Hearty bowls of goulash and golden fried pierogies are the perfect companions for cooler temperatures, but oft-overlooked Eastern European desserts are just as comforting. Consider the unconventional creations from Miro Uskokovic, pastry chef at New York's Gramercy Tavern. He was a teenager in Northwest Serbia when he first visited the idyllic American Midwest. It was there, during his time as an exchange student in Greentown, Indiana, where Uskokovic first encountered slabs of the eggless, custardy classic known as Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie. Hailing from elegant linzer torte-entrenched territory, Uskokovic found this homespun confection utterly fascinating.
Years later, Indiana is still very much on Uskokovic's mind. So is his native Yugoslavia, which he watched get destroyed by war as a young boy. During that era of tumult, Uskokovic's family was able to put food on the table by growing their own. "Organic produce was our default, so seasonality has always been important to me," he explains. "Going to Indiana was like leaving one farm for another. Now, my desserts are a medley of [my European and American] backgrounds."
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Serbian cuisine is influenced by both Hungary and the Middle East, allowing Uskokovic to cast a wide net in terms of inspiration. This autumn, his creations at Gramercy Tavern revolve around Eastern European and Americana-influenced desserts like a gorgeous strudel-meets-apple pie bar, in which two layers of crust with house-made lard are filled with shredded apples, vanilla, sugar and semolina custard. It's accompanied by dollops of black currant jam, an oval of hickory bark-infused ice cream and apple brandy-spiked caramel applesauce.
Earlier this year, Uskokovic created a hefty poached cherry cream pie for two, boosted by kirsch, cinnamon and vanilla ice cream. He grew up with an abundance of cherries, but this particular dessert doubles as an ode to the Hoosier Pies of his past—a delicious combination of Eastern European and Middle American flavors, with a distinctly New York spin to boot.
Where else can you find contemporary takes on Eastern European desserts?
The menu is always changing at Nick Balla and Cortney Burns's Bar Tartine in San Francisco, but seek out unconventional after-dinner delights like warm beet cake with yogurt, raspberry and rose, or cheese dumplings dressed in sour cherry and whey caramel.
Spicy squid goulash is one of the draws at Bronwyn, Tim Wiechmann's modern German restaurant in Somerville, Massachusetts. But the desserts—there are just two a night—might be Hungarian-style pancakes filled with plums and goat cheese mousse, or a cranberry-rye spin on the traditional fruit-filled kolache.
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