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I'm not a big cheerleader for the overwrought. I worked for years in restaurant kitchens where we'd riff on classic dishes by adding modern touches. Things like mac and cheese made with tiny potato gnocchi, which we'd roll and cook to order, tossed with a sauce of reduced garlic-infused cream, mounted with finely grated Mimolette cheese and topped with sautéed mousseron mushrooms. It was delicious, but not something I'd want to eat every day.
That said, as much as I love my classic gooey stovetop mac and cheese, there are times—maybe once or twice a year—when I'm in the mood to pull out all the stops and make something really special, childhood memories of simpler times be damned. In other words, a classic pumpkin pie, apple pie, or pecan pie is all well and good, but there's nothing wrong with trying to get a little fancy once in a while.
This pumpkin cheesecake, made with a gingersnap crust, soaked with honey, and topped with candied walnuts, may not be what you had on your Thanksgiving table growing up, but it sure as heck evokes all those taste memories and combines them in a package that's wrought just enough to make your Thanksgiving spread feel fancy without seeming contrived.
This is the Thanksgiving dessert to make when you've got in-laws you want to impress coming over, or friends whose favorite Beatles album is Sgt. Pepper's.* Here's how to make it, complete with step-by-step photos that will make a dessert that's slightly complicated seem as easy as, well, gingersnap-crusted, candied walnut–topped pumpkin cheesecake.
* Inarguably the Beatles' most overwrought-but-still-awesome work.