Some people are simply naturally gifted at the science-meets-art of baking. Others toil through pastry school. Whichever category you fall into, your latest book of advanced projects is The Artful Baker, by Istanbul-based recipe developer and blogger Cenk Sönmezsoy. Whatever the occasion that calls for your expertise, this book has a recipe for it, like this waste-reductionist peel-to-stem apple pie. 

After discovering the gelling power of apple pectin, I knew I had to revisit my apple pie recipe. I had buried the recipe in the “maybe” pile long before I started working on my book. Now it was time to polish it.

I had always imagined cinnamon-specked apple slices suspended in a thick, gooey sauce under a golden-brown shell that shatters with each bite. The best I had achieved was having the fruit swim in a pool of sauce that left the bottom crust soggy. I hoped that the pectin stock I would make with the apple peels and cores would thicken the sauce for the pie of my dreams.

I baked what I had in mind, waited impatiently for the pie to cool, cut a slice, and was disappointed. There was improvement, but the filling still wasn’t as thick as I had hoped. I returned the recipe to the “maybe” pile until I thought of another ingredient: salep.

Salep is a powder made from dried tubers of terrestrial orchids that grow in parts of Anatolia. The plant contains a nutritious polysaccharide (complex carbohydrate) called glucomannan, which gives Turkish ice cream its silky, elastic texture. Salep also refers to a wintertime drink in Turkey made with milk and sugar, thickened with salep powder, and topped with cinnamon. To distinguish it from the drink, the ingredient is referred to as saf (“pure”) salep.

Pure salep turned my apple stock into a silky, gooey sauce and thickened it enough to hold the distinct layers of apple slices tightly together.

Sadly, the orchids from which salep is made are endangered, and it is illegal to export pure salep, so your chances of finding it are slim. Happily, my dear friend Rachel Boller, who tested almost every recipe in this book, had great success substituting glutinous rice flour.

If you are curious about salep and ever find yourself in İstanbul, look for it at the Spice Bazaar. It is expensive, so be sure to buy it from a reliable source, like Ucuzcular Baharat in the Spice Bazaar. Do steer clear of the boxed instant salep mixes (usually with a photo of a steaming cup on the front) — these contain the smallest amount of pure salep needed to include it on the label and are loaded with starches and thickeners.

Storage: The pie is best the day it is made, but it will keep, wrapped airtight, at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Before serving, reheat in a preheated 350°F (175°C) oven until warmed through, 15 to 20 minutes.

Reprinted with permission from The Artful Baker