Thanksgiving

Pumpkin Cotton Cheesecake

October 27, 2021
4.8 Stars
Photo by Julia Gartland. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Molly Fitzsimons.
Author Notes

Japanese cheesecake, also known as Japanese cotton cheesecake or Japanese soufflé cheesecake, is an absolute delight. If you can imagine the texture of a light-as-air chiffon or angel food cake with the creamy richness of a classic cheesecake, that about sums up what you can expect in terms of mouthfeel. Japanese cheesecake tends to be less sweet and even a bit jiggly (like a soufflé) as it emerges from the oven; chilling it in the refrigerator will not only develop the flavors, but also result in a firmer, decidedly less wobbly, cake.

In this recipe for a pumpkin cotton or soufflé cheesecake, I marry the classic pumpkin pie (or even pumpkin cheesecake) found on many Thanksgiving and holiday tables this time of year with the adorable Japanese cheesecake. While lighter in texture than a standard cheesecake, you can expect some weight in the form of warm spices like cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. The lack of a chemical leavening agent (baking powder, baking soda) requires a close eye on the meringue-making, where egg whites get whipped to firm peaks with the addition of sugar and a touch of fresh lemon juice, whose acidity lends some stability. The result is a beautiful, glossy meringue with enough air and structure to give the pumpkin cheesecake batter added lift to create a cloudlike batter and after baking, the cake’s signature texture.

A 6-inch cake pan is used here, but you can use a similarly-sized springform pan as well; just ensure that a layer or two of aluminum foil covers the bottom of the springform to prevent leakage from the bain-marie. In either case, buttering the bottoms and sides of the pan before lining with a parchment circle and collar will give you added assurance that the cake will release, post-baking, with ease. While the pumpkin cotton cheesecake can be enjoyed warm, it will taste even better after spending a minimum of a few hours (preferably overnight) chilling and firming up in the fridge. —Hana Asbrink

Test Kitchen Notes

This dish is part of Residentsgiving—aka the Thanksgiving menu of our wildest dreams—created by Food52's resident experts-slash-superheroes. Devour the rest of the spread here, and while you're at it, learn how to Remix & Remaster your Thanksgiving. —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Pumpkin Cotton Cheesecake
  • Prep time 40 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 20 minutes
  • makes One 6-inch cake
Ingredients
  • 4 ounces (1/2 block) cream cheese (Philadelphia Original recommended), softened
  • 1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 ounces (2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup) granulated sugar, divided
  • 3 ounces canned pumpkin puree
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 ounces (1/4 cup) heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) cornstarch
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting the top
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Prepare a kettle of boiling water. Cut a parchment circle and collar to fit a 6-inch cake pan. Butter the bottom and sides of the cake pan, and line with parchment circle and collar. Set aside.
  2. Prepare pumpkin cheesecake batter: In a large mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, butter, and 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of the sugar. With a whisk or electric hand blender, mix until well-combined. Add pumpkin, mix. Add egg yolks one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Stir in heavy cream, mix. Add vanilla, cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves, and salt. Mix until combined. Sieve in flour and cornstarch. Mix until just combined and there are no visible lumps. Set aside. If using an electric hand blender, wash the beaters well with hot soapy water to remove any fatty residue. Rinse with cold water to ensure cool beaters before drying thoroughly to continue.
  3. Prepare meringue: In a large (clean!) mixing bowl, add the egg whites. Start on low speed and work up to a medium speed until egg whites are foamy. Slowly add in remaining 2 ounces (1/4 cup) sugar in thirds. Increase speed to medium-high and when soft peaks form, add in lemon juice. Continue until you reach firm (but not stiff) peaks. If using an electric hand blender, this entire process to reach firm peaks should take about 4 to 5 minutes total. Egg whites should be glossy and hold their shape; the tips will stand momentarily before flopping back on themselves.
  4. Using a spatula, add 1/3 of the meringue to the pumpkin cheesecake batter. Fold and mix until well-combined. Repeat with remaining thirds, gently folding the meringue into the pumpkin cheesecake batter until well-combined. Do not overmix. The finished combined batter should look light in both color and texture, like an airy orange cloud.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. (If using a springform pan, ensure that the bottom and sides are covered in foil.) Carefully drop the cake pan on the counter 3 to 4 times to remove any large air bubbles in the batter. Place the cake pan in the larger cake or baking pan to create a bain-marie. Fill the larger pan with boiling water to about a 1-inch height.
  6. Carefully place the pans in the oven and bake at 325F for 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 300F and bake for 40 minutes. Test with a cake skewer; it should be mostly dry with a few crumbs hanging on. Turn off the oven and keep the pans in for 15 more minutes. Do not be surprised to see the risen cake deflate a bit during this time.
  7. Remove pans from the oven, carefully removing the cake pan from the bain-marie and placing it on a cooling rack for 15 to 20 minutes. This cheesecake tastes even better chilled for a minimum of 3 to 4 hours (better yet, overnight). You can place the cheesecake (in its cake pan) in the fridge to chill after it’s cooled for at least 20 minutes on a cooling rack. If eating right away, proceed with the next step.
  8. Plate the cake: Prepare 2 plates. Place a piece of parchment over the top of the cake. Place the first plate over the parchment and carefully invert the cake onto it. Remove parchment paper bottom and collar from the cake. Grab the second plate and place the cake right-side up. Admire the slight jiggle. Sprinkle the top of the cake with confectioners' sugar through a sieve. Slice into six pieces for the nicest presentation.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Hana Asbrink
    Hana Asbrink
  • bhilz
    bhilz
  • jessf
    jessf
  • Joan Young
    Joan Young
Hana is a food writer/editor based in New York.

16 Reviews

jessf November 25, 2021
I really wanted to make this (cuz I was stressing out that 27 dishes for thanksgiving dinner still might not be enough) but didn’t have a 6inch pan. I decided to live dangerously and make it with my 8inch pan, and followed another commenter’s idea to 1.5 the amounts. I did 1.5 on almost all the ingredients and 5eggs (I think I went just under double with the flour and pot starch) and it’s still cooling but looks absolutely perfect….hasn’t really collapsed at all. I think it’s going to be delish. I also did nutmeg instead of the cloves. I’m so excited to serve this tomorrow.
 
Joan Y. November 25, 2021
I too didn't have a 6" pan (who does?) so I used an 8" and increased all ingredients by 33%. It worked beautifully!

 
Joan Y. November 18, 2021
I made this cheesecake. I've made a standard pumpkin cheesecake for years for Thanksgiving and wanted to try something different. This one is so much lighter and airy and we loved it. I will make it again for Thanksgiving this year. I love this recipe!
 
Cheryl November 18, 2021
I was surprised at all the reviews, but I couldn't find one where someone had actually tried the recipe. I would just like to say Wow!, I love the texture of this cheesecake, it reminds me of a mousse. I made some BIG changes due to dietary restrictions (Gluten Free/Dairy Free/*Sugar Free) and it was still great! I only had it in the fridge for about 1.5 hours before the taste test, but I imagine if you followed the ingredient list in the recipe it would be even better :)

FYI, for those who are curious, I used Violife DF Cream Cheese, Cup4Cup GF Flour & Coconut sugar (I did add about a tbsp more, since it's obviously not as sweet as sugar).

Hana, thank you for sharing!
 
sarah P. November 14, 2021
Hi! Any tips for making this gluten-free? Do you know if almond flour would work?
 
Cheryl November 18, 2021
Not sure about almond flour, but I used Cup4Cup brand GF & turned out great! There’s so little flour in it, I don’t think the texture would compromised too much if you did use almond flour, but I could be wrong.
 
cassia22 November 10, 2021
Could you make this 1 1/2 for a 8 inch pan?
 
Author Comment
Hana A. November 12, 2021
Hi Casia - I saw that a similar question was also asked, and wanted to share that discussion with you below as they explain it well. I hope you enjoy the cake at whatever size you end up baking it!
https://food52.com/hotline/49474-is-there-a-reason-this-is-so-small
 
Amy D. November 8, 2021
This cake sounds great but I am feeding 12. Can I double it? Use 26 inch pans or is it possible to use a larger pan? Would appreciate guidance!
 
Author Comment
Hana A. November 12, 2021
Hi Amy - I'm going to post the reply I wrote to you here, in case it's helpful to others with the same question:

I saw that a similar question was also asked, and wanted to share that discussion with you as they explain it well:
https://food52.com/hotline/49474-is-there-a-reason-this-is-so-small

The reason I made this recipe for a 6-inch cake was twofold: 1. To mimic the cute size of a traditional Japanese cotton cheesecake; 2. To preserve some control over the delicate nature of this cake. There are no chemical leaveners like baking powder or soda to provide added lift, so I needed to keep it a somewhat small size to control for the inevitable deflation.

While I do think a larger cheesecake can certainly be done, I think you might lose some of the height and jiggliness. I would refer to the link I just shared for more ideas on scaling up, as I haven't done it myself. (That is, if you don't mind making two 6-inch cakes!)
 
bhilz November 15, 2021
I'm excited to do the 6 in size for one of several Thanksgiving desserts this year! I do wonder though if a larger one could be done in a tube pan? Would definitely be a big departure from the look of the Japanese style cakes, but potentially preserve height and texture in a larger format...if the regular cake is as big of a hit as I imagine it will be, I might have to play with the tube pan later.
 
LULULAND November 8, 2021
Only 2 tablespoons and 1/4 cup of sugar? Is that correct?
 
Author Comment
Hana A. November 12, 2021
Yes, that is correct! It makes for a nice, not-too-sweet cake. Hope you enjoy it, Lululand. :)
 
jessf November 25, 2021
The first half of the batter will not seem nearly sweet enough but once you add the sweetened merengue it will balance out.
 
Joan Y. November 1, 2021
Is it just me or is there a step missing here? When does the cake get baked and for how long?
 
Author Comment
Hana A. November 2, 2021
Hi Joan! Thanks so much for your eagle eye. The cooking step (Step 6) has been added. Please let me know how it goes, enjoy! :)