Apples and cheesecake have been a popular combination for decades. But putting the two together in a dessert using canned apples, a pre-baked pie shell, cream-enriched filling, and coconut is unusual. Recipes for this odd coconut-and-cheesecake-topped “Redwood Room Apple Pie” pop up here and there online and in community cookbooks. Details of the pie’s provenance have been harder to come by.
The Houston Chronicle ran the recipe for the pie March 23, 1967 in its food section. Ann Criswell, long time food editor at the paper (now retired), says the recipe originated with the tony Redwood Room at San Francisco’s Clift Hotel, which NYTimes food critic Craig Claiborne deemed one of the “one or two” remaining hotels with “kitchens of relative eminence,” when he wrote about it in its heyday, July 10, 1964.
Although Ann didn’t have the name of the chef who originated or shared the recipe with the Chronicle, a 1961 Redwood Room menu on file at the San Francisco History Center lists the pie, and includes the name of then chef de cuisine Robert P. LeBreton. A 1963 photo of the Redwood Room, also shows the pie on the chef-staffed serving station and dessert cart. (Look just to the right of those gorgeous domed platters of roast-beef.)
What we do know is that the Redwood Room has long been a beautiful place frequented by beautiful people. The hotel originally opened in 1915, named for San Francisco lawyer Frederick C. Clift. The Clift was upgraded to include the Redwood Room and its adjacent French room in 1933, both serving the same limited-but-elegant restaurant menu. Of the two, the Redwood Room was the more masculine of the spaces, with a 30-foot bar and lustrous floor-to-ceiling paneling fashioned from foraged fallen trunks of redwood trees 2,000 years old or older. In the ‘70s, the Redwood Room switched to bar service only, and the food menu lapsed.
We’re giving you the original Redwood Room Apple Pie recipe here, but we are also including instructions for how to adapt the pie to use fresh, steamed apples in the filling, and macadamia nuts (rather than walnuts) with the coconut topping. (We think they fit better.)
Makes one 8-inch pie
Redwood Room Apple Pie Filling Ingredients
- 1, pre-baked 8-inch pie shell
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 Tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 1, 1 lb 4-oz can pie sliced canned apple slices, well-drained OR 8 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored sliced and steamed until al dente, chilled and well drained
- Cheesecake topping (recipe follows)
Cheesecake topping Ingredients
- 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup grated coconut
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts OR 1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
- Make pie filling: Combine cornstarch and sugar in saucepan. Whisk in cream. Over medium heat, heat to boiling. Whisk in butter and lemon juice. Add drained apples and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Make Cheesecake topping: In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Whisk in egg.
- Assemble pie: Spoon apple filling into pie shell to fill it ¾ of the way. Top with cheesecake filling. Sprinkle coconut and walnuts (or macadamia nuts) over top. Bake at 350 degrees 15 to 20 minutes or until topping is golden brown. Cool before serving.