I’ve been doing quite a bit of recipe development work lately which is great but there is always the same end result: piles of random, leftover ingredients. The bags and boxes are open so I can’t donate them to the food pantry and it’s often too much for me to work through, knowing the next assignment is coming down the pike with even more stuff. In fact today, the FedEx guy delivered a 15 pound box of even more stuff from a client. Of the 9 things in the box, I really only need 2 of them and I’m not really sure why their light brown sugar is better or different than the brown sugar I have. But it is not for me to decide these things; I’ll use it at some point. The 5 pounds of lecithin, I’m not so sure. I’ve joked with my friends that when this round is over I’m going to have a pop-up grocery store in my dining room. Half filled bags of stuff for cheap! Kathy’s Store of Cheap Random Crap. C’mon down!
To make matters even more interesting, my refrigerator is also packed with cheese of all sorts from other projects – packaged slices, 5 pound blocks, Italian grated cheeses of all kinds and several tubs of quark, a fresh, creamy cheese that’s popular in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. It’s sort of like a tangier, creamier ricotta. I haven’t worked with it much but years ago a German friend of a friend once made a quark cheesecake that I very much enjoyed so that’s where my thoughts went. Really, the objective here was just to use up some stuff and turn it into something delicious. So here’s how my German torte, inspired by a bunch of leftover ingredients, came to be.
I had an idea in my head, some sort of apple cheesecake-like thing with a layer of buttery crumble on top. Have I had something like this before? Probably, though I couldn’t recall where or when. Seems like something I’d order in a Viennese café, if I was one to frequent Viennese cafés. I didn’t want to bake a cake, rather more of a cheesecake/pie type of thing so a crust of some sort was in order. I took a long hard look at the large jar of vanilla sugar on my counter. Having an excess of dried, spent vanilla pods a few months ago, I ground them with some sugar and made a large jar of vanilla sugar, that nifty and thrifty pastry chef trick. I had yet to use it, choosing instead to shift the large jar to various spots around my counter, back and forth, back and forth. German baking recipes often include a packet of that Dr. Oetker vanilla sugar so I substituted it for half the sugar in my simple pastry crust recipe and made a nice dent in that jar. Check! The crust was pressed into and up the side of a springform pan, saving about 1/3 for later.
Next up were the apples. I had a large bag sitting around taking up space, leftover from a fruit leather assignment. They needed to be used too. A combination of honeycrisp and golden delicious were sliced thin and sautéed with a little cinnamon, a squirt of lemon juice and a few spoonfuls of sugar. Turned into the chilled crust and spread into a thin layer they made a nice base, almost like a compote. Check! On top of this, I sprinkled a little cinnamon sugar an idea I lifted from a more traditional German apple cake recipe.
Now there was the quark to deal with. I mixed it into a sort of loose cheesecake type batter and poured the mixture on top of the apples. Check! Over the summer I made this a few times: once with all quark, once combined with some sour cream and this time, mixed with a container of crème frâiche because I had it and it needed to be used. They were all very good, but the later was by far the tangiest if that’s your thing. And though I really like this recipe with the quark, it can be difficult to find at times. In that instance, a mix of sour cream and cream cheese will do; see the recipe notes below for details.
I had a great idea for the crumble – rather than create yet another component (not completely out of the realm of possibilities for me), I used the pastry crust mixture. I only pressed about 2/3 of it into the pan so the remainder was crumbled on top. The same mix that makes for a beautiful, tender, buttery crust also makes a very nice crumbly streusel-like topping. The rest of that cinnamon sprinkle went on top of that and then into the oven for just under an hour to the point when the center jiggles ever so slightly. It was gorgeous and smelled even better. But first, it had to cool. Cutting into a molten cheesy center would be disastrous.
Later, once set, I cut the torte into wedges and brewed up a pot of tea. I felt oh so civilized. Then I looked at the mound of dishes in the sink and realized that yes, I had used up some lingering, leftover ingredients and turned them into something beautiful and delicious – vanilla sugar, apples, quark. Check! But dang, did I make a mess in the process. There are a lot of steps to this one but none are really that difficult and to my mind, well worth the effort. A quick serving note: in the picture above, I sliced the torte slightly warm and it made for a messy slice. If the torte is chilled, it will slice much cleaner. If that’s your thing.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: COFFEEHOUSE SPECIAL. For something that was created out of a bunch of leftovers, this is a very special recipe. There are so many textures combined into one delicious slice – buttery, crumbly, creamy, crunchy, tender. On a fall day, with a bit of chill in the air, there is nothing better than to relax with a slice and a nice hot cup of coffee or tea and watch the world go by. It takes the best bits of the season and wraps them up in a buttery crust. Quite nice. You’ll earn that cup of tea.
Seven years ago: Apple Pear Crisp, Sour Cream Coffeecake, Chocoflan
Six years ago: Blueberry Raspberry Cobbler, Peach Frozen Custard
Five years ago: Plum Kuchen, Sweet Corn Soup
Four years ago: Bastille Day Lunch – Figgy BBQ Sauce
Three years ago: Roasted Ratatouille with Sweet Corn Polenta, Bloody Mary Vinaigrette
Two years ago: Aunt Patti’s Cornbread
Last year: Grilled Zucchini with Garlic Herb Gremolata, Machaca – Mexican Shredded Beef, Machaca Enchiladas, Small Batch Spiced Plum Butter
GERMAN APPLE CHEESECAKE TORTE
If you don’t have vanilla sugar on hand, you can quickly make some by scraping the seeds from ½ vanilla bean into 1/3 cup sugar and rubbing to blend. Or just use a full 2/3 cup regular granulated sugar and skip the vanilla sugar. If you can’t find quark, substitute 1 ½ cups sour cream and ½ cup cream cheese. Make sure the cream cheese is room temperature before mixing.
Makes one 9” torte, serves about 8-10
for the pastry dough:
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup vanilla sugar
1/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold cut in ½” cubes (1 ¼ sticks)
for the apples:
1 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 medium sweet but firm apples, like Golden Delicious or Gala (about 1 pound)
2 Tablespoons sugar
juice from ½ lemon
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
for the cinnamon sprinkle:
1 Tablespoon powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of kosher salt
for the quark cheesecake filling:
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
pinch of kosher salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups quark (or a mixture of sour cream/cream cheese – see notes above)
1 ½ Tablespoons cornstarch
- Preheat the oven to 375°F and grease the bottom and sides of a 9” springform pan with a little bit of softened butter.
- For the pastry dough: In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar/vanilla sugar and, with your fingers, work in the butter until you have a crumbly dough.
- Crumble 2/3 of the dough into the prepared pan, gently pressing along the bottom and up the sides. Refrigerate until needed.
- For the apples: Peel and core the apples; cut into 1/8” thick slices.
- In a shallow pan over medium heat, melt the butter.
- When foaming, add the apples, sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon, stirring to combine.
- Sauté until the apples begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook at this point. Set aside and allow to cool.
- For the cinnamon sprinkle: in a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar, 1 Tablespoon sugar, cinnamon and a pinch of kosher salt. Set aside until needed.
- For the cheesecake filling: In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high until well combined. Scrape the bowl.
- On low add the eggs, one a time, then the vanilla and mix until just combined. Scrape the bowl.
- On low, add the cornstarch and quark, mixing until smooth. Scrape the bowl and mix just to blend.
- To assemble: Remove the crust lined pan from the refrigerator and spread the cooled apples evenly along the bottom.
- Sprinkle half the cinnamon sprinkle on top.
- Pour the quark custard over the apples.
- Crumble the remaining 1/3 of the dough on top and spread the remaining cinnamon sprinkle on top.
- Bake for 45 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted just off center come out clean.
- Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
- The cake is best the day it’s made but keeps for 2-3 days tightly covered.