In my continuing quest to find fun and tasty ways to consume dairy products, I have met some wonderful cooks with great recipes to try.

You may recall, last summer I met my new best friend Rita Holt. Rita is an award winning cook, including several first place prizes in the Athens, Tennessee, MooFest contests for using dairy products. I’ve maintained that if she didn’t live on the other side of the country, Rita would be the best neighbor. Ever.

Last month she sent me a cheesecake recipe I’ve been dying to try. I was going to make it for Thanksgiving. Then I was going to have it to celebrate the first day of December. (If cheesecake is involved, I firmly believe there is reason to celebrate any day!)

My world is a great example of that old Steinbeck adage: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

I started this adventure on a Thursday night two weeks ago. Turns out I didn’t have all the ingredients. Now, I could have simply taken the 10 minute drive into town grabbed what I needed and returned home to finish the cheesecake.

Nope. That would be too simple. I drove the next town over (30 minutes) and then, of course, stopped to visit a friend and then we had to go to the store together and then we had to chat some more. By the time I got home, I was too tired to make cheesecake.

Days passed. Got busy. Sick kids. Finally, I tackled this project. Understand that while some people may think cheesecake is an easy undertaking, I’m rather intimidated by the process; especially one of Rita’s recipes because I always want her ideas to turn out wonderfully.

So here’s the recipe. Rita calls it “Caramel Pumpkin Cheesecake” however, I might rename it, “Karma’s 2-week cheesecake adventure and subsequent failure – but it tastes good."

Caramel Pumpkin Cheesecake, by Rita Holt

¾ cups finely chopped pecans
32 gingersnap cookies: ground
3 T. brown sugar
6 T. melted butter

Caramel filling:

1 bag caramels
4 T. milk
½ c. chopped pecans


3-8 oz packages cream cheese, soft
3 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
½ tsp ground ginger

½ cup heavy cream
¼ tsp cloves

¼ cup maple syrup
4 eggs, slightly beaten

Place a 9 inch springform pan on a double thickness of foil; wrap up around bottom to keep from leaking. Place pecans in a processor, cover and process until ground.

Add gingersnaps, brown sugar and butter; cover and pulse until blended.

Press onto the bottom and 2 inches up the sides of prepared pan; set aside.

In a large bowl; combine caramels and milk. Microwave until caramels melt; start with one minute, every thirty seconds. Stir until blended. Pour 2/3 of the caramel mixture into the bottom of pan.

In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the pumpkin, cream syrup, vanilla and spices. Add eggs, beat on low just until combined. Pour into the crust. Place springform pan in a large baking pan; add one inch of hot water to larger pan.

Bake at 325 degrees for 60 to 70 minutes or until center is just set and top appears dull. Remove pan from water bath. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around the edge of cheesecake to loosen. Cool one hour longer. Chill overnight.

Remove sides from pan. Take remaining caramel mixture and drizzle over top.

Serve with whipped cream.

Ok let’s take this step-by-step:

I couldn’t find gingersnap cookies at the store. I know -- odd. I didn’t want to go through the trouble of making gingersnaps just to grind them up in the food processor so I grabbed a package of cinnamon oatmeal cookies and a box of “gingerbread people.”

Is it sick and twisted to smirk a bit when I threw the gingerbread people in the food processor? Probably. It had been a long day.

Here’s the other thing that might delay your cheesecake adventure. I checked the cupboard to make sure I had a spring form pan, but I didn’t look closely. The bottom of my pan, an integral part of this process, was missing! That meant yet another trip to town! Once I had all the pieces, the crust went together easily and I have to say the crust turned out well and tasty!

Now for the filling!

If there is a way to make things more complicated, I will find it. The truth is I don’t like store bought caramel.

So instead of using Rita’s recipe, I made my own. It’s from my friend Kristy Boguslawski of Jerome, Idaho. It’s yummy and versatile.

Kristy’s Caramel

1lb brown sugar
1 cup Karo syrup

Mix and bring to a boil. Add one cube butter, boil.

Add one can sweet condensed milk boil to whatever stage you want it.

Warning: You and your family will want to eat this and lots of it before you actually use it any recipe.

In fact, you may have to make several batches before you get any in the cheesecake pan

For the filling, I followed Rita’s instructions. 

Obviously, going off book here wasn’t working in my favor. The filling is a beautiful caramel color and my taste test proved successful.

I had never used a water bath for cooking a cheesecake.

When I was researching this post I found out there a MANY theories about how to make a cheesecake.

It’s one of the world’s oldest methods of using milk and cheese and throughout history, everyone has come up with their favorite method.

Furthermore, if you ask them, they’re right and you're probably wrong.

When I took my cheesecake out of the oven, it looked good, but I don’t think it was done completely as by the end of the meal in which I served our dessert, it had collapsed.

This could have also happened because the caramel I used on top and been heated and reheated several times so had become thicker and harder.

I’ve sent pictures to a few of chef-buddies and asked what I should have done differently. As soon as I hear back from them, I’ll post their answers here.

I have to say, despite appearances, this cheese cake tastes wonderful – and sharing recipes with a friend is always fun.  PTD

PHOTOS (from top to bottom)
1. Here's a photo of Rita Holt, my favorite dairy loving cook!

2. The brown sugar and corn syrup will be very hot, so cook with care.

3. I love the color of the caramel as you add the butter.

4. I'm not an expert at "crack" -- or the stage you want your sugar. I live at 4000 feet so what works for me, won't work for everyone else, so cook to your preference.

5. The pumpkin, syrup and spice smell delightful!

6. Something went horribly wrong. I'm guessing undercooked -- but this is a recipe I'll try again!

(Be sure to click the thumbnail version of a photo to see it at a larger size in your web browser.)

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