Known for getting the most flavor from the simplest of ingredients, Pastry Chef Karen DeMasco has been sweetening up New York for years, one pastry at a time. Winner of the 2005 James Beard Award for “Outstanding Pastry Chef” and currently the Pastry Chef at Robert DeNiro’s, Locanda Verde, Karen has whipped up her delectable creations for some of the most well known kitchens in America.

Chef DeMasco embraces seasonal ingredients to create unique flavor combinations that are new and fresh, resulting in desserts that are inventive, yet simple to create.  Nothing says seasonal like pumpkin, and although it can be hard to break from tradition, Karen’s twist on the traditional pumpkin pie will surely have everyone at the dinner table reaching for seconds.

Karen first sharpened her now masterful skills under legendary pastry chef, Claudia Fleming at Gramercy Tavern, and gained national recognition while at Tom Colicchio’s Craft, Craftbar and ‘wichcraft restaurants where she oversaw the pastry program from 2001 to 2008.

It wasn’t a straight path to the kitchen for Chef DeMasco, she only discovered her love of baking after having worked in the publishing industry for several years at Simon & Schuster in New York. Deciding that publishing wasn’t the dream career for her, Karen began to cater small events with her roommate, out of their apartment. Although getting by on basic kitchen skills, Karen realized that she really didn’t know what she was doing, so she enrolled in night and weekend classes at New York Restaurant School. Books by day, knives by night, DeMasco slowly learned the skills that have led her to the sweet success she has achieved today.

In 2009, Karen had a chance to experience publishing from the other side, and released her first cookbook The Craft of Baking: Cakes, Cookies, and Other Sweets with Ideas for Inventing Your Own, with co-author and food editor, Mindy Fox.

Karen lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two young daughters.

Chef Karen DeMasco’s Pumpkin Cheesecake

Serves: 8

DeMasco Pumpkin Cheesecake

Photograph by Hirsheimer & Hamilton

Gingersnap Cookie Crust
1 cup plus 1 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, divided, plus more for foil
1 large egg
2 tablespoons light molasses
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar

2 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. mascarpone
1/3 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided


1 cup canned pure pumpkin purée
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

Special equipment: 9″ diameter springform pan; 18″ wide, heavy-duty foil

Gingersnap Cookie Crust
Whisk 1 cup all-purpose flour, baking soda, 1/4 tsp. salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl; set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and 6 Tbsp. butter in a medium bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg, molasses, and ginger. With mixer on low speed, gradually add dry ingredients, beating just to blend. Form dough into a ball; flatten into a disk.

Arrange racks in top and bottom thirds of oven; preheat to 350°. Line 2 baking sheets parchment paper. Scoop dough by rounded tablespoons and divide between prepared baking sheets, spacing 2″ apart.

Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until cookies are deep golden-brown, about 15 minutes. Let cookies cool on a wire rack.

Finely grind cookies in a food processor. Measure 1 3/4 cups crumbs for crust; reserve any remaining crumbs for another use. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 month ahead. Store crumbs airtight in freezer. Return to room temperature before using.

Preheat oven to 350°. Line springform pan tightly with foil. Butter foil. Wrap outside of pan tightly with foil (to create a watertight seal during baking), pressing wrinkles flat.

Melt remaining 4 Tbsp. butter in a small saucepan. Whisk reserved 1 3/4 cups gingersnap crumbs, remaining 1 Tbsp. flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, and brown sugar in a large bowl. Add melted butter and stir mixture until well combined. Press crumbs into bottom of prepared pan. Freeze for 10 minutes.

Place pan on a baking sheet. Bake until crust is fragrant and set, 20–25 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and let cool.

Preheat oven to 300°. Purée ricotta, mascarpone, sugar, eggs yolks, 1 egg, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a food processor until smooth. Scrape most of ricotta filling into a large bowl, leaving about 1/2 cup of filling in processor. Add remaining egg, pumpkin purée, brown sugar, cream, cardamom, and remaining 1/4 tsp. salt to processor; purée until smooth. Scrape filling into a medium bowl. Pour ricotta filling over cooled crust. Spoon pumpkin filling over. Using a spoon, gently swirl the 2 fillings in 6 – 7 places.

Put cake pan in a large roasting pan. Add hot water to come halfway up sides of cake pan. Cover roasting pan tightly with foil.

Bake cake for 1 hour. Open foil carefully to release steam. Reseal foil and continue baking, opening foil to release steam every 15 minutes, until cheesecake is set around the edges and jiggles slightly in the center when nudged, 45 minutes–1 hour longer.

Remove cake pan from roasting pan. Carefully unwrap outer foil from pan. Chill cake at least 6 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep chilled. Run a thin knife around inside of pan to release cake. Remove pan sides.

This Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe can be found at Bon Appetit.