Turkey, stuffing, gravy and some good sides … there’s little doubt about what I’ll serve for a Thanksgiving entrée. But choosing the dessert is harder. It must look great, taste even better, capture the flavors of the season, please both kids and adults, seem fancy and indulgent, be light enough to follow a heavy meal, and, for many of us, it has to travel well and be prepared ahead of feast day. That’s asking a lot, but this torte is up to the task. A buttery crust, accented by pecans and cinnamon, holds a lush, caramel filling topped by sweet, soft apples and crunchy pecans. It’s visually appealing, delicious, and adds more flavor than bulk to the meal’s finale. The straightforward recipe can be prepared over two days and served the day after it’s made.
Apple Pecan Torte
Make in an 8-inch shiny metal springform pan
Recipe works at any elevation
Yields 8-10 servings
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, spoon, and level
- 1/4 cup pecan meal or ground pecans
- 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
- 12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup packed lump-free dark brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract or paste
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1/4 cup homemade or commercial caramel sauce or dulce de leche
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1-2 tablespoons bourbon, rum, or apple juice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup of chopped sweet baking apple, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 1/3 cup chopped pecans
- 2-3 tablespoon caramel sauce or dulce de leche
Get ready: Grease the pan with a baking spray the contains flour. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the center position.
Make the crust: Put the flour, pecan meal, sugar, salt and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to combine. Cut the butter into 6 pieces, add them, and pulse until large, moist clumps of dough form. Dump the mixture into the prepared pan and press onto the pan bottom until it’s smooth and level. Prick it all over with a fork so air can escape while baking and bake until set and light golden, 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.
Make the filling: Cut the cream cheese into 24 pieces, add them to a mixing bowl with the brown sugar, vanilla and salt. Use an electric mixer, starting a low speed and gradually increasing to medium speed, to blend until very smooth. Scrape the bowl often and check frequently to make sure there are no lumps of brown sugar. One at a time, add the eggs until fully combined. Finally, mix in the caramel sauce and cream.
Bake the filling: Bring 3-4 cups of water to a boil, pour it into a metal baking pan and place the pan of boiling water on the lower rack of the oven. This will add moisture to the oven and help prevent the filling from cracking while baking. Scrape the filling over the baked crust (it’s fine if it’s still warm), place it in the oven, on the rack above the pan of water, and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake for 15 more minutes, until the edges of the filling are set and have risen a little, the center will still look underdone. Turn off the oven, open the door 2-4 inches, and leave the torte in it for another hour. Remove the torte from the oven. Carefully run an off-set spatula or knife between the edges of the torte and the pan, pressing toward the pan. Let it cool an additional hour at room temperature, then refrigerate it, lightly covered, in the pan, for 6 hours or overnight. Don’t worry if it develops a crack or two, they’ll be hidden by the topping.
Make the topping: Melt the butter over low heat in a large skillet. When it’s almost melted, add 1 tablespoon bourbon, then stir in the cinnamon and brown sugar. Continue to stir until the sugar dissolves completely. Add the chopped apples, increase the heat to medium-low, and stir until they’re coated with the mixture, give off some juices, soften, and the liquid get syrupy. Do a taste test, add more flavorings and/or bourbon to your liking. Sir in the pecans until coated and the mixture is moist and shiny. Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.
Top the torte: Take the torte out of the refrigerator and gently remove the pan sides. It’s easiest to cut and serve if you leave it on the pan bottom. Spread a thin layer of caramel sauce over the top of the torte, then spoon the topping over it. Serve or refrigerate it up to a day before serving
Vera Dawson’s column “High Country Baking” publishes biweekly in the Summit Daily News. Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks. Her recipes have been tested in her kitchen in Frisco, where she’s lived since 1991, and altered until they work at elevation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.