the nuts, walnuts were 11.49 p/lb and the pecans were on sale for 5.49! And I love the sweet pecan-y-ness of pecans 🙂

    Thanks for the terrific recipe!

  • Iliana: So glad you liked it. Good to know it works well with other squash and nuts, too. Happy holidays!

  • Besides graham cracker what other cracker to use for the crust? So sorry that I cannot find graham cracker in Singapore.

  • Yulianny: Gingersnap cookie crumbs also would work very well for the crust for this dessert. If need be, you could even bake your own crisp gingersnap cookies, then pulverize them to make the crust. Hope that helps. Happy holidays!

  • Carolyn,

    Would you believe I’ve never tried squash or sweet potato, parsnip cheesecake or pie. The pumpkin pie that I made is from Miss Grimble Delicious Desserts (Not Just Another Pumpkin Pie) – Page 82. This one has 1 more egg and only 1 cup pumpkin compared to the usual pie. Val wasn’t a fan of pumpkin pie, but he did like this one.The pumpkin cheesecake with a ginger snap crust that I make is wonderful and I do alot of both during this season. In fact I have a huge pumpkin that I’ll have to use a hammer on to get it ready for cooking. I usually bake mine rather than steam it.I’ve been so busy with school that I haven’t read your blog lately. This is the first one that Marie won’t be home for. Wishing you and your husband a very Happy Thanksgiving. Lynn

  • Carolyn,

    As a native Bay Area EurAsian I’ve truely enjoyed finding your website and the reviews as well as the recipes. In the last week, I’ve made the Kabocha Cheesecake twice! The first time was a trial run which turned out to be interesting and pleasing with small chunks of kabocha sprinkled through the cake. The second time I pureed the kabocha with a small amount of water for a smoother texture, added an additional block of C. Cheese and a 1/4 cup of sour creem. I also will add the pulp from some finger limes into the chantilly creme!

    Thanks again for an inspiriational site!

  • Pingback: Kabocha pumpkin pie « Lauren Bakuhatsu

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