As a baker and all-around food lover, Thanksgiving is naturally one of my favorite holidays. My family’s well-kept traditions and everyone’s eagerness to help out usually results in a smooth and delicious weekend of gatherings and meals. But when it comes to oven space, you might mistake what ensues for a session of international trade negotiations.
No need to negotiate for precious oven space—make this no-bake pumpkin cheesecake. This also means no water bath and no risk of cracks in the cake. Even the crust is no-bake. It only takes a half hour to whip together and is ideal for making ahead.
Using a whole can of pumpkin, this no-bake cheesecake is unquestionably pumpkin-flavored and won’t leave you with an awkward amount of leftover pumpkin purée in the back of your fridge. Molasses adds a deep, burnt caramel flavor that’s echoed in the gingersnap crust.
Add the tangy cream cheese and warming fall spices, and you’ve got a light and velvety pumpkin spice cheesecake that will upstage the pumpkin pie.
Tips for No-Fail No-Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling
After testing a few different methods, I gathered a few tips for a luscious pumpkin cheesecake filling that is guaranteed to set:
- Save the homemade pumpkin purée for your next pumpkin pie. This cheesecake works best with canned pumpkin purée, which has less water than homemade. I prefer Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin. I think the flavor is stronger, and it seems to have less water than other brands I’ve tried.
- Blot the pumpkin purée to reduce the water content before making the filling. Pumpkin has a lot of water, which can prevent the cheesecake from setting. Lightly draining the pumpkin ensures the filling sets and also concentrates the pumpkin flavor.
- Whip the cream to very stiff peaks. The firmer the whipped cream is, the firmer the cheesecake will set. Don’t whip it too long, though, or you’ll end up with a bowlful of butter.
- Use full-fat cream cheese bricks. It may be tempting to skip a step with the plastic tubs of whipped cream cheese, but they have a different formulation that won’t hold up. Plus, the bricks are cheaper.
Swaps and Substitutions
I’m sure my family isn’t the only one with multiple dietary restrictions. Our family’s not short in taste preferences, either. Here are a couple of easy swaps to ensure everyone gets a slice they like.
- To make the crust gluten-free, use gluten-free gingersnaps or graham crackers. Or skip the crust altogether for a crustless cheesecake.
- Pumpkin isn’t the only vegetable for fall desserts—you can use canned squash purée or sweet potato purée for the filling.
- In my house, salted caramel is the default, so I added some sea salt to the caramel sauce. If caramelizing sugar makes you nervous, try the sweet and buttery toffee sauce from this recipe for my banoffee cheesecake instead. Or pick up a jar from the store.
How To Serve No-Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake
A no-bake recipe is an excellent contender for parties, whether you’re the host or a guest assigned with dessert. It doesn’t require the effort or fuss of a baked cheesecake, and as a Thanksgiving bonus, you won’t compete for precious oven time.
Serve slices with an extra dollop of whipped cream. Drizzle them with caramel and add a dusting of pumpkin spice or garnish with a sprinkle of gingersnap crumbs.
You can save some time by handing over the decorating responsibility to the guests. At our family’s parties, we serve big desserts like this buffet-style with whipped cream and caramel sauce in bowls on the side.
This no-bake pumpkin cheesecake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days, and is great for making ahead of time. If you make it ahead of time, wait until just before serving to add the whipped cream and caramel sauce.
The cheesecake also freezes well for up to three months. Allow it to set in the refrigerator for 8 hours, then wrap the entire pan in a double layer of plastic wrap. Let thaw in the fridge overnight before serving (though I admit that I enjoyed a frozen slice straight from the freezer—for testing purposes, of course).
Drain the pumpkin:
Use a spatula to scrape the pumpkin purée out of the can and into a small bowl lined with a couple of layers of paper towels. Set aside while you prepare the crust and the whipped cream.
The paper towels will draw some water out of the pumpkin purée for a thicker cheesecake filling.
Make the no-bake crust:
In a large bowl or food processor, combine the cookie crumbs, sugar, and melted butter with a silicone spatula until all the crumbs are evenly moistened and the mixture begins to clump together.
Transfer the crumb mixture into a 9 or 10-inch springform pan. Use your hand or the bottom of a measuring cup to pack the crumbs into an even layer on the bottom of the pan and slightly up the sides. Compact the crust firmly to prevent it from being too crumbly.
Transfer the pan to the freezer to chill while preparing the filling.
Whip the cream:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer, whip the heavy cream on medium-high speed until thickened and very stiff peaks form, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Transfer the whipped cream to a small bowl and set aside.
Whip the cream cheese:
In the same bowl used for the whipped cream, whip the cream cheese on medium-high speed until completely smooth, about 4 minutes. Pause a few times to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula to ensure all of the cream cheese is whipped and smooth.
Make the filling:
To the whipped cream cheese, add the drained pumpkin purée, powdered sugar, molasses, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, and cloves. Mix on the lowest speed until most of the powdered sugar has been incorporated into the mixture, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium-high and whip for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the filling is creamy and perfectly smooth. Pause and scrape the bowl a few times during mixing to ensure the filling is free of any lumps.
Fold in the whipped cream:
Use a silicone spatula to gently fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture. As you mix, rotate the bowl and use the spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and stir in gentle, sweeping motions to prevent deflating the air in the whipped cream.
Fill and chill:
Remove the crust from the freezer and fill it with the pumpkin mixture. Use a small offset spatula, or the silicone spatula, to level and smooth the top of the cake.
Cover the pan tightly with a layer of plastic. Try to avoid letting the plastic touch the surface of the cake. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled and the filling has set, at least 8 hours, ideally 12 to 24 hours.
Remove from the pan:
When the cake is set and you’re ready to decorate and serve, run a small offset spatula or a butter knife around the edge of the cake. Remove the rim of the pan. Carefully slide the cake onto a serving plate, or serve it directly from the pan.
Make the whipped cream topping (optional):
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer, whip the heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, about 1 to 2 minutes. The cream should thicken, and when you pull the whisk out of the bowl, the peak should stand up.
Transfer the whipped cream to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe large rosettes around the top of the cake and drizzle the cake with caramel sauce, if using. Slice and serve.
Leftover cheesecake can be stored covered in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3 days.
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