Saturday, January 23, 2010

french apple tart

It is apparently my secret wish to feed everyone in the world this apple tart. I can only assume this because I made it for nearly every event during the holiday season: Thanksgiving dinner, work potluck, Christmas supper with family, and New Years Day brunch with friends. It really beats any apple pie and is far simpler. Yes, scandalous claim I know, but nonetheless true: only one crust to make and a fanning of sliced apples, a few cubes of butter, and a sprinkling of sugar- really a pretty small amount of effort for how delicious this is.

(Side story: I baked this tart early on Thanksgiving morning and left it to cool on the counter before we would take it over to our friends for Thanksgiving dinner dessert. A bit later I was showering when my husband stuck his head in the bathroom door and hollered "I'm sorry!" and then quickly closed the door again. After getting dressed and returning to the kitchen I found a rather sizeable piece of the apple tart missing and a husband who I do not think was very sorry at all.)

The recipe is from Ina Garten's Back to Basics cookbook. She includes a glaze to put on at the end, but I have to confess, I have never bothered with it. This is partly because I do not really care for apricots but mostly because the tart rarely sits around long enough. Also, Ina brilliantly makes her pastry crust in the food processor. This is sheer genius except my food processor is too small. I include her instructions because if I ever procure a large enough food processor, it will certainly be the way that I will make all my pastry crusts. Until then, I use a little pastry cutter and a mixing bowl. (see note*)

I also feel obligated to add that while this recipe says it serves 6, I have watched 3 people easily polish this off for breakfast.

French Apple Tart

for the pastry
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup ice water

for the apples
4 granny smith apples
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, small-diced

for the glaze (which I do not use, but go for it)
1/2 cup apricot jelly or warm sieved apricot jam
2 tablespoons Calvados, rum, or water

1) For the pastry, place the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse for a few seconds to combine.

2) Add the butter and pulse 10 to 12 times, until the butter is in small bits the size of peas.

3) With the motor running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse just until the dough starts to come together.

4) Dump onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (This step is pretty important, although in a pinch I confess to only allowing the dough to chill for 30 minutes.)

5) Preheat the oven to 400 degress. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. (Pretty essential- there will be much cursing and general surliness if the paper is left out.)

6) Roll the dough slightly larger than 10 x 14 inches. Using a ruler and a small knife, trim the edges. (In addition to skipping the glaze, I skip this part too. I rather like the rustic look of the tart untrimmed and greedily want all the crust I can get.)

7) Place the dough on the prepared sheet pan and refrigerate while you prepare the apples.

8) Peel the apples and cut them in half through the stem. Remove the stems and cores with a sharp knife and a melon baller (oops, I guess I don't use the melon baller either). Slice the apples crosswise in 1/4 inch thick slices.

9) Place overlapping slices of apples diagonally down the middle of the tart and continue making diagonal rows on both sides of the first row until the pastry is covered with apple slices. Ina Notes: "I tend not to use the apple ends in order to make the arrangement beautiful".

10) Sprinkle with the full 1/2 cup sugar and dot with the butter.

11) Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the pastry is brown and the edges of the apples start to brown. (I definitely lean more towards 45 minutes baking time). Rotate the pan once during cooking. If the pastry puffs up in one area, cut a little sit with a knife to the let air out. Don't worry! The apple juices will burn in the pan but the tart will be fine!

12) When the tart's done, heat the apricot jelly together with the Calvados an dbrush the apples and the pastry completely with the jelly mixture. Loosen the tart with a metal spatula so it doesn't stick to the paper.

13) Allow to cool and serve warm or at room temperature. (There are people who feel strongly that this should be served warm with french vanilla ice cream. I take it any way I can get it.)

*Note regarding making pastry:
Homemade crust used to terrify me- everyone is always talking about how hard it is- but honestly, I find it just takes a bit of practice. My biggest advice? cold butter, very very cold butter. I leave it in the fridge until the moment it is added.
It is actually enormously satisfying to make my own. And once you get the hang of it and bring this tart to your friends, when they ooh and aah over it's charm and swoon over it's flavor, and turn to you wide-eyed and ask you "Did you make the crust?" You can smile and say, "Why yes, yes I did."
However, if you would like to skip all the heartache or need a short cut, I pass on Ina's advice that a sheet of defrosted puff pastry will also work.

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