Skip to content

French Apple Tart

October 3, 2013

French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon GlazePin it!

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.)

Picking McIntosh and Cortland apples in Wisconsin

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.

McIntosh apples from Wisconsin

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.

Picking McIntosh and Cortland apples in Wisconsin

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.)

Ingredients for French Apple Tart

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.)

French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon GlazePin it!

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!

French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon GlazePin it.

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.

French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Glaze

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).

French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon GlazePin it!

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.

Making French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Glaze

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.)

Making French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Glaze

This recipe is a little time-consuming, but incredibly do-able, considering the results are so easy on the eye and the tongue.

Making French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Glaze

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.

French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Glaze

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.

French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon GlazePin it!

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

French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon GlazePin it!

Print this recipe. (PDF)


French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Glaze
(Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)

(Serves 10-12)

~ 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.

Making French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon GlazeMaking French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Glaze

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.

Making French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Glaze          Making French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Glaze

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.

Making French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon GlazeMaking French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Glaze

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.

Making French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon GlazeMaking French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Glaze

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.

Making French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Glaze          Making French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Glaze

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.

Making French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon GlazeMaking French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon Glaze

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Print this recipe! (PDF)

French Apple Tart with Brown Sugar Cinnamon GlazePin it!

Related recipe posts:

Skillet Cranberry Apple Crisp (Gluten-Free) Crepes with Homemade Applesauce Pumpkin Ginger Walnut Cookies Pear Brown Butter Buckle
Skillet Cranberry Apple Crisp (Gluten-Free) Crepes with Homemade Applesauce Pumpkin Ginger Walnut Cookies Pear Brown Butter Buckle
24 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2013 9:50 am

    Beautiful tart. Funny thing about personal tastes. McIntosh are avoided in our house. We don’t pick them at all. Love Gala and Honeycrisp though. And Macoun apples. Those are our favourites.

    • October 3, 2013 12:27 pm

      Thanks! You’re right; it’s funny how much apple preferences differ. I’ve never tried Macoun apples, but I’ll have to look for them. :)

      Just realized I didn’t write this in the recipe above, but really any type of apples could be used for this tart!

  2. October 3, 2013 10:05 am

    One thing I do in my version of this is paint a thin layer of unsweetened applesauce along the bottom, under the apples. It balances out that cinnamon sugar syrup really well!

    • October 3, 2013 12:29 pm

      That’s a great idea; I’m sure it would make the whole thing even more apple-y as well. I was surprised that the ATK recipe recommended painting melted apple jelly over the top. That didn’t sound very appealing to me at all, partially because I expected it would be much too sweet (and mainly because I probably wouldn’t make much use of the remainder of the jar of apple jelly, after I’d used just the 3 Tbsp. for the glaze…). Adding some smooth homemade applesauce underneath the apples would boost the apple flavor without changing the appearance, though… Next time! :)

  3. October 3, 2013 11:09 am

    beautiful post! making your own tart crust… yes! that’s pretty awesome!

    • October 3, 2013 12:32 pm

      Thank you! And yep, I never would have made my own pie, tart, or galette crusts even a few years back, but then a galette crust recipe from an Alice Waters cookbook—that doesn’t even call for a food processor, but for mixing everything by hand—changed my mind: now I know it is ALWAYS worth it! :)

  4. George Savage permalink
    October 3, 2013 1:50 pm

    What gorgeous photos and scrumptious
    prose! Makes me want to live in Wisconsin!

  5. October 6, 2013 7:44 am

    I just blogged about apple picking too! Your tart looks absolutely gorgeous – so perfect for the Fall months!

    • October 10, 2013 8:55 am

      Thank you! I love apple picking (and fall weather); my only complaint about it is that it’s too easy to pick too many apples too quickly, so it’s all over too soon. :)

  6. October 7, 2013 9:18 am

    Love seeing all the apple recipes coming in. Fall has to be my favorite time of the year. Last year I made the mistake of booking a trip to Disneyland in late September thinking the weather would be “fall-like” but we were slapped with 90 degree hot and sticky our entire stay.

    • October 10, 2013 8:55 am

      Oh wow, that’s too bad! I know what you mean, though… Santa Barbara has cooled off a lot as of yesterday but we were having really hot (finally!) summery weather just last week, and I was not a happy camper!

  7. October 8, 2013 12:38 pm

    I like lots of different apple varieties (except Red Delicious–I agree with you–what? why?), but I think what matters most is if it’s just, you know, a good apple: flavorful, in season and at the peak of ripeness. And organic–I’m not an “everything must be organic OR ELSE” type at all, but with apples, there’s a huge difference for me. I hate the waxiness of conventional.

    Sorry about the mandoline incident! I’ve been there (and now that I’ve forgotten all the horror-movie scenes in my kitchen, I still maintain that mandoline guards are for chumps).

    • October 10, 2013 8:58 am

      Yes, I’m with you on that, too! Although I think the waxiness happens with apples they ready for shipping cross-country, because some of the apples we picked were not organic (so we just washed them really well), but they were also not waxy at all (or that would have been a deal-breaker for me, too).

      Ugh, the mandoline… It’s not like I threw it away or anything, so I may still (carefully) go back and try using it again someday… we’ll see. I agree though; not only are mandoline guards for chumps, don’t they smush, mush, and ruin the texture of part of the ingredient you are trying to slice so beautifully?!

  8. October 9, 2013 7:31 am

    Simple is the secret of it all, isn’t it :) I love what you do.

    • October 10, 2013 8:59 am

      Thank you! :) That’s good to remember; I often get carried away with complicating my recipes, but the simplest ones are often the best.

  9. belle773 permalink
    October 12, 2013 2:10 pm

    That looks very good! How long did it take to make?

    • October 17, 2013 9:17 am

      Thanks! It only took as long as it suggests in the recipe—the dough comes together very quickly, but then chills for a whole hour. It really didn’t take all that long to assemble, considering how nice it looks, and then it bakes for about another hour—that’s it!

  10. October 17, 2013 9:13 am

    Oh, yum! I’m looking for apple baking ideas and this is perfect. I’ve been getting really delicious apples at our farmer’s market here in Chicago…this would be such a good way to use some of ’em up!

    • October 17, 2013 9:19 am

      Yes, I hope you get to try this! I’m jealous of the delicious Midwestern apples I’m sure you can get in Chicago…

      This recipe is the perfect way to stretch 4-5 apples into like 12 dessert servings, but then again it sounds like you don’t have the problem of too few apples where you are! :)

      • October 17, 2013 4:06 pm

        Yeah, apples galore around here. I’m not complaining at all. :-) Of course, farmer’s markets in California are something I dream of – I suppose the grass is always greener on the other side!

      • October 17, 2013 7:36 pm

        No, you’re right; that’s true! And in terms of farmer’s markets, the one in my hometown of Madison, WI will always be my absolute favorite, but the California ones are pretty amazing, too, and I will never take for granted how wonderful it is that (very much unlike in Wisconsin) they operate year-round!


  1. Persimmon Hazelnut Cake | spontaneous tomato
  2. Cinnamon Apple Tamales | spontaneous tomato

I love, love, love reading your comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: