Ryan Thomas is a university graduate who enjoys cooking recipes from a wide variety of culinary traditions.
When I cook, I often tend to what I would call "mission creep." Perhaps it is because I like to take recipes from other cookbooks and definitively make them my own—i.e., alter them dramatically to suit my own tastes. If I am going to alter a recipe, I don't just want to change around the amount of salt in the recipe, I want to modify it to the extent that it really is my own. So this often tends to make recipes more complicated. I start out with simpler recipes and end up making them more complex.
This is what happened with a recipe for a simple cream cheese and crème fraîche tart from the cookbook Cafe Beaujolais, by Margaret S. Fox and John Bear. I had the idea of adding finely ground dates to transform what looked to me to be a very plain and non-dessert-like tart. (Surprisingly to me, the original recipe appeared in the dessert section of the cookbook. To my American eyes, this dish seemed better suited as a snack, appetizer, or hors d'oeuvre rather than a dessert.) To transform the tart into a dessert that satisfied my own tastes, I decided to incorporate the rich and warm flavor of dates into the filling.
It worked in the end, but it was quite the travail since I was lazy and decided to put the dates directly into the blender with other ingredients. Unsurprisingly, they simply did not blend! It took a long time of coaxing with the inclusion of cream, and various small batches, to finally get it to work. Thankfully, this is something that can be avoided easily enough, by simply finely chopping the dates beforehand, so that they will blend with the other ingredients, and once this is done the recipe will be quite swift, rather than my hours-long effort.
Thankfully, in the end, after my long travails, the product that emerged was superb! It was definitely not a cheesecake—which is why I am calling it a cheese pie. It has a very smooth and creamy texture, and the taste is wonderful. The rich tone from the dates marries to the warm effervescence of orange, and the sweet and spiced flavor of the graham cracker crust complements the pie's filling. To top it off, the top is covered with a beautiful layer of caramelized apples. The three different components contrast well and help to give a nice amount of heterogeneity. On its own, I think that the date filling of the pie would be too monotonous, since it is so rich, but the inclusion of the apples helps to make for a lively experience with every bite. What is more, it is simply put gorgeous, with the spread of caramelized apples on top. And hopefully, with better management of the dates, it should be a far easier pie to make for you than for me!
This recipe is my own, although I did draw inspiration for the combination of crème fraîche and cream cheese from Cafe Beaujolais.
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- 8 ounces crème fraîche
- 3 egg yolks
- 10 ounces dates, pitted and finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 1/2 cups ground graham cracker
- 6 + 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup + 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 apples, cored and chopped into wedges
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Chop the dates very finely, then blend them in a food processor to get a powder. They should be exceptionally fine. Then proceed to beat together the cream cheese and the crème fraiche until smooth. Add in the cream.
- Mix together all of these ingredients with the date powder, and if need be run through a blender or food processor again to ensure that they are as fine as possible. Add in 2 egg yolks, the 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier, and beat to combine.
- Make a graham cracker pie crust, by crumbling 1 1/2 cups of graham crackers, with 6 tablespoons of melted butter, 1/3 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Then place into either the bottom of preferably a 10 inch springform pan; if it is waterproof from the bottom as well, or an equally large pie dish. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 10 minutes. Allow to cool.
- Pour the filling into the pie crust, and then place the springform pan dish or pie dish into a water bath, and bake in a preheated oven at 325 degrees F for 2 hours.
- Allow to cool overnight. The next day, chop up and core 2 apples, then mix together 1/2 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons of water in a clean saucepan over medium heat, for around 6 to 7 minutes probably, and heat until sugar begins to brown. While the flame is still going, quickly add in the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter, being careful not to burn the caramel. Put the apples into this and cook, stirring constantly, and cook 5 minutes or so until they are well coated in the caramel. Again, be careful to not burn the caramel.
- Arrange the apples decoratively over the top of the cheese pie then pour the caramel over. Chill again then serve.