French Apple Tart
October already? And the only sign of it in Santa Barbara is the return of the sundowner winds…
Last month I got to visit my family in Wisconsin and remind myself what a real fall feels like.
Crisp, bright, clear days with leaves littering the sidewalks, waiting to be crunched, and a pleasant chill in the air. (Coincidentally a real fall in Wisconsin feels like an average day in Santa Barbara, aside from the crunchy leaves.)
Of course to truly appreciate the glory that is (the 2-3 weeks of) fall in Wisconsin, I would have needed to stay through the summer, sweating and swatting away mosquitoes through all the heat, humidity, and thunderstorms. Instead, I had the luxury of just dropping in and enjoying it a different way: my mom and I went apple picking.
One thing I will always miss about the Midwest—though I do love living in California—are the varieties of apples you can find there.
What I’m about to say may be even more controversial than claiming that California doesn’t have a “real fall”: I think Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp, and Braeburn apples are all boring. (Tart Pink Lady apples have won me over just a bit, but even those are a little too firm and dense to easily sink your teeth into.)
McIntosh and Cortland apples were my default varieties growing up in Wisconsin; the prototypical Apple called to mind a round, smooth, red-green McIntosh. (Red Delicious apples had nothing on my prototype; they are truly only living up to the first half of their name.)
McIntosh apples remain my favorite. Perhaps more tart than sweet, a little juicy, and super crunchy. I always thought of them as soft-ish, but my mom pointed out that just-picked McIntoshes and Cortlands are actually quite firm. Firm enough to carry eight of them home on three different flights in my carry-on luggage!
Also firm enough for baking with! I’d originally thought of baking my apples into a cake (this one from smitten kitchen is a keeper, even though I once brought it to a picnic and someone asked if it was a “spicy tofu casserole”…), but then I opted for a tart instead, if only to preserve more of the visual appeal of the colorful apples.
It took me a while to find a recipe that did not call for “Granny Smith Apples or nothing!” and when I did finally find one, I modified it anyway: I adapted this tart recipe from an America’s Test Kitchen cookbook by slicing the apples much thinner, leaving the peels on, and adjusting the glaze (using brown sugar and cinnamon instead of melted apple jelly).
Side note: I hate thinking about such things let alone writing about them on my food blog, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you there was an Incident involving a hand-held mandoline slicer and my ambition to very thinly slice my apples. Suffice it to say that I’m pretty sure this incident has forever altered one of my finger prints. Thank god for Paula who bandaged up said finger while I practically hyperventilated. All subsequent apples were sliced the conventional way: with a knife.
My inspiration for
mandolining thinly slicing the apples, peels on, came from the most memorable and delicate of apple tarts that my friend Mimi and I discovered at a bar(/restaurant?) called Pagoda in Hiroshima, Japan. The paper-thin apples were barely there, yet still somehow gave the tart a satisfyingly Apple flavor. (From now on I’ll leave that kind of mandoline action to the professionals.)
This recipe is a little time-consuming, but incredibly do-able, considering the results are so easy on the eye and the tongue.
The America’s Test Kitchen method for tart dough yielded an amazingly sturdy crust; while eating it, I spent a good 50% of the time marveling at how well the crust was holding up and the rest of the time just enjoying the taste.
The one bit of advice I would offer—and perhaps this is because I thinly sliced and stacked my apples, rather than laying thicker slices nearly flat on the tart dough—is to be extremely gentle when brushing the brown sugar cinnamon mixture over the apples, since this tended to dislodge them a bit from their original, photogenic arrangement. (The apples stayed in place when slicing and eating the tart; just not when brushing it with sugar and cinnamon.) I’ve thinned out the glaze in the recipe below so it will be extra liquidy: not so much a glaze as a cinnamon distribution system.
p.s. It’s my 150th recipe post! You know you want to look back at some of those first 149 posts in my recipe index…
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French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Glaze
(Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)
~ 2 cups flour
~ 2 Tbsp. corn starch
~ ½ tsp. sugar
~ ½ tsp. salt
~ 1½ sticks butter, diced, then chilled
~ 12-14 Tbsp. ice water
~ just over 1 lb. McIntosh or Cortland apples (5-6 small or 4 large), thinly sliced
~ juice of 1 lemon
~ 2 Tbsp. butter, diced into very small pieces
~ ¼ cup sugar
Brown Sugar Cinnamon Glaze:
~ 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
~ 1 Tbsp. water
~ ¼ tsp. cinnamon
How to make it:
1. Combine the flour, corn starch, sugar, and salt in a food processor and blend to combine. Add the diced, chilled butter and pulse about 20 times until the mixture is nearly uniform but still coarse. Adding a tablespoon of ice water at a time, give it an additional pulse after each spoonful of water. At this point, the bits of dough should hold together when you pinch them.
2. On a lightly floured counter or table, arrange the crumbs of dough into a rectangular pile. Work from one end of the rectangle to the other, smearing the dough against the table with the heel of your hand. Once all of the crumbs have been incorporated into the dough, shape it into another rectangle and work across the dough, smearing it one more time. Finally, shape the dough into a thick, flattened square, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for one hour. After one hour, allow the dough to warm up for 15 minutes on the counter top before rolling it out.
3. Prepare the apples: thinly slice the apples, with peels on, layering them in a dish and drizzling each new layer of apples with fresh lemon juice to keep them from browning.
4. Place an oven rack in the lower third of the oven, and pre-heat to 400 degrees. Cut a piece of parchment paper to exactly 12″ by 16″ to fit a baking sheet. Dust the parchment with flour, place the chilled dough in the center, and use a (floured) rolling pin to roll out the dough, evenly and thinly, until it just overhangs the parchment paper on all sides. Trim off the excess edges. Roll up about one inch of the dough around all of the edges to form a border.
5. Layer the apples into the tart, starting in one corner and overlapping them in diagonal rows. Scatter the diced pieces of butter over the apples, and sprinkle them with sugar. Bake for 45-60 minutes, turning the baking sheet halfway through.
6. Once the tart comes out of the oven, make the glaze: In a small pan over low heat, melt the brown sugar and water together, then stir in the cinnamon. Carefully brush the glaze over the apples while the tart is still warm. Let the tart cool 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving.
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
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