Since moving to the city in 2000 to study at the Art Institute of Atlanta, Russell has driven past the Varsity almost daily but never thought to stop in. Making desserts every night in high-end kitchens like Seeger’s and Nikolai’s Roof didn’t allow the Adairsville, Georgia, native much time for restaurant exploration. And even now that he works the day shift at Restaurant Eugene, his personal tastes more likely lead him to the homemade ramen noodles at Miso Izakaya or the Israeli shawarma at Pita Palace than to a classic Atlanta greasy spoon.
But Russell was well aware of the affection that his boss, Linton Hopkins (who grew up in Buckhead’s Brookwood neighborhood), nurtures for the eighty-four-year-old institution. The fried pie served at Eugene’s sister restaurant, Holeman and Finch Public House, was inspired by the Varsity. Hopkins finally took Russell to the drive-in and dared Russell to reimagine its famous dessert combination: a fried apple pie washed down with a Frosted Orange drink. “I loved the idea of trying to convert something that brings back happy memories for so many native Atlantans into a plate I could serve in a fine-dining setting,” Russell says. “So I broke the dish down to its core components: apple filling, crust, and glaze. The sweet citrus is a difficult flavor to pair with apple. I thought cardamom and coffee would make a great bridge.” And as long as he was experimenting, maybe he’d add some fresh vanilla bean, some star anise...
Coffee and Cardamom-Infused Applesauce:
2 1/4 cups apple juice or cider
3 green cardamom pods
2 tablespoons coffee beans
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon agar-agar powder or 2 tablespoons agar-agar flakes (available at Whole Foods, health food stores, and Asian markets; or substitute 2 tablespoons arrowroot)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup softened butter
1 large egg, beaten
Pinch of salt
Vegetable oil for deep frying
1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
5–6 flavorful apples
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped to release seeds
2 coffee beans
1 star anise
2 green cardamom pods, crushed
3 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons powdered milk
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 heaping tablespoons tangerine (or orange) zest
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
1 cup tangerine (or orange) juice
1 teaspoon ground coffee, optional
1. Make the applesauce: In a medium saucepan, bring the juice with cardamom pods and coffee beans to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let infuse for 5 minutes. Strain out the coffee and spices. Toss together the agar-agar or arrowroot with sugar and whisk into the hot liquid. Pour into a shallow pan and chill several hours or overnight. When firm, puree in a blender to a smooth sauce, adding a little fresh apple juice if it is too thick.
2. Make the pastries: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, butter, beaten egg, and salt. Knead together. Gather into a ball, place between two sheets of parchment paper, and roll out to a thickness of inch. Refrigerate one hour.
3. Heat oil in a deep-fryer or heavy saucepan to 350 degrees. Cut or punch out half-moon shapes, crimp edges with fork tines if you like, and drop into the hot oil (do not crowd). Fry for 2 to 3 minutes per batch until golden; drain on paper towels. Toss pastries in cinnamon-sugar. (May be made early in the day and covered with plastic wrap.)
4. Make the compote: Peel and dice apples; divide evenly between two lidded containers. In one container, add vanilla bean and coffee beans. In the second, add cardamom pods and star anise. Seal the containers tightly and microwave one at a time on high for one minute; turn container and microwave one more minute, or until apples are tender. (This method quickly perfumes the apples and prevents them from turning brown.)
5. Chill until ready to serve, up to a day in advance.
6. Make the sherbet: In a medium saucepan, combine whole milk, powdered milk, sugar, and corn syrup. Gently heat over medium-low just until hot. Add zest and vanilla bean or extract. Let cool, then transfer to a container, cover, and refrigerate overnight. Remove from refrigerator; remove vanilla bean pod and strain out zest particles if desired. Transfer to the container of an ice cream maker. Add tangerine or orange juice. Churn according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a container and freeze at least 4 hours. Makes 5 cups.
7. To plate: Divide compote among dessert plates or bowls, spoon applesauce over, and top with pastries. Finish each plate with a scoop of sherbet—garnished, if you like, with a pinch of ground coffee.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
This recipe originally appeared in our November 2012 issue.