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I don't often deal in superlatives. My professional mission statement has generally been as follows: "I don't want to make the best [insert dessert] you've ever had. I want to make something you've NEVER had."
But it doesn't hurt to have a favorite recipe or method for a classic item. And it may not be everyone's ideal, but being able to refine a dessert into your personal ideal is a good way to make a statement about your particular style.
At my current job, I've been messing around with individual crostatas for a while. And while the chefs and I have disagreed over how to shape them, bake them, and even fill them, I've been able to hold on to the same base recipe for the dough. I've found, through several giant batches, that the scraps, when stacked, folded and re-rolled, go from standard pie crust flaky to puff pastry-esque. And when egg washed and generously sugared, it takes on a gorgeous color and crisp outer texture.
Add to that the method for cooking apples that the executive chef taught me, with a few of my own tweaks added for personal taste, and I figured I had the makings for a fairly epic apple pie.
To top it all off, I've developed a uniquely killer vanilla ice cream/gelato recipe, inspired by a lack of vanilla extract. When I first moved my production operations to the new restaurant, they hadn't been able to get everything I'd asked for, but I badly needed to make vanilla gelato. The recipe I'd been using called for both beans and extract, but I found that the beans I had were exceptionally plump and moist. I figured since the entire bean is technically edible (yes, really) I'd just blend the whole beans in for a boost of vanilla flavor. The result is decidedly vanilla-beany, and though you can add extract as well, it's not necessary at all. Just a little dark liquor (bourbon or dark rum) to round out the flavor and you're good.
This particular pie recipe is very different from my old favorite apple pie, which is based on the one that my mom makes. That one involves cooking a pile of MacIntosh apples down, then baking them in an oil-based crust (yes, it's awesome). It's more akin to really chunky applesauce in a crust, though. This pie here is my ideal apple pie right now. It represents where I am in my personal pastry journey: A filling that's sweet, bitter, and just a little savory, a crust that shows off technical skill and a love for good old butter, and something classic yet subtly original melting all over everything.
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About the Author: Anna Markow is a pastry chef obsessed with doing things that no one else does and giving unusual ingredients their time to shine. You can follow her sometimes-pastry-related thoughts on Twitter @VerySmallAnna.