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
- Prep time 40 minutes
- Cook time 1 hour 20 minutes
- makes One 6-inch cake
(1/2 block) cream cheese (Philadelphia Original recommended), softened
1 1/2 ounces
(3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
(2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup) granulated sugar, divided
canned pumpkin puree
large egg yolks
(1/4 cup) heavy cream
pure vanilla extract
(2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
(1 tablespoon) cornstarch
freshly squeezed lemon juice
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting the top
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.