If you want to know which pastry chef to pay attention to right now, it's Jennifer Yee. Her desserts at Lafayette in NYC are smart and well traveled, fluent in French with a charming American twang. They're also incredibly delicious.
Take Yee's pear croustades with prune-Armagnac ice cream (see the recipe), a rustic dessert with roots in the Midi-Pyrénées region (an area in southwest France where dried plums and brandy go together like peas and carrots).
Yee draws out the pears' sweetness and concentrates all of its wintery, floral perfume by cooking them before she assembles the croustade, roasting ripe Bartletts in the oven with butter and honey until they're soft and caramelized.
Then she piles the pear on top of sheets of strudel dough brushed with butter, folds the edges up and over and bakes the moneybag-shaped bundles until they're golden. It's a simple, soulful dessert that's perfect for cold-weather dinner parties.
Yee shared a few tips for how to make a spectacular croustade at home:
① To avoid a soggy bottom--the enemy of all great pastries--spread a spoonful of breadcrumbs between the dough and the fruit. Those will soak up some of sweet juice the pears will release in the oven.
② Give your raw, assembled croustade about half an hour in the freezer before cooking it, so it will hold its shape beautifully as it cooks.
③ Dust the croustade with powdered sugar after it has completely cooled.
④ Instead of making it from scratch, simulate the big, lush flavors of prune-Armagnac ice cream on the fly by soaking prunes in brandy for half an hour or so while the pears are roasting in the oven. Purée the softened, booze-soaked fruit and fold it into store-bought vanilla ice cream
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