Happy Chinese New Year, everyone! The Year of the Horse starts tomorrow, and being a Horse myself on the 12-year Chinese Zodiac cycle, this is only the second time it’s happened in my lifetime. It also–disturbingly–means that according to the Chinese calendar, I’m 24 years old.
At 24, my dad was gearing up for his wedding. When she was 24, my mom had given birth to yours truly a YEAR earlier, and they were already worrying about things like 401K’s and flood insurance.
Meanwhile, the thought of having to file my first real income tax return is giving me hives.
Every year around this time, we order Neil Somerville’s Your Chinese Horoscope [insert year]: What the Year of the [insert animal] Holds in Store for You! It’s our one annual fling with the world of astrology, numerology, and “FIND YOUR LOVE SIGN!”-type horoscopy. This year’s book was particularly enlightening…After carefully poring over Mr. Somerville’s assessments of my future for the upcoming months, one message stood out: “The Horse year starts on 31 January and has the potential for being a brilliant year for the Horse but also — and here lies a warning — a disastrous one.”
Uh, does anyone have any Cortisone?
Sigh. This is why, at this very important life juncture–the last day of the Year of the Snake, i.e. the day before my life either sets a course for brilliance or crippling disaster…I feel the need to bake.
I feel the need to bake something that combines a multitude of my favorite things, and this Apple Cheese Tart, adapted from a much-loved Land O’Lakes Bavarian Apple Tart recipe (I lightened it up, without sacrificing decadence or flavor, of course), is the answer to my hives-inducing fear of the future.
Cream cheese, lemon, apples, nuts, honey, and a butter crust…perhaps these things will set a positive tone for the year and tip the cosmic scale towards the “brilliant” side of things.
As I sit here writing this post, fireworks, sparklers, firecrackers, and a whole slew of other incendiaries are lighting up the Beijing sky outside. We’re gearing up for a big Chinese New Year week, with lots of cooking, so look out for more recipes in the coming days. Until then, however, I leave you with this Apple Cream Cheese Tart.
Apple Cream Cheese Tart: Recipe Instructions
Start by lightly greasing an 8-inch spring-form pan. This is your Crisco Insurance–it’s not strictly necessary, but when it comes time to pop the thing out of the pan, you’ll be glad you had it.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. (205 degrees C)
Now you’re ready to make the crust. Throw all the crust ingredients into a food processor and pulse into crumbs. Check to see if it holds together. If it looks a little dry, pulse in a couple teaspoons cold water. You can also do this all by hand with a pastry cutter, of course.
Press the mixture into the pan, making a 1-inch rim around the edges.
Bake for 15 minutes, remove from the oven, and set aside. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). We use Celsius here in China, so I figure I should start regularly posting both temperatures. There’s a wildly exciting New Year’s Resolution right there!
For the cheese filling, beat together the cream cheese, 2 tablespoons sugar, salt, egg, vanilla, and lemon zest until smooth. Set aside.
Chop up the nuts. I’m using pecans, because that’s what we have, but walnuts would also be just dandy.
Stir in a tablespoon of honey.
Impatience led me to just get in there with my hands to get them all coated.
Then toss the apple slices with the lemon juice, spices, and 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar.
Ok. Ready for assembly. Spread the cream cheese filling over the tart crust, and then add the nuts in an even layer.
Place the apple slices on top in an even layer.
You can try for a spiral pattern like I’ve done here (uh, sort of), or just go willy nilly with it. As long as it’s even.
Then bake for 50-55 minutes at 375 degrees, until the apples are tender and golden.
If you want a bit of a sheen on the top of the tart, you can brush it with a bit of warm honey or maple syrup.
Cool, slice, serve, and feel good about the future.
Apple Cream Cheese Tart
FOR THE CRUST:
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup flour
- Up to 1 tablespoon water (if needed)
FOR THE CHEESE FILLING:
- 8 ounces cream cheese (softened)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- zest of 1 lemon
FOR THE FRUIT AND NUT FILLING:
- 2/3 cup pecans (or walnuts, finely chopped)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2-3 apples (peeled and thinly sliced)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- Lightly grease an 8-inch spring-form pan. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Make the crust: Throw all the crust ingredients into a food processor and pulse until combined. If it looks a little dry, add a couple teaspoons cold water and pulse. Press into the pan, making a 1-inch rim. Bake 15 minutes, remove from the oven, and set aside. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
- For the cheese filling, beat together the cream cheese, 2 tablespoons sugar, salt, egg, vanilla, and lemon zest until smooth. In a small bowl, stir together the nuts and 1 tablespoon honey until all the nuts are coated. Toss the apple slices with the lemon juice, spices, and 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar.
- Spread the cream cheese filling over the tart crust. Sprinkle the nuts over the cheese in an even layer. Place the apple slices on top in an even layer. Bake for 50-55 minutes at 375 degrees, until the apples are tender and golden.