A Thanksgiving-ready dessert that doesn’t ask you to turn on your oven. (Which, I’m guessing, is already full of turkey, stuffing, and friends.) Pumpkin cheesecake bars are a contemporary classic, but as soon as I started developing this recipe, I found one big catch: To create a structurally sound cheesecake, you need a lot of cream cheese, but if you have too much cream cheese, it totally drowns out the pumpkin flavor. So, how do we find the middle ground? A smidgen of unflavored gelatin. By adding this, we can have the pumpkin-iest flavor possible and a sliceable consistency. Win-win. You’ll notice that, like my no-churn pumpkin ice cream, I skip the pumpkin pie spice here. While a lot of people associate this spice blend (usually with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves) with pumpkin (or really any autumn) desserts, I find it distracting. Pumpkin has a lot more to say, all on its own, than we give it credit for. But: If you can’t imagine a pumpkin cheesecake without it, add it! Figure ½ teaspoon to start. A note about getting the bars out of the pan: If the tender crust starts to bend as you try to pull the bars out, just cut some squares out alongside an exposed edge (so, not one of the edges with the parchment overhang); I learned this trick from one of our food stylists, Samantha Seneviratne. And if one of them cracks, it’ll still be delicious. Serve these very cold. —Emma Laperruque
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No-Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars
6 hours 45 minutes
Pumpkin cheesecake filling
(¼ ounce) packet unflavored gelatin
(340 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature
Line an 8x8-inch baking pan (you can also use a 9x9-inch in a pinch) with parchment, so there’s a few inches of overhang on two of the four sides.
Bloom the gelatin for the cheesecake filling: Add the gelatin to ½ cup very hot water, stir to dissolve, then let cool while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Make the graham cracker crust: Break up the graham cracker sheets into a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Add the sugar and salt, and pulse a couple times to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse to incorporate, removing the lid to scrape up the bottom as needed. Dump the mixture into the parchment-lined pan, then use a measuring cup (¼ cup works nicely) to firmly press the crumbs into a thin, even crust. Stick in the freezer while you make the filling.
Make the pumpkin cheesecake filling: Wipe out the bowl of the food processor so there are no remaining crumbs. Break the cream cheese into a few big chunks and add these to the food processor. Pulse, scraping down as needed, until smooth. Add the sugar and salt and process, scraping down as needed, until smooth. Add the pumpkin puree and process, scraping down as needed, until smooth. Add the gelatin mixture and process one last time until totally smooth.
Pour the pumpkin cheesecake filling into the frozen crust. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles, then stick in the fridge. Chill for at least 6 hours or until firm.
To remove from the pan, run a knife along the exposed sides, then use the extra parchment to pull up. If the bars resist (or you feel the crust starting to bend), simply cut out a couple squares on one of the exposed sides. Serve very cold.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.