It may not have hipster foodie cred, but dining at Maggiano's Little Italy is always a joy, even if it's a bit of a guilty pleasure. Their location at Post Oak Boulevard makes it within walking distance for me and I love their pre-war Little Italy decor, great service, happy hour flatbreads and cocktails. But recently I've been especially enjoying their pumpkin-praline cheesecake. A heady concoction of gingersnap crust, cinnamon whipped cream and pecan praline crumbles, this exquisite dessert was recommended to me by delightful server Michelle who was looking after us that evening.
This cheesecake is a seasonal item and disappears from the menu at the end of November. Maybe you're all squashed out after peak pumpkin spice season, but if you, like me, are still craving the flavor, the recipe isn't hard to emulate.
The dessert is made in stages and does take a while to prepare, but if you are craving this, it's well worth making. Just bear in mind it needs to chill overnight before serving, so remember to start it the day before! Serve the cheesecake with whipped cream if you like, and any type of candied nuts.
For the Praline
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
For the Crust
- 2 cups gingerbread cookie crumbs
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons white sugar
- 1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
For the Filling
- 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
- 32 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs
- 15 ounces canned pumpkin
- Whipped cream and/or sprigs of mint, for garnish
First you are going to make the praline. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil. Stir the butter and sugar together in a pan over medium heat until the sugar has melted. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it continue for a minute without stirring. Now mix in the pecans. Spread this mixture over your prepared baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes or until it starts to bubble. Let it cool completely, then break into pieces. Keep the oven at 325 degrees.
Next, you need to make the crust. Combine the cookie crumbs, cinnamon and sugar, then mix in the butter. By the way, if you can't find or make gingerbread cookie crumbs, you can substitute graham cracker crumbs. Press this mixture over the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 8 minutes or until set. Wrap the outside of the pan with aluminum foil then place it in a big roasting pan. The foil is to stop the water you're going to add to the roasting pan from seeping into the crust.
To make the filling, beat the sugar and cream cheese with a hand mixer until smooth, then add the cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla and flour. Next beat in the eggs one at a time and then you can beat in the pumpkin until the mixture is smooth. Spoon this filling into the crust. Pour hot water into the roasting pan to reach about halfway up the sides of the springform pan. This will create steam in the oven to stop the cheesecake from cracking on top—it also helps regulate the temperature of the cheesecake while it cooks.
Bake the cheesecake for about 1 hour 45 minutes or until set. Take the cheesecake out of the roasting pan and let it cool on a wire rack. Now you can discard the foil and use a sharp knife to separate the cheesecake from the sides of the pan. Chill it overnight, then remove it from the pan onto a plate. Sprinkle the prepared praline on top and serve. You can add seasonal whipped cream and fresh mint sprigs if you like.