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Friday, December 23, 2005

"Four Star Tour" Dinner, Course 6:   Apple Crisp With Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

This is the ninth in a series of posts directed to a holiday dinner party that I recently held at my home, for which I put together a six-course menu comprised of dishes inspired by the Bay Area's four-star chefs.   For more on the dinner, please see these posts:   Intro | Menu Planning, Pt. 1 | Menu Planning, Pt. 2 | Course 1 | Course 2 | Course 3 | Course 4 | Course 5 | Course 6 | Closing

The dessert that I chose for my menu – Apple Crisp with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream – was, at first blush, incongruous with the rest of the meal.   An apple crisp, after all, is perhaps the quintessential comfort food dessert – perfectly appropriate after a dinner consisting of a hearty stew, or perhaps some fried chicken.   But it would seem to be somewhat out of place coming at the end of a dinner intended to reflect the cuisine served in four-star establishments.   And yet, in reality, this dessert was the perfect tribute to the chef who inspired it – Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys.

Keller's knowledge of French cuisine is seemingly encyclopedic, and a quick look through his cookbook reveals that the inspiration behind his dishes is as likely to come from a traditional French country recipe as it is from a Michelin-starred chef with whom Keller once apprenticed.   But what's truly remarkable is how Keller draws upon and synthesizes these diverse influences, and then seamlessly incorporates a broad array of dishes and concepts into the rarefied setting of a four-star restaurant.   How many of the other four-star chefs would think to place an apple crisp on their menus?   Keller not only does so, but he does so with great success.

Keller's version of this classic dessert, however, is far from ordinary.   Rather than simply topping some baked apples with a flour-sugar-butter combination, Keller adds an interesting twist – phyllo dough.   The phyllo sheets, which sit along the bottom of the pie pan and partially fold over the sautéed apple filling, lend the finished dessert an extra component of flaky crispiness.   Thus, as Keller states in his cookbook, the dessert is really more a combination of apple strudel and streusel topping than it is a conventional apple crisp.
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Recipe, Tweaks, Tips and Techniques

Keller's original recipe is actually entitled "Cinnamon, Apple and Raisin Crisp with Blond Caramel Sauce."   Now, the very first decision that I made – almost without even thinking about it – was to toss the raisins overboard.   I don't have a problem with raisins per se;   I may eat some plain from time to time, and they are fine in certain cookies and breads.   But what I find inexplicable is that every time cinnamon is used as a primary flavor in a food item, raisins are almost guaranteed to be an automatic tag-along.   Why?   Even granting that their flavors work well with each other, are cinnamon and raisins forever more a package deal?   Well, I for one refuse to perpetuate this mandatory coupling in my kitchen!   In this instance, I really wanted the sautéed apples to have center stage all by themselves, so I saw no purpose to be served by the raisins.   And because I planned to serve the crisp with vanilla bean ice cream, I concluded that the blond caramel sauce – which is basically just cream, sugar, and a bit of water – was redundant and unnecessary.

Keller notes that the apple crisp can be served warm or at room temperature, which necessarily means that the dessert can be made slightly ahead of time and then simply held for service.   Thus, what I did was prepare the crisp late in the afternoon, held it at room temperature for a few hours, and then placed it in the oven at 250 F just as I was starting to put together the preceding course (the Orange Lavender Cappuccino).   By the time I was ready to serve the crisp a half hour later, it had attained the perfect temperature to contrast with the cold vanilla bean ice cream.   (I should probably confess here that although my original plan was to make vanilla bean ice cream from scratch, the press of time forced me to cheat and use a store-bought premium ice cream instead.)

Finally, a brief word on the number of servings that this recipe will yield.   It is certainly possible to divide the apple crisp into 12 equal portions – although if you do this, each serving will be on the somewhat smaller side.   If you divide the crisp into 10 portions, however, you will end up with generous servings.   Basically, just think about the typical 9" pie and how many servings you feel comfortable getting out it, and that should provide you with the appropriate guidance here.

The recipe set forth below is the one that I used the night of my dinner party.   You will not need any "specialized" equipment for this recipe:

Apple Crisp with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Inspired by Hubert Keller, Fleur de Lys

  • 3 lbs. apples, half Granny Smith and half Golden Delicious, peeled, cut into quarters, cored, and then cut again into 1/8" slices (yielding approximately 16 slices per apple)
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1 T butter
  • 5 T sugar
  • 1 T dark rum

  • Topping
  • ½ c flour
  • ¼ c sugar
  • ½ t ground cinnamon
  • 5 T chilled butter, diced into ¼" cubes

  • 8 sheets of 15" by 10" phyllo dough
  • 1½ T melted butter
  • 6 c premium vanilla bean ice cream

1.   Prepare filling:   Combine apples and lemon juice in a large bowl, and toss to mix well.   In a sauté pan large enough to hold the apples, heat the butter over medium high heat until melted.   Add the apples to the pan, and turn heat to high.   Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.   Sprinkle sugar and then rum over the apples, stir to mix well, and continue to cook for 5 more minutes or until the apples are tender – stirring frequently along the way.   Remove the pan from the heat, and allow the apples to cool completely.

2.   Preheat oven to 375 F.

3.   Prepare the topping:   Combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and diced butter in a food processor and pulse until fully incorporated.   Refrigerate mixture for 15 minutes.

4.   Butter the bottom and sides of a 9" pie pan.   Take one sheet of phyllo dough, brush it generously with melted butter, and then place it into the bottom of the pie pan.   Note that because the phyllo is 15" long in one direction, two of the edges of the phyllo sheet will hang over the edge of the pie pan;   try to make the overhanging portions on the two opposite sides roughly equal.   Repeat the preceding steps with the second sheet of phyllo dough, but place it into the pie pan in a slightly rotated orientation so that the overhanging portions do not directly overlap the overhanging portions from the first sheet.   Repeat with remaining phyllo sheets, using slightly rotated orientation for each.

5.   Place the cooled sautéed apples in the pie pan and spread in a single layer.   Fold the overhanging edges of the phyllo dough over the sautéed apples.   Note that the phyllo will not cover the apples entirely, but will instead cover only the outer edge of the filling.   Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the topping is lightly browned and the phyllo is golden.

6.   If serving immediately, cut into 10-12 slices, and serve each slice with ½ c of vanilla ice cream;   if serving later, set crisp aside and allow to cool to room temperature.   To reheat, preheat oven to 250 F, and place crisp in oven for 30 minutes.   Cut into 10-12 slices, and then serve each slice with ½ c of vanilla ice cream.    (Note:   If you make the crisp several hours in advance of service, you should refrigerate it rather than let it sit at room temperature for a prolonged period of time.   If you do refrigerate it, you will need to adjust the reheat time accordingly and/or bring the crisp back up to room temperature before following the reheat instructions set forth above.)

Yields 10-12 servings.


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