Recipe: Light Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake

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I don’t like cheesecake. So often, it tastes simply of cream cheese and sugar, so rather than a guilty sense of pleasure, it leaves a cloying aftertaste in its wake. But my mother requested pumpkin cheesecake for Thanksgiving, so I reluctantly researched recipes. I got annoyed at recipes calling for up to a stick of butter or a cup of sugar to be added to a graham cracker crust. Seriously? Graham crackers already contain butter or oil and plenty of sugar. After a few trials, I used just three tablespoons of butter and added a bit of agave syrup to hold it all together.

The filling incorporates soft tofu in place of one of the cream cheese packages, a tip from vegan recipes. But most recipes call for cup of white sugar, which struck me as excessive. So I cut back on the sweet factor, opted for agave syrup and brown sugar and kicked up the spice quotient. The result? Lighter than either pumpkin pie or traditional cheesecake yet with the same holiday flavor with significantly less sugar and fat.

I try to cut back on hydrogenated oils at every turn and HoneyMaid, the leading graham cracker brand uses the dreaded partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, so if you can find them, try the ones from Back to Nature Foods. Simply smash them in a plastic bag with the bottom of a heavy saucepan or pulse in a food processor. If you don’t have pumpkin pie spice, simply use a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and ground cloves.

1 ½ cups of graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup (3 tablespoons) melted unsalted butter
2 tablespoons agave syrup, honey or maple syrup

1 16 oz. package silky or soft tofu
1 8 oz. package cream cheese
1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree (about 1 ½ cups)
¼ cup (3 tablespoons) agave syrup or honey
¼ cup (3 tablespoons) brown sugar
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
Pinch of salt
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine the cracker crumbs, butter and syrup or honey in a bowl and blend with a spoon or fingers until they’re moist. Press into the bottom of a tart pan or spring-form mold and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes. Let cool before adding the filling or else the heat from crust and pan will start to cook the filling; you can pop the whole pan into freezer to accelerate the cooling process. You can do this a day prior, too; just store the shell in the fridge.

Drain the tofu and crumble into a colander to drain off excess liquid. Blend the tofu, cream cheese, pumpkin puree, syrup or honey, sugar, spice and salt together in a large bowl and using a mixer or hand-held blender or food processor. Taste. If you want it sweeter or spicier, add more sugar or spice. The batter won’t look exactly smooth as the tofu will keep it a bit lumpy, so just blend it enough to get it consistency like small curd cottage cheese. Add the eggs one at a time and blend each one thoroughly into the batter. Pour the batter onto the cooled crust and bake for about 50 minutes to one hour or until the batter firms up and the edges brown slightly and start to come away from the sides of the pan. Let cool, then put into a refrigerator for at least four hours. It can be made up to two days in advance of serving.

Before serving, as a garnish, sprinkle the top with brown sugar, powdered sugar or a very light coating of nutmeg along the top. (The easiest way to do this is to put a small amount into a mesh sieve and wave over the top.) If you’re the type who likes nuts on their cheesecake, you can also garnish with candied walnuts, pecans or similar. Of course, a dab of freshly whipped cream is universally well loved.

You might also be interested in:
– Smitten Kitchen: How to make your own graham crackers
– Confections of a Foodie Bride: Pumpkin cheesecake brownies
– To Live and Eat in LA: Vegan pumpkin cheesecake
– Elena’s Pantry: Gluten-free cinammon cheesecake

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.


  1. lizthechef says:

    Just threw out my old recipe for pumpkin cheesecake – yours looks delightfully streamlined.

  2. Oh yum. I’m a sucker for a good cheesecake and this is a good cheesecake!

  3. Suggestion: Instead of graham crackers, use Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Snaps. Nothing hydrogenated, nothing artificial, and a much tastier crust! Jenifer (Seattle)

  4. Kathleen Flinn says:

    Great tip, Jen!

  5. I feel the same way about the crusts. Why add so much butter! I almost always use so much less butter in recipes and to me, they tasted just as good!

  6. kathleen

    can you tell me which vegetable steamer you like? thanks!

  7. In your book you mentioned an electric vegetable steamer and I would love to get one! This comment is to follow up on my last comment above! sorry for the confusion!

    • Kathleen Flinn says:

      I used to use a old Black & Decker “HandySteamer” model. I bought it on ebay for $10. I like the size of it because it’s smaller than most of the steamers on the market and I am generally just cooking for Mike and myself. However, the plastic got damaged over time and cracked, so Mike recently bought me a newer model.

      An electric steamer sounds like a dumb kitchen gadget, but it’s SO easy to make vegetables. Just throw in a couple of handfuls, turn on the timer and you can forget about it until it dings, leaving you to just focus on whatever else you’re cooking. Then, I just dress the veggies with a simple flavor splash (I have several in the book), or even a dash of vinaigrette and voila, done.

  8. thank you so much Kathleen!

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