Very Small Anna

From the Pastry Dungeon: Quince Hand Pies

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[Photograph: Anna Markow]

When people find out I work in a restaurant, they usually think that means I get to eat restaurant-quality food all the time (and when they find out I work on the sweet side of the kitchen, they marvel that I'm not fat). Though all but the cheapest chain restaurants do supply meals for their staff, they are generally made of scraps. Trimmings from butchered steaks, leftover pre-cut vegetables, maybe leftover grilled chicken breast from lunch service. You'll often find vats of rice or pasta ordered in cheaply for the sole purpose of feeding the staff. This is known as "family meal."

In fancier restaurants, making the family meal is considered a very important job and an opportunity to show off your skills and creativity. In some places I've worked, putting up a less than excellent family meal is cause for shame. If you can't successfully fuel your "family" before service, how can you be trusted to feed your guests?

It's a much less serious matter in more casual restaurants, but is still often treated as a fun way to show off your creativity. Spaghetti sandwiches, hotel pans of nachos supreme, spicy vegetable soups, giant chicken salads, taco bars, and roast turkey legs are all things I've enjoyed while prepping for the dinner rush.

Yes, while prepping. In some restaurants, generally the bigger, fancier ones, the whole staff does sit for a few minutes to enjoy a meal together before marching off to battle in the kitchen. I suppose it's good for morale. When given the choice, though, I much prefer to continue to stand at my station, taking a nibble here or there as I look over my mise en place and maybe unmold some cakes or occasionally stir something on the stovetop.

Occasionally I'll make an extra special nibble for the kitchen, but anything I make must be easy to eat during service. Nothing that will melt or needs utensils to be consumed. So when I stumbled upon a few gorgeous quince and discovered I had a spare block of pie dough in the freezer, I decided to make my first ever batch of hand pies.

This is my absolute favorite way to cook quince. It becomes chewy after simmering in a mixture of butter, cream, sugar, and spices. The seasonings were inspired by a tea blend made of rooibos and African chai spices, which complement quince perfectly. The pies are delicate, small enough to eat in two bites (or one if you're a busy line cook) but satisfying despite their daintiness. Of course you could substitute apples or pears, but quince is always worth it if you find it.

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.

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