Unless you're a pastry chef or a food obsessive with a little too much time on your hands, chances are your dessert repertoire doesn't include the humble apple pie. Pie-making is a fiddly business, and most novice attempts fall far short of presentable – or edible. But chef Jerome Chang, who has traded in his roving pastry-shop-in-a-converted-postal-truck business (DessertTruck) for a permanent cafe location in New York's Lower East Side (Cathcart & Reddy), likes to build things. No surprise, then, that his dessert of soft ginger apples, salted caramel pecans, and near-weightless puff pastry is a miniature construction project in a glass – as neat and improbable as a ship in a bottle.
• 1/3 lb (roughly two thirds of a sheet) frozen puff pastry (True puff pastry contains nothing more exotic than flour, water, butter, and salt, and Chang pronounces the rest "garbage.")
• 3 tbsp butter
• 6 tbsp sugar
• 1–1/2 lbs apples (golden delicious, honey crisp, or gala fresh from an orchard or farmers market), peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/2-inch wedges
• 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, cut into fine julienne
• 1/4 tsp cinnamon
• 2 tbsp bourbon
• 1 cup pecans
• 4 tbsp sugar
• 1/4 tsp fleur de sel
• confectioners' sugar
• 8 tbsp crème fraîche
• Optional: Dried cranberries and grated orange rind for garnish (With its clean floral taste, last-minute grated orange peel can bring a winter dessert to life, Chang says.)
Up to four days ahead, prepare the puff pastry. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the pastry from its box and thaw for 5 minutes. Cut pastry into stamp-size squares and bake on a buttered baking sheet until golden and cooked through. Set aside to cool, then store in an airtight container until ready to use. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and sugar, stirring constantly so the mixture doesn't burn. Chuck in the apples and the ginger, followed by the cinnamon, and stir to coat. When the apples begin to caramelize, lower the heat and cook for 9-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is no longer raw in the center. Slosh in the bourbon (pour yourself a finger or two), and boil for 30 seconds – by now you should have a thickish toffee-colored syrup – then put the lid on the pan. Immediately turn off the heat and let the apples finish cooking. When they are soft yet still holding their shape, they are done; remove from the pan.
Over low heat, coat the pecans with 4 tbsp sugar and stir until the sugar is just melted. Season the pecans with fleur de sel and spread them on a tray to cool. To assemble, reheat the apples and puff pastry in a 250 degrees oven for about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the pastry with a bit of confectioners' sugar and divide among four widemouthed glasses, then follow with the apples and their syrup, the salted caramel pecans (there will be leftovers), and a dollop of briefly whisked crème fraîche. Garnish with more pecans and/or dried cranberries and orange rind for color. (Serves 4.)