At this time of year, I’m sure I could bake an apple-based dessert every day of the week and not come close to trying even a fraction of the recipes for apple desserts out there. Everywhere I turn I see recipes for apple pie, apple cake, apple muffins, apple cookies … and the list goes on and on. I’m not complaining mind you. I love apples and it’s wonderful to have so much inspiration available when it comes to envisioning the perfect way to prepare those apples. It’s no wonder then that I decided to bake an apple dessert for Canadian Thanksgiving.
As some of you may know, Thanksgiving in Canada is celebrated on the second Monday of October. While I’d never given much thought as to why Canadians celebrate this holiday a full month and more before Americans do, I recently queried a friend about it. She explained that part of the reason why Canadian Thanksgiving happens in October is that the origin of our holiday lies in the celebration of the harvest, which, in most parts of Canada, happens earlier in the year than in our southern counterpart. I did some casual research on the Internet and as is usually the case, I found a lot of contradictory information. The Government of Canada’s Canadian Heritage site finally provided some concrete facts on how we arrived at the second day of October as Canadian Thanksgiving.
For many Canadians, Thanksgiving Day remains a relatively new celebration, especially for those Canadians that haven’t been in Canada for very long. My own family has barely been in Canada for 50 years. Growing up, we never really observed Thanksgiving Day until my mom took it upon herself to learn how to roast a turkey and make proper stuffing. And so began the celebration of Thanksgiving Day in our household.
And just as Thanksgiving Day was relatively foreign to the life of an Italian Canadian, eating squash was equally as foreign. While squash is part of the regional cuisine of some parts of Italy, it never factored into the cuisine my father and mother ate in Le Marche or Calabria respectively. In fact, my father once told me that while they did grow some forms of squash in the town where he grew up, they never actually ate squash. Instead, the squash would usually be given to the pigs they kept.
Long story short, pumpkin and other types of squash are relatively new flavours for us. As a result, we’ve never been huge fans of pumpkin pie, for example. This means Thanksgiving Day dessert is usually based on another star of the fall harvest: the apple.
For this year’s Thanksgiving Day dessert, I turned to Tish Boyle’s The Cake Book in the hopes of finding a recipe for an elegant apple cake. Instead I found a recipe for a most elegant cheesecake with cooked apples as a base. Even if this cheesecake recipe didn’t have apples in it, I think I would have tried it anyway for the sheer pleasure of creating a brÃ»lÃ©e crust on a cheesecake!
This particular cheesecake starts with a straightforward graham cracker crust. The crust is then topped with a layer of apples cooked in butter, sugar and cream. The apples are topped with the cheesecake flavoured with cinnamon. Once baked and cooled, a sugar crust is added to the top of the cheesecake by sprinkling on sugar and then using a kitchen torch to brÃ»lÃ©e the sugar.
From the pleasing crackle of the hardened sugar to the creamy layer of cheesecake to the satisfying flavour of apple and graham crust, this is a cheesecake that is perfect for Autumn. And who can resist a sugar crust just waiting to be cracked?!
I say bring on the apples!
Cheesecake with Apples and a BrÃ»lÃ©e Top
Adapted from The Cake Book by Tish Boyle.
For the graham crust:
- 1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 2-1/2 tbsp. sugar
- 4 to 5 tbsp. melted butter
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan.
- In a bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and the sugar. Add 4 tbsp. of the butter and mix. If the crumbs seem dry, add the last tablespoon of butter.
- Press onto the bottom of the springform pan. Press in an even layer.
- Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. The crust should be firm and golden. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. Cool the crust completely.
- Once cooled, wrap the outside of the pan in a heavy duty piece of aluminum foil.
For the apple layer (you don’t have to make this cheesecake with the apple layer, but if you do, it’s worth the extra effort):
- 3 medium-sized tart apples, sliced into 1/4-inch slices
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
- 2 tbsp. butter, unsalted
- 1-1/2 tbsp. sugar
- 2-1/2 tbsp. heavy cream
- a pinch of nutmeg
- Toss the apples with the lemon juice.
- Melt the butter in a large skillet.
- Add the apples and cook for 2 minutes, over medium heat, until the apples begin to soften.
- Sprinkle with sugar and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until the apples soften further and begin to turn golden.
- Add the cream and the nutmeg and lower the heat slightly. Cook until the cream has been absorbed by the apples, about 10 minutes.
- Transfer the apples to a plate and let cool completely.
For the cheesecake:
- 3 packages cream cheese (8 oz. each)
- 1-1/4 cups sugar
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/2 cup sour cream (full fat)
- 1 tbsp. cornstarch or flour
- 4 large eggs
- In the bowl of your mixer, beat the cream cheese for a minute or two until it’s smooth.
- Add the sugar and beat at medium speed until smooth, about 2 or 3 minutes.
- Add the vanilla extract, the salt, the cinnamon and the ginger and beat for another minute.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Add the sour cream and cornstarch and beat until blended, another minute or two.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition.
Assembling the cheesecake:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Layer the apples over the cooled graham cracker crust.
- Pour the prepared cheesecake filling over the apples.
- Place the pan in a large, shallow roasting pan and add hot water to come about halfway up the side of the springform pan.
- Carefully place the pan in the oven. The original recipe requires the cheesecake be baked for between 70 and 80 minutes. I found that I had to bake the cheesecake for 80 minutes. You’ll know the cheesecake is done when the filling appears set, but still a tiny bit wobbly in the middle.
- Remove the cheesecake from the oven and from the pan. Peel off the aluminum foil layer and place on a rack to cool completely.
- Once cool, place in the refrigerator to chill overnight.
For the brÃ»lÃ©e crust:
- 2 tbsp. sugar
- Sprinkle the sugar over the top of the cold cheesecake in an even layer.
- Using a kitchen torch, pass the flame over the sugar in an even motion until it has caramelized.
- Place the cheesecake back in the refrigerator for up to an hour. If you leave it for longer than an hour the brÃ»lÃ©e crust may soften.
Note: This cheesecake will serve 10 to 12. The apples add a nice touch but you don’t have to make this with the apple layer. It’s a good idea to begin making this cheesecake the day before you plan on serving it so that it can rest in the refrigerator overnight.