Dominique Ansel is a multi award-winning pastry chef based in New York and now London: dominiqueansellondon.com

I grew up in Beauvais, a small town about an hour north of Paris. I don’t have that many memories of the house – or at least, I have some, but not good ones. It was a very poor neighbourhood. My dad worked in a factory. We often didn’t have enough food, and I went to school with a knife in my pocket.

I was the youngest of four children. We lived with my grandmother, and our cousins weren’t far away. We spent a lot of time in the kitchen, which was small but somehow we all hung out. There was a little stove with four hobs, a table on the side, a fridge and a little counter with all the dishes stacked up. My grandmother was a good cook – not a great cook, but a good one. This obviously didn’t rub off on my mother, however, who never loved being in the kitchen. Everything we ate was below average, which is what got me into the kitchen. I was tired of eating bad food.

One thing she was very good at, however, was making something sweet for our goûter (after-school snack). Beauvais isn’t far from Normandy, where you get tons of apples. Always cheap, always available. So she would often make these beignets. She’d peel the apples and slice them quite thin, then dip them in batter and fry them in oil. We’d eat them hot sprinkled with powdered sugar. A sweet treat in the afternoon was something I loved as a child.

At 16, I was done with school. I had no money, so I found job in a restaurant. The first year I absolutely hated it. It was very, very hard. I had such a difficult boss. The second year, the restaurant was bought by a new owner, and I fell in love with cooking, and baking in particular.

I first trained as a savoury chef for two years, then as a pastry chef for a year after that. I love cooking as much as I love baking, although working with pastry is a particular thrill. It’s the fact that you build things from scratch – the more scientific, more precise nature of it – that appeals. These days, I love cooking at home – the comfort of it has a deep meaning for me.

My dad was always very curious, and I loved that about him. He wanted to see and to explore, especially in food. I remember him looking through cookbooks when I was a child, and trying out simple recipes on weekends. I guess I wasn’t the only one tired of eating bad food! So when I was at culinary school, I’d teach him things in the kitchen.

That was an exciting time of my life. A time where I wasn’t too worried about what was going to happen in my future, and no idea what I was going to do with my life. It was the first time that I was enjoying learning and I excelled. A good croissant, for example, is everything, and it’s hard to find. Every single day I try to make mine better.

We do all sorts of things with apple at the bakery… A layered apple tatin – tons and tons of apple layered in a pan, sprinkled with caramel in between the layers, slow roasted for hours, until tender, then unmoulded, and cut into squares. But when I’ve made these beignets for staff at the bakery, they are always a big success.

Apple beignets

Makes 12
250g all-purpose flour
60g caster sugar, plus more for dusting
A pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
5 eggs
100ml milk
120g apple cider
2 apples (gala or honeycrisp)
Oil for deep-frying

1 In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Add the eggs and whisk until combined.

2 Add the milk and then the apple cider, continuing to whisk until smooth. Add the liquids in little by little to avoid lumps. Let it rest for 2 hours.

3 Peel, core then slice the apples about 5mm thick. Dip them into the batter, then fry in grapeseed oil at 180C/350F until golden brown.

4 Dust with sugar to finish and enjoy them while still hot.

Dominique Ansel is a multi award-winning pastry chef based in New York, and has just opened in London: dominiqueansellondon.com

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