Cajeta (pronounced cah-HEH-tah) is Mexico’s own goat milk caramel, a true delight. Mixed with cream cheese, pumpkin, and a touch of spice, then spread onto a chocolate Maria cookie crust, this dessert has a little of everything without being overly rich. Don’t be fooled by its understated appearance; just like people who have been affluent for generations, there´s no need to be flashy when you are secure in your wealth of sweetness, creaminess, holiday aroma, and class.
You’ll love how easy this is to put together, even if you are an inexperienced cheesecake maker who does not own a springform pan. You can opt to make just one large dessert or 10 individual-sized cheesecakes, and the texture will be a little fluffier and less dense than that of the typical baked cheesecake.
Note: If you are unable to obtain or to prepare authentic Mexican cajeta, feel free to substitute the classic pan-Latin dulce de leche caramel in this recipe. In the absence of chocolate Maria cookies, use the ubiquitous plain vanilla-flavored Marias, or substitute crushed graham crackers.
- 1 (7-ounce) package chocolate Maria cookies
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese (softened)
- 1 cup pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)
- 1/4 cup sugar (refined white)
- 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (commercial or mixed at home)
- 2 1/2 cups whipped dessert topping
- 2 cups cajeta (any variety; or dulce de leche purchased or homemade)
Make the Crust:
Place the Maria cookies into a gallon-sized zip top plastic bag. Use a rolling pin or an empty bottle to press back and forth until the cookies have been crushed into small, uniform crumbs. (Alternately, zap the cookies in a food processor until crushed.) You will have between 2 1/2 and 2 1/3 cups of crumbs.
Melt the butter, either in a large pan on top of the stove or in a medium-sized microwave-safe plastic bowl in a microwave oven. Add the cookie crumbs and the cinnamon to the melted butter and stir thoroughly. Set aside 1/3 cup of the mixture for decorating the top of your cheesecake.
Press the remainder of the crumb mixture firmly into the bottom(s) of a foil-lined 9- or 10-inch springform cheesecake pan, 10 lined muffin tins, or a foiled-lined rectangular baking dish (11 x 7 x 2-inches, or similar). Refrigerate the crust for half an hour.
Prepare the Cream Cheese Filling:
Mix together the cream cheese, pumpkin, sugar, and pumpkin pie spice. Beat with an electric mixer until the mixture is smooth and uniform.
Use a rubber scraper to fold in the whipped dessert topping, stirring gently until well combined. Set aside.
Assemble Your Cheesecake:
Spoon the cajeta or dulce de leche into a zip-top bag and seal it well. Submerge this bag into a pan of very hot (not boiling) water for a few minutes so that the caramel softens and becomes more pliable.
Take the bag out of the hot water and dry it off. Take your crust out of the refrigerator. Snip off a corner of the bag with scissors.
For one large cheesecake: Pipe a line of cajeta all around the top of the crust, at the very edge. Pipe lines all over the top of the crust until you have used up about a half of the cajeta. (You will not completely cover the crust with cajeta.)
For individual cheesecakes: Pipe a line of cajeta around the edge of each one, then pipe about a tablespoon more into the center of each one.
Spoon the cream cheese filling into the pan or muffin tins containing the crust and smooth it down in an even layer, making sure that it gets all the way to the edges of the pan.
Squeeze the rest of the caramel over the cream cheese mixture. Use a butter knife or a metal spatula to gently swirl the cajeta so that it mixes in with the very top layer of cream cheese.
Sprinkle the reserved crushed cookies over the top of the dessert.
Refrigerate your cheesecake for at least 3 hours so that it will firm up completely, then serve and enjoy!
If you have made one large cheesecake, take it out the pan and peel away the aluminum foil, then slice and plate.
If you made individual portions, peel away the cupcake liners and place each cheesecake on a dessert plate.