What do you get when you cross an insurance adjuster with a music major? Cheesecake. Wait, what?
Allow me to explain: As a senior, young James was required to create his own science project for presentation to the entire class. James was struck with unidea—not one, nothin’. He was, however, brave enough to approach his teacher who then suggested eggs. Eggs, you say? Yes, eggs: the only substance that “solidifies when heated.” Thus began his research through which he learned eggs unify cooked foods, which led to cheesecake. Though James isn’t certain whether he’d ever even tried cheesecake before he attempted the project.
Presentation day arrived, and his cheesecake was not well-received by his peers. They clearly were not cool enough to see art and science converge into a luscious edible, or perhaps the apparently edible was not. None of this matters today because Mr. James Kay has revised his cheesecake-making process so that none step away from the plate once he sets it down. Let’s not jump too far ahead, though, as James‘ transition from science project cake to 120 mini-cheesecake order did not happen without much recipe revision.
In fact, James hadn’t even attempted another cheesecake recipe until years after high school, spurred on by a visit to the grocery store with his girlfriend who wanted to grab a box of brownies. James was fine with the brownies, but only if he could make them from scratch. As children, he and his sister baked together and James never learned to like boxed batches. The brownie-endeavor got him back into baking, and he thought he might try a chocolate cheesecake. Which ended badly. After googling his errors, James learned he had the wrong tools and the wrong ingredients. Next, he tried a white chocolate cheesecake, which was beautiful but cracked. Back to Google he went. He conducted this creation to research process until he was ready to test on his friends, Karl (a cheesecake lover) and Melinda (a fellow baker), who were great critics and helped him refine his cakes.
It is the balance between his creative risk-taking and his need to understand the process that led James to “meld together” his two favorite desserts: apple pie a la mode and cheesecake. It took five attempts to get the recipe right because he wrote it himself. He learned not to “sugar bomb” the cake but let the other flavors stand out, like cream cheese, apples and cinnamon; the best ratio, he discovered, was more pie than cheesecake, creating a moist, creamy, apple pie and cinnamon delight, “legitimized because everyone loves it.”
James’ creative mind did not stop with this recipe; as a result, he’s always up for a challenge like the one his friend proposed at a restaurant one night. She handed him a slice of bacon-chocolate cheesecake she’d purchased and challenged him to do it better. He went home, thought about what wasn’t working in the cake he’d tasted, and asked himself “how do you fix these flaws?” He then created his own recipe addressing each ineffective element and adding bacon fat to the graham cracker crust instead of butter. The result: he won; “the first try worked perfectly.”
It appears James’ entire life may have led him to this path: his father and grandfather are artists, and he’s a musician who relies heavily on logic in his creative pursuits and in his career. He also spent eleven years in the restaurant industry adding practicality to his imagination. It is this synergy created by James’ ability to take artistic license and his research-oriented mindset that births endless cheesecake possibilities, which makes the idea of James’ own company, Kayke, even more exciting.
APPLE PIE CHEESECAKE
For the crust: 9 graham crackers, crushed 1/4 cup butter, melted
For the pie filling: 6 Tbsp brown sugar 2 Tbsp flour 1/4-1/2 tsp cinnamon Ground nutmeg to taste 3-4 medium apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced 1/2 lemon worth of juice
For the topping: 1/2 cup flour 6 Tbsp brown sugar 3 Tbsp cold butter, diced
For the cheesecake filling: 1 1/2 lb full fat cream cheese, at room temperature 3 Tbsp corn starch 1 cup + 3 Tbsp sugar 1 Tbsp vanilla extract 2 eggs 1 tsp cinnamon 2/3 cup heavy cream
1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Grease a 9" springform pan. Wrap the outside with aluminum foil. 2. In a medium bowl, mix the graham crackers and melted butter. Press onto the bottom and sides of the springform pan. 3. In a large bowl, mix the apples and the lemon juice. In a separate bowl, mix the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg until well combined. Sprinkle over the apples and gently toss to evenly coat. 4. In a small bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar until combined. Mix in the butter with a fork or pastry cutter or food processor until crumbs form. Set in refrigerator. 5. In a large bowl using a hand mixer or stand mixer, mix the cream cheese, sugar and cornstarch on low until smooth then add the vanilla. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one. Add the cinnamon then the cream beating just until completely blended. Pour the filling into the prepared crust. 6. Begin layering the apple slices until you get about 3-4 layers of apple evenly over the cake. Evenly spread the crumble topping over the apples. 7. Place in a water bath and bake for about 1 1/4 hours. Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 2 hours. Transfer to a refrigerator to cool for at least 4 hours or overnight.