It’s officially autumn, guys!!! Which means it’s now completely acceptable for me to brown butter ALL THE THINGS, and I’m starting it off with the graham cracker crust of this apple cheesecake! So, I know that cracking is an aesthetic issue with the surface of cheesecakes—it doesn’t make them taste any less delicious, but a bunch of cracks all over the top of it aren’t the prettiest thing in the world. The best way to avoid cracks is to keep the cheesecake moist, and to avoid huge temperature changes. I solve the moist conundrum by baking the cheesecake with a pan of water on a separate rack in the oven to keep it nice and steamy in there, so that even though it’s exposed to a high temperature it’s not going to dry out on top.
The best way to avoid huge temperature changes is to turn off the oven after the cheesecake is done baking, open the oven door, and allow it to cool to room temperature gradually. Once it is completely cooled, (like, 3 hours later) then you can serve it. But I’m gonna be real, as soon as you refrigerate it those cracks are going to appear. Since there’s a bunch of little slices of apples in this one, it’s basically created a bunch of potential fissure lines for cracks along the top of the cake. So if you’re making this for a special occasion and don’t want a bunch of cracks on top, try to time making it the same day that you’re serving it so it has lots of time to cool but doesn’t need to be refrigerated yet. And if you end up with a ton of cracks on it after putting it in the fridge and that makes you sad, just throw some sliced almonds and powdered sugar on top and no one will know the difference (I’ve found that this combination can heal most cosmetic dessert wounds).
Back to the brown butter, though, I tend to cook a lot with it in the fall since it has that perfect toasted, nutty and rich flavor that pairs so well with pretty much all autumnal produce (squash, apples, pecans, pears….y’all know the drill). If you’re unfamiliar with brown butter, it’s basically butter that you cook over medium low heat in a frying pan until it almost burns, but then you immediately take it off the heat. Basically you’re toasting the milk fat solids in the butter, and they settle at the bottom of the melted butter mixture all dark brown and toasty-like, and the rest of the melted butter juice turns this lovely deep gold color. To help guide you through your butter-browning adventure, Jeremy and I made a little how-to video about it. YAY LEARNING!
And one more thing, I’m hosting a 1-day photography +storytelling workshop in Los Angeles December 2nd at Light Lab and I’d love to have you join me! You can read more about it and register here and via the link below. It’s the last workshop I’m doing this year, would love to see you this winter!!
Apple Cheesecake with a Brown Butter Crust
Brown Butter Crust
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 2 eggs (whisked)
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons whole milk
- (2) 8 ounce packages of cream cheese (softened)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 cup greek yogurt
- 3 eggs
- 2/3 cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 4 large apples, peeled and thinly sliced all the way across (use a mandolin to slice if possible, the thinner the slices the easier they are to bend)
Brown Butter Crust
First, brown the butter. When making browned butter, it is best to use a stainless steel pan so that you can see the color of the butter change. Heat the butter in a large shallow frying pan over medium heat until melted. Swirl the pan around a bit every couple minutes to help it cook evenly. Over a period of several minutes, you’ll notice the foam at the top of the butter start to change from light yellow to a dark tan. Once it reaches the dark tan stage and the butter looks light brown and golden, smell it. It should smell nutty and similar to toffee. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to warm.
In a medium bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, cinnamon, and allspice. Add the melted butter and mix with your hands to combine. Add the eggs and milk and continue mixing with your hands until a crumbly dough mixture forms.
Line the bottom of a springform pan that's 9-inches in diameter and 2.5 inches deep with parchment paper and grease the sides. Use your fingers to press the bits of dough to the bottom of the pan to form the base of the crust, then start pressing the dough up the sides to form the crust all the way to the top of the pan. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit with a pot of water on the lowest rack of the oven. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar at medium low speed until smooth and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the sour cream and beat until smooth, then add the yogurt and beat until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Then add the milk, vanilla extract, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and nutmeg and continue beating until smooth and completely combined. Set aside.
Arrange the apple slices in the pan to create a flower shape, starting around the edge of the pan and working your way inward. Don't pack them too tightly, you want the batter to be able to seep between the apple slices. Pour the batter into the pan, pouring into different areas of the pan to help it spread evenly between the apple slices.
Place the pan on a large lipped baking sheet and place it in the center rack of the oven. Bake until the edges of the cheesecake are set but the center is still slightly wobbly and the exposed portions of the apple slices are golden, about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Turn the oven off, open the oven door, and allow the cheesecake to cool to room temperature over a period of 3 hours (this helps prevent cracking on the top of the cake, read the blog post above for more cracking-prevention tips). Slice and enjoy!