Recipe by Amy Simpson, Pastry chef, Bertrand at Mr. A’s
I grew up in a pretty traditional Italian family. And my mom and grandmother happen to be the best cooks in the whole world. One of the earliest memories I have is of spending time in the kitchen with my grandmother. She was very practical and when something went wrong in the kitchen, she would say, “Let’s figure it out” and would start all over again. My staff is probably tired of hearing me say that, because I’ve adopted that one. But it’s so important in pastry because everything needs to be measured correctly. If you go through the steps and look at what you did, you can usually tell where you went wrong.
Before I was a pastry chef, I was a bookkeeper. After work, I used to go home and bake for four to five hours every night. It was a huge stress relief for me. Anything I could bake, I would. Then I moved to San Diego to try something new and I enrolled in the Culinary Institute in La Mesa. I did it to take a break, but now I have a new life. I think the scariest thing I ever did was to walk into the kitchen to intern here [at Bertrand at Mr. A’s]. Not because of the restaurant but because it was so far from what I had done in the past. I wasn’t going to be sitting at a desk anymore. I was going after my dream.
Even though I work all day as a pastry chef, I still cook and bake when I come home. If I had to choose, I would say that baking bread is my favorite because it’s one of the hardest. It’s so easy to go wrong with bread, and maybe that is why I like it so much.
My favorite dessert is apple and brown butter cake. It’s a take on a cake my grandmother used to make for us growing up, so it’s pretty nostalgic for me. You can switch the fruit around and it can be used for any season, but the apples make it great for winter. The way your house smells when you make this is better than any air freshener.
Desserts are always so comforting. I do think that we sell more desserts now than ever. I made a pumpkin cheesecake the other day and it was gone in minutes. The best thing for me is to see an empty plate. Even if everything goes wrong, sugar can cure a lot.
- 1 pound butter, room temperature and sliced — NOTE: only 8 oz. will be used in the recipe
- 3 cups apples peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
- Zest of 1 orange
- 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 4 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 2/3 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tsp.baking powder
HOW TO DO IT
Heat a thick-bottomed skillet on medium heat. Add the sliced butter and whisk frequently. As the butter continues to cook, it will begin to take on a golden brown color and start to smell like toasting hazelnuts. Be careful not to let butter get dark brown, as it will taste burnt. Pour into a heatproof container and let cool to room temperature. (Note: If you melt 8 ounces of butter, you will not make enough brown butter. By melting 16 ounces of butter, you will have enough for the recipe, plus some left over).
Preheat the oven to 350. Prepare apples and toss with cinnamon, cloves, and orange zest. Slice the vanilla bean length-wise with a sharp paring knife and scrape out the oily seeds.
In a mixing bowl, cream together cooled brown butter, vanilla bean, sugar, and salt. Let the mixture get light and airy, about 2–3 minutes.
Add in the eggs and yolks, one at a time, and mix completely before the next addition.
Combine flour and baking powder in a small bowl and add to butter mixture. Be careful not to over-mix.
Using a wooden spoon, fold the apples into the batter. Pour into a prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees until cake is set in the center.
This cake is best served at room temperature or warm. We like to serve with our house-made fleur de sel caramel ice cream, bourbon-scented whipped cream, and pomegranate seeds.
Find What the Chef Eats online at SDReader.com/chef/