Melody Lee embraces beloved American classics, and as pastry chef of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen, Lee presents unpretentious desserts elevated with deft execution and impeccable flavors. Lee’s menu reflects not only her own tastes in pastry but also what she feels are the preferences of the dining public—namely, comforting, familiar desserts. “They’re classic for a reason. I can eat chocolate cake every day, but I don’t know that I can eat fruit caviar on a daily basis,” she says.
This winter Lee set out to improve the ultimate American dessert: apple pie. “I don’t even know where to find apple pie anymore,” says Lee, who developed the pastry with local Honeycrisps, prized for their balance of sweetness and acidity. She nestles cooked apples and a sprinkle of crunchy streusel inside a buttery crust, and tops the pie with a sphere of cinnamon ice cream.
Cold butter ready to be pulsed into dry ingredients
Pea-sized pieces of butter distributed throughout dry ingredients.
Liquids are worked in just until dough comes together.
After dough has been chilled and rolled out, pies can be formed.
Crimping the edges of the crust.
The final product.
Flakey golden perfection
Simple yes, but Lee’s apple pie has all the transportive powers of Proust’s madeleines: regardless of your actual upbringing, you will revel in memories of an all-American childhood.
While Lee planned on highlighting the apples in this dish, it’s the crust that steals the show. Comprised of the usual flour, sugar, butter, and salt, Lee also employs a dash of baking powder to help lighten the crust. She freezes the butter before cutting it into the dry ingredients by pulsing it all in a food processor. The butter is ground down to a fine meal, meaning it’s well distributed throughout the flour without the need for intensive mixing—an approach that prevents unwanted gluten development. “It’s all about not overworking the dough,” Lee says. “Every time you touch the dough you’re working it, so every step needs to count.”
What really sets this dough apart, though, is the buttermilk. Instead of binding the ingredients with water, which adds nothing in the way of texture or flavor, Lee pours in a splash of creamy, tangy buttermilk. On top of lending richness, the acidity of the buttermilk acts as a tenderizer to ensure ultimate flaky deliciousness. It’s this deceptively straightforward addition that makes a big difference in her dough.
By focusing on presenting time-honored preparations and tweaking them with purpose and nuance, Lee declares her individual pastry voice—all the while speaking the language of comfort food we all know and love.
Pie Dough Technique
In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Cube butter and combine with dry ingredients. Freeze.
Pulse butter and dry ingredients in a food processor until mixture has the texture of a fine meal.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, gently mix in buttermilk, adding a small amount of cold water, if necessary, to bring dough together.
Err on the side of under-mixing, allowing some crumbly bits to remain.
Finish by hand, folding the dough together to incorporate the wet into the dry.
Wrap dough in plastic, flatten with palm to press the last of the dry into the wet, and chill.