Sometimes ideas that I have in the kitchen have to wait their turn to come to fruition. For example, I've wanted to do a caramel apple dessert for a couple of years now, but just couldn't decide on how to execute it. I knew I wanted it to be a lighter, creamier dish with subtle spices and a salty, nutty garnish, but didn't quite have the skills in my repertoire to pull it off without it being clumsy. The first thing I thought of was a caramel panna cotta layered with apple gelee, with chunks of fresh apple suspended within—a neat idea but a little convoluted. So I waited for the next autumn to roll around.
The next year, I was submitting a sample menu for a restaurant I was trying to schedule a tasting for and came back to the caramel apple idea. I had some experience with flan at that point, so I pitched the idea of a caramel apple flan. I never ended up doing a tasting, though, which turned out to be fine as I still wasn't sure about how to get the apple flavor into the flan.
Later that winter, I was at work playing with apples, pears, and quince, using a recipe for stovetop caramelized quince with spices, cream and butter. The method results in chewy, flavorful fruit with a rich buttered caramel sauce, and I realized I finally had the answer to my caramel apple custard/flan.
Including some of the caramel from the apples helps to infuse the flavor into the custard itself, and a scattering of toasted pepitas really screams out "fall!" on the plate. For even more apple flavor and sticky goodness, I recommend adding a little apple cider reduction to the plate: simply reduce cider in a saucepan over medium heat until bubbly and thick, then allow to cool to an almost jellied set.
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.