At Autumn Hills Orchard in Groton, Massachusetts, we grow about 25 varieties of apples. My mainstay apple dessert is a classic French tart that looks fancy, but it’s actually easy to prepare! With only one crust, it’s not nearly as rich as a double-crust pie. The apple flavor is the leading note in this dessert complimented by a rich, flaky pastry.
Preparation time: about 25 minutes.
Baking time: about 40 minutes
Equipment: Food processor with metal blade; 9 inch tart pan with removable bottom; pastry brush for applying final glaze.
Prepare the crust
I’ll be the first to admit that making good crust takes a bit of practice and skill. One day when I was in a rush, I accidentally discovered a great technique resulting in a dough that’s extremely easy to handle and roll out. The secret? Frozen butter.
For the crust:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 stick (1/4 lb) unsalted butter – FROZEN – cut into small pieces. (Leave in freezer until ready to use in recipe.)
1 egg yolk
3-4 tablespoons of ice water
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a food processor with a metal blade, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Pulse (a quick on/off in for one or two seconds duration) a few times to mix ingredients. Remove butter from the freezer, cut stick into several small pieces with a sharp knife. Place butter pieces into the food processor and pulse about 10-12 times to combine with the dry ingredients. Stop pulsing when the butter pieces are no longer separate pieces and the mixture has turned a uniform golden color.
Next, add the egg yolk and 3 tablespoons of the cold water to the flour/butter mixture, then run the processor until the dough starts to come together in one mass on the side of the bowl. (This may take about 30-40 seconds of continuous processing.) If the dough does not start to “set up,” add a bit more water, one teaspoon at a time, and process for 10-15 seconds for each addition. When dough starts to mass up in one part of the bowl, stop and remove to a lightly floured surface. (I use one of those silicon baking mats for rolling pastry with about 1/2 tablespoon of flour on it.)
With lightly floured hands, shape your dough into a neat disk approximately 6 inches in diameter and 1 ½ inch thick. With your rolling pin, start to roll from the center of the disk, rolling out toward the edge. Roll in one direction only. Then turn your disk a quarter turn, so it doesn’t stick to the rolling surface. Repeat the action: roll from the center, then turn the disk. Keep repeating these steps until your pastry dough is one or two inches larger than your tart pan. You can then wrap the pastry around your pin and move it easily to the pan. Trim edges to the top of the pan and place in the refrigerator for a few minutes while you prepare the filling. If there are any thin or broken areas, you can patch with leftover dough. (You should have some left over dough that you can use for “min-tarts” or simply sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, roll into little spirals and bake until crisp.)
Prepare the filling
Many chefs profess a strong preference when it comes to baking apples. Over the years, I have learned that I can use whatever variety I have on hand. If you have a fresh apple (i.e. an apple in season or one that’s been stored properly) it will be flavorful. I often mix varieties but you can use one single variety, or a mixture.
If you have one of those old metal handled peelers, do yourself a favor and buy a new peeler “ergonomic” utensil that’s designed to do the job with less wear and tear on your hands. It will change the way you think about prep work! After you remove the peel, cut the apple in half – top to bottom and use a melon baller to scoop out the core and seeds in one action. Using these tools you can peel enough apples for a tart in about 2 or 3 minutes!
Ingredients for filling:
6-8 medium apples
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Set aside 2 apples for the top of the tart, then peel, core and slice the remaining apples in ¼ inch thick slices. Heat a large frying pan to medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons butter and add the apple slices. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon and sugar to the pan and stir gently. Cook for about 6 minutes until the apple slices begin to soften and cook down a bit. Remove from heat and let pan cool.
Take remaining apples, peel, cut in half, core and then cut each half into thin slices, being careful not to break the slices as these apples will be the decorative top of the tart.
When your apple filling has cooled, spoon into the pastry shell. Then place the remaining apple slices on the top of the filling making a pattern of concentric circles. Dot with remaining butter and bake for approximately 35-40 minutes or until pastry bakes to color of sand (not too brown) and apple filling bubbles.
For the glaze
1/3 cup apricot jam
¼ cup water
Meanwhile, place jam and water in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil and let simmer for a few minutes. Strain the jam mixture if there are big pieces of apricot remaining. As soon as the tart is out of the oven, glaze the tart surface with the apricot glaze, coating the top layer of apples.
You can remove the side rim of the pan shortly after you remove tart from the oven. You can also easily move the tart off the base to a serving dish when the tart has cooled to lukewarm. A large spatula or cake server works nicely. Serve with vanilla ice cream or plain. Serves 8.