I now realize that I essentially lived in a Grandma Moses painting until a year ago today. That was when I left my native New England for Houston, a place where apple picking and apple butter making don't dominate the activity options between September and November nearly as much as back home. Believe me, I'm not used to being able to eat local corn at this time of year. You can only imagine the eruption of panic/excitement I experienced when I ate Texas-grown strawberries in February.
But even if it doesn't thermally feel like time to head to an orchard, the date on the calendar can't help but bring to mind verse five in the Song of Solomon, "Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples..." But in my case, plain old apple pie won't do. Fortunately, I lucked into a dessert that uses the fruit to far more interesting advantage at the Washington Avenue location of benjy's.
The meal had started in a very auspicious, very (New England) seasonally appropriate manner with a bowl of warm popcorn coated with butter and powdered sage and tossed with candied cranberries. Salads—one a particularly flavorful take on Asian chicken, and one featuring mesquite-grilled lemon fish over endive, cherries and pepitas in a dill-soy vinaigrette—were perhaps more appropriate to actual Houston seasons. But I was charmed at the very suggestion of apple pie profiteroles.
The execution was even better: I'm a bit of a stickler when it comes to pâte à choux and these cream puffs were fluffy and slightly meaty (think popovers), with an exterior crispness so thin it almost wasn't there. A pleasing tartness remained in the cinnamon-flavored stewed apples within.
Umami, slightly salty miso caramel and a viscous pool of vanilla cream added just enough sweetness. It's exactly the kind of innovation one would hope for from one of Houston's definitive new American restaurants. And it carried the suggestion of apple picking time, no comfortable shoes necessary.