Leigh Omilinsky and Sandra Holl Team Up for a Special Pastry
When Leigh Omilinsky of Chicago’s Nico Osteria got the call from Floriole baker/owner Sandra Holl to ask if she’d like to collaborate on a pastry, saying yes was as easy as apple pie, or rather, apple kouign-amann. Omilinsky and Holl worked together to combine their shared love of laminated dough, seasonal fruit and French pastry techniques in a single buttery little package.
How did the collaboration come about?
Omilinsky: Sandra does a monthly chef collaboration and asked me to work with her on something for September. I was super-excited. We’re both seasonal in our baking, so I thought about what was going on, and apples seemed like the best thing to use.
Sandra was a huge help to me when I took over the pastry program at Nico and wanted to do a laminated-dough program of my own. There’s only a handful of people who are making laminated dough daily; other people just make them as specials. She has an expertise that others don’t have. She asked me about my ideas, and since she’s my laminated-dough lady, we decided to do kouigns.
Holl: Leigh and I knew we wanted to collaborate, and we both make kouign-amann, so it was an easy choice. I was excited when we decided to do an apple kouign-amann ($4, recipe).
How did you decide on a filling of apples that have been cooked for 20 hours?
Holl: It’s Pierre Gagnaire’s recipe, which came to the U.S. via Dorie Greenspan. I have always loved 20-hour apples and wanted to do something special with them. You thinly slice apples, layer them with butter and sugar, cook them slowly for 10 hours, then chill and compress them for another 10 hours before adding them to the pastry. We both tried it and played around with it. We tested it with salted caramel, but it took away from the apple flavor. This was one of the easiest collaborations I’ve ever done.
Omilinsky: Sandra asked me if I’ve ever done the 20-hour apples, which is a Pierre Gagnaire thing, and sent me the recipe. The apples are layered with butter and sugar, and you let them cook for a long time. Doing a Pierre Gagnaire recipe was coming full-circle for me, since I staged there three years ago. We went to our respective kitchens and each made a version with and without caramel. We decided to go without caramel, because of all the sugar and caramelization already found in the kouign. It’s an old technique. I like my hydrocolloids just fine, but this is old-school and very cool.
Gagnaire keeps his whole apple shape, but I layered mine in a terrine. I fell in love with them and used it since at Nico; I have a mille-feuille on my menu right now with those apples. I joke that I’m a French pastry chef in an Italian restaurant. But for me, French desserts are where it’s at. My job is to take Italian desserts and make them mine, and what I love is French.