From the get-go, it's a promising sight. Chef Dan Coorey's Apple-Walnut Cheesecake isn't Martha Stewart-pretty -- no gilded apples or fussy garnishes -- just a hearty-looking streusal-topped affair studded with loads of crunchy walnuts.
Weigh one. It's four-plus pounds, dense with real ingredients. After one bite, it's a promise fulfilled. Coorey's creation is pure lusciousness.
Biting through the layer of thick slices of tender apples, and a rich cream cheese filling all set within a buttery coffee cake-style dough, we paused for a moment of homestyle bliss. A hint of spice. Slightly chewy, meltable streusel. Cake with a firm, moist crumb.
Coorey's isn't cheesecake in the conventional sense, but who's complaining? It has much in common with the other no-nonsense fare served in his Off-Street Cafe in Tustin, Calif. The cake is made largely from scratch with fresh ingredients. The straightforward results are delicious.
Apple-Walnut Cheesecake came into being in much the same way as other dishes Coorey serves -- fashioned through evolution to satisfy his own homey but exacting taste. His best include delicious lamb shish kebab, stuffed chicken with sourdough dressing and his signature entree, a marvelous chicken pot pie laced with a velvety basil cream sauce tucked within a pair of golden crusts.
Preparing desserts, however, gives him the greatest pleasure.
"I've really been into pastries since I opened here. And I've always made a dynamite apple pie," he says, glancing around the tiny 32-seat cafe clad in pale robin's egg blue floral paper. With the holidays coming, and an ongoing demand from customers for a cheesecake-style dessert, Coorey began reading recipes and improvising.
"I found a coffee cake that really sounded good, so I took that idea and made it MY way."
Cake, cream-cheese filling and a layer of apples met -- and married beautifully.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, he introduced the cake in his cafe (named Off-Street because it's hidden behind a fast-food operation). Within four days his restaurant-regulars snapped up 31 cakes at $19 each. Since then, the special-order cakes have joined the hot chicken pies as take-out sale items.
Coorey is no stranger to prepared-food sales. During the 1950s and '60s his parents, Joseph and Angie Coorey, operated grocery stores in Los Angeles. They later opened Coorey's Counter in Anaheim, and Coorey's in Fullerton. Coorey's World's Best Pocket Sandwiches operated for several years during the early 1980s in Santa Ana.
Culinary influences from the world over color his flavorings, Coorey says. Middle Eastern, French and other European touches creep in, but he also credits Cajun and Hispanic flavorings among his favorites.
"I consider myself a chef who uses ethnic touches from around the world," he says.
Although Dan Coorey sells prepared versions of his Apple-Walnut Cheesecake, he happily shares the recipes with home bakers.
Although it's a fairly simple recipe, it will take some time. Coorey suggests that you relax, enjoy your time in the kitchen -- and avoid cutting corners in terms of quality ingredients.
"You can use some prepared ingredients, like canned apple filling, but you'll really sacrifice that fresh flavor," he says.
4 cups apples, peeled, cored and sliced about 1/2 -inch thick
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 rounded teaspoon flour
1/2 cup water (or apple juice or sweet cider)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
Pastry batter and streusel:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups old-fashioned oats, uncooked
1 cup sugar
8 ounces margarine or butter, chilled
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 egg white
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup reserved streusel (see below)
1 to 1 1/2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
Cook's notes: Some steps for this recipe can be done 24 hours in advance.
Preliminaries: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter bottoms and sides of a ten-inch springform pan; reserve.
Prepare the Apple Layer: Prepare the apples, then set them aside. In a large saute pan or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add flour and mix with a wire whisk; cook for two to three minutes until raw taste is gone, then add the water, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon juice. Stir in the apples and simmer for two minutes. Remove from heat and refrigerate until cool. (This can be done the day before; cover tightly before refrigerating.)
Prepare the Cheese Layer: Using an electric mixer at medium speed, beat the cream cheese, sugar, almond extract and the egg in a small bowl. When well blended, reserve. (This may be done the day before, but allow mixture to set at room temperature, stirring occasionally, before assembling and baking the cake.)