During college I fell in love with the fall season in Chicago — the leaves gliding through the air and covering the grass, the excursions to apple orchards with friends, the fresh produce at local markets. The season seems so alive. The leaves are bright yellow, brilliant red, and fiery orange, and the grass still a vibrant shade of green.
I like to think of fall in terms of it’s symbolism of abundance. Autumn is traditionally a season of harvest, a blessing to the gardener who worked hard to plant her crop. As I'm visiting my alma mater as an alumna, I thought that this image of hard work and blessing, if stretched, can apply to me. I worked for several years to finish my bachelors degrees and now when visiting in the midst of this beautiful season am reminded of the wonderful memories created in the last few years, and am blessed by visiting the friends I made while studying.
The other day, I spent the evening baking with one of my closest friends from college. We talked about our transitions from college life and reminisced about things we experienced together before graduating. We made of my favorite fall desserts and I promised I would share the recipe with her through Vignette.
I’m not a traditional apple pie person. Whenever I buy good apples, I’m torn between eating them raw and baking with them. I love eating crisp apples as a snack. At the same time, I enjoy making apple crumbles and applesauce, but my all time favorite apple dessert is my dad’s Apple Cheesecake Torte.
Supposedly, my dad made this torte when he first visited my mom’s family. It won over my mormor and she told my mom that he was a keeper. I can see why — the torte has a crumbly crust, a sweet, warm apple interior, and a tangy cream cheese topping covered in a thin crunchy layer of caramelized sugar and almonds. My philosophy is that if one is going to make dessert, one must use the real stuff — quality butter, unrefined sugar, real vanilla — and the flavor of the fresh produce must not be overpowered by sugary sweetness. This torte is just that. Simple to make, and not too sugary.
I've been asked several times, "Why it’s called a torte and not a tart?" After many friends curiously asked me if there was a difference, I discovered that a torte is a rich cake with little or no flour. Instead, it contains ground nuts and often contains eggs. A tart is a small pie without a top crust that contains cooked fruit. This Apple Cheesecake Torte is rich and contains eggs and almonds, but also contains fruit and could, in my understanding, fit in either category.
Apple Cheesecake Torte
1 cup (115g) Flour
½ cup (100g) Sugar
1 ½ tsp Vanilla Extract
4 tbsp (57g) Salted Butter, Chilled
4 cups Sliced Apples (approximately 5 apples)
Cream Cheese Topping:
8oz (226g) Cream Cheese
1 tsp Sugar
½ tsp Vanilla Extract
¼ cup (35g) Chopped Almonds
½ tsp Cinnamon
¼ cup (50g) Sugar
Preheat the oven to 450F (230C).
For the crust, mix the flour and sugar together. Add the vanilla. With your finger tips crumble the cold butter into the flour mixture until well combined. It will look very dry and crumbly. Press dough into a buttered 8 inch (20cm) glass pie dish. (I have also used a spring-form pan when that was all I had in college).
Slice the apples thinly. Make a mound of apples on top of the crust. (Removing the apple peel is optional.)
Cream the cream cheese and 1tsp sugar in an electric mixer with a whisk attachment. Add the egg and vanilla and whip until there are no clumps and the mixture is light and fluffy. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly over the sliced apples.
Sprinkle the chopped almonds, cinnamon and sugar over the cream cheese topping.
Place the torte in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 400F (200C) and bake for another 25min. Cool slightly before serving.