This gourmet cheesecake comes from one of Whistler's top chefs, James Walt. As executive chef at Araxi, an award-winning restaurant nestled in the mountains of B.C., Walt has compiled his favourite recipes in new cookbook.
The mascarpone cheese makes this cheesecake a little lighter than most, but quite creamy at the same time. We use Pink Lady, Granny Smith or Cox’s Orange Pippin apples for this recipe because they are firm, tangy and keep their shape and texture when cooked. You can substitute hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans for the almonds in the praline — or, if you want, try a regular graham cracker crust. At the Araxi restaurant, we prepare individual portions, but the whole cake recipe here is just as delicious and easier to make. We garnish them with oven-dried apple chips to provide a contrast in texture and to heighten the apple flavour.
1 cup whole natural almonds
3/4 cup granulated sugar
8 oz. mascarpone cheese, room temperature
11-1/4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
5/8 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped and pod discarded
5 large eggs
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup whipping cream
2 cups vanilla crème anglaise for garnish (or regular whipped cream with vanilla extract will do the trick)
8 large Granny Smith apples or other firm cooking apples
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, pod split and seeds scraped
3/4 cup organic apple juice
1/4 cup unpasteurized liquid honey
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the almonds on the baking sheet and toast until very lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the nuts to cool on the baking sheet.
Step 2: In a small pot, combine the sugar with just enough water to moisten it evenly (about 1/4 cup). Heat the sugar on medium heat, without stirring, until it is caramelized and light amber, about 10 minutes.
Step 3: Pour this syrup over the almonds and stir gently until the nuts are evenly coated. Allow the praline to cool completely, then grind it in batches in a food processor until you have a fine powder.
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 300°F. Tightly wrap the bottom of a 10" diameter bottomless metal ring mould with aluminum foil. Place the mould into a large roasting pan. Place the roasting pan on a baking sheet.
Step 2: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the mascarpone and cream cheeses with the sugar and vanilla. Mix on medium speed until the cheeses are well blended and the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.
Step 3: In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks and cream. With the motor running at low speed, add the egg mixture to the cheese mixture. Scraping down the sides of the bowl 2 or 3 times, mix until the batter is just combined and smooth, about 3 minutes total.
Step 4: Strain the batter through a fine-mesh sieve into the prepared ring mould. Discard the solids. Fill the roasting pan with enough hot water to reach halfway up the side of the ring mould. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the baking sheet around and lower the temperature to 285°F. Bake for 10-15 minutes more, or until a dry knife inserted in the centre
of the cake comes out clean.
Step 5: Remove the ring mould from the water bath. Refrigerate the cheesecake for 2 hours or until chilled.
Step 6: Line a cake platter or a large plate with parchment paper. Carefully remove the aluminum foil from the bottom of the cheesecake, then gently transfer the cheesecake to the platter (or plate). Dip a knife in hot water, then run it around the edges of the mould to loosen the filling. Gently slide the mould up and away from the cheesecake.
Step 1: Peel and core the apples, then cut them into 1/4" slices. Place the apple slices in a large bowl and toss them with the lemon juice to prevent oxidization.
Step 2: In a large sauté pan on medium heat, cook the sugar until it turns a golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add the apples to the pan, then stir in the vanilla seeds and pod.
Step 3: Deglaze the pan with the apple juice and honey, then sauté the apples, stirring frequently, until the liquid is reduced and the apple slices are slightly translucent, about 15 minutes. (If the pan dries out too quickly, add 1/4 cup more apple juice.)
Step 4: Remove the apples from the heat and transfer them to a stainless steel bowl. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature, then discard the vanilla pod. Set aside.
Step 5: To finish the cheesecake, gently sift half of the almond praline (recipe above) onto a clean work surface, and shape it into a circle 11" in diameter. Carefully place the cheesecake onto the praline and press gently on the cake to coat the bottom of it.
Step 6: Using two lifters, transfer the cheesecake to a large cake platter or serving plate. Cut a sheet of parchment paper into a 10" circle. Slide the ring mould back around the cake, then fan the apple slices in a circle on the top of the cheesecake, ensuring that they reach right to the edge.
Step 7: Place the parchment paper over the apples and lightly press it down with your hands to set the apples onto the cheesecake. Remove the parchment paper and the ring mould. Using a plastic scraper, coat the sides of the cheesecake with the remaining almond praline.
Step 8: To serve, use a sharp knife dipped in hot water and then dried, then slice the cake into individual servings. Serve with generous spoonfuls of vanilla crème anglaise or regular whipped cream.
Reprinted with permission from James Walt's Araxi: Seasonal Recipes from the Celebrated Whistler Restaurant (2009 Douglas & McIntyre).