When a dessert is as all-American as apple pie, it’s just asking for improvisation. That’s a good thing if your version leads to higher check averages and diner satisfaction.
Amping up apple pie can be as simple as changing a few components. At Mindy’s Hot Chocolate in Chicago, Chef-owner Mindy Segal uses pork fat in the crust. In New York City, Pastry Chef Serena Chow of Kat & Theo goes with a shortbread crust, filling her miniature one-bite pies with apple compote lightly seasoned with black pepper and cardamom.
Some pastry chefs are pushing the apple pie even further, to places it hasn’t gone before. As these three examples show, sometimes that means making an apple pie that isn’t a pie at all.
AN ODD COUPLE: Apple Pie with Chocolate
Bourbon Apple & Valrhona Caramelia Crumb Pie ($10)
Formerly of Community Tavern; Chicago
Inspiration: Pastry Chef Elissa Narrow self-identifies as an apple pie “traditionalist,” but she couldn’t resist experimenting with the inclusion of one special ingredient: Valrhona’s Caramelia chocolate. “This particular chocolate is a caramelized milk chocolate,” she says. “It’s more or less a vehicle for caramel flavor.” While chocolate is an uncommon addition to apple pie, Narrow had a hunch that this chocolate would fit in nicely. And so far, she’s been right.
Food cost: 26 percent
A BLUSH-INDUCING TWIST: Apples Meet Corn and Flower
The Apple Hibiscus Crostata ($18)
Quality Eats; New York City
Inspiration: Pastry Chef Cory Colton wanted to include an Italian element in a dessert and landed on polenta. He adds a handful of cornmeal to his pie crust. The dessert’s crunchy sensation has led Colton to never make a pie crust without polenta. But the ingredient isn’t the first thing customers notice about the dessert. He also includes hibiscus in the filling, which adds a rhubarblike flavor and “infuses the apples with an almost fuchsia color,” Colton says.
Food cost: 22 percent
A SLICE OF DECONSTRUCTION: Apple Pie-Inspired Cookies
Apple Pie Snickerdoodles for ice cream sandwiches ($3 each)
492; Charleston, South Carolina
Inspiration: Pastry Chef Amanee Neirouz’s specialty is stuffed cookies, a passion that began with peanut butter and jelly. Snickerdoodles inspired the crust for her apple pie rendition that’s stuffed with apples. “The snickerdoodle is the cinnamon on the apple pie,” she says. The cookies are then used to make ice cream sandwiches filled with brown butter or cheddar ice cream.
Food cost: 16 percent
Apple of Your Eye
To achieve complex flavors and textures in pie, expert bakers opt for an assortment of apple varieties. Granny Smith is the most common go-to, usually paired with a sweeter variety like the versatile Honeycrisp.
A descendant of the Golden Delicious, this is a tarter specimen just as good raw as it is baked.
Best availability: Washington region
Perhaps one of the best pie apples, this type only gets richer in flavor when baked.
Best availability: Ohio and North Carolina area
Discovered in 1960 by a grower who named the apple after his wife, this variety is sweet, juicy and tart.
Best availability: Midwest
This relatively new apple—developed in 2011 by Cornell University’s apple breeding program—was created to achieve the perfect balance between sweet and tart.
Best availability: New York region