Crostata Time

January 22nd, 2014

A year ago, I was working my first job in pastry after my traumatic layoff. I took it because I thought I’d be mentored and have some guidance, something I felt like I really needed. I was wrong in my initial perception of the job.

If it hadn’t been for me working out of a sister restaurant before my workspace was done (side note: in the past 3 years I have opened 4 restaurants. I admit I have a problem) I might have quit pastry altogether. But I had a blast working out of the tiny kitchen in that wee little Michelin-starred restaurant, often staying late to help the chefs with their prep. They were sorry to see me go when I moved to the new restaurant.

I was miserable after the move. The executive chef, while a great guy, was hardly around, with retail projects and multiple restaurants to check in on. The chef de cuisine was all right as a person, but came off as downright bitchy professionally, with an open disdain for pastry. She and the exec had a very nebulous idea of what the dessert menu should be, and as I wasn’t really in a creative state of mind at the time, I wasn’t much help. People hated one of the opening desserts, didn’t care for the deconstructed presentation of another and were downright nasty about some of the gelato flavors. It was a fussy, snobby neighborhood. Ultimately I found something else and gave my notice.

One dessert people did lose their shit over was an apple crostata. Though I didn’t care for the treatment of the apples (smoking caramel tastes awful and I loathe lemon with apples) and the presentation the chefs wanted was a near structural impossibility (an uber flaky crostata dough, in individual sized applications, is not able to hold its shape when wrapped free form around the apples. I was screamed at over every one that unfolded in the oven), I chose to serve it with a zabaglione gelato and spiced Marsala caramel sauce that received insane amounts of praise. (I noticed a pattern: everything I did that I felt I could stand behind, people liked. If I was forced to go against my judgement, customers hated the result. Critics assumed we had no pastry chef. It was mortifying.)

So guess what I’m making at my current job. Yeah, apple crostata. Only, my way. Because they basically leave me alone to do my thing here instead of meddling. So it looks like this now.

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Big enough (and priced for) two or three people to share, it’s really just a small pie. I don’t burn the damn sugar for the apples, I season with cinnamon and nutmeg (not my first choice but it works) and I top it with a scoop of salted butter caramel gelato.

It’s not really an apple dessert. It’s a sugar, salt and butter dessert. The apples just happen to have wandered into the situation. The crust has just enough flour to hold together chunks of high-fat butter and has a significant amount of sugar to make it softer and more tender than a standard brisee. Brushed with egg wash and coated in superfine and turbinado sugars, it’s pretty damn delicious. The apples, cooked in a buttery caramel until semi-soft before being added to the crostatas, taste like the perfect apple pie filling. The secret? A small handful of salt. They don’t taste salty, just appley. And I don’t even have to describe the gelato. The name says it all.

Anyway. Sorry my crostatas were kind of lame, former bosses. They’re awesome now.

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