Apples Blooming in Autumn
Remember Pâtisserie Philippe's gorgeous apple tart from my last post? If you didn't get a good look at it, here is an outtake from my photo shoot:
Isn't it just beautiful? The perfect, wafer-fine crust, the carefully layered slices of apple fanning and furling into a blooming rose in the center; this is a dessert designed to elicit oohs of appreciation upon sight, and sighs of delight upon tasting. The filling for this tart is completely made of apple, and a glorious tribute to the fruit it is. I was amazed how a crisp buttery crust topped with smooth, rich applesauce and fork-tender, just-sweet apple slices could taste as satisfying delicious as the most complex of pastries - proof that nobody does desserts that are simultaneously simple yet elegant like the French.
After consuming about half of Philippe's tart, I was determined to try and make my own version. To my happy surprise, Dorie Greenspan came to the rescue again with her version of Normandy Apple Tart in her Baking book. Upon reading the recipe, I discovered it really was as simple as making a tart crust, filling it with applesauce, and covering it with apple slices.
Of course, the devil's always in the details, which is why Philippe's is so flawless and mine is merely an eager aspirant. It's not easy to get tart dough so thin and flaky, or the applesauce so smooth and velvety, or all the apple slices so thinly sliced and artfully arranged. But this recipe is one where you won't mind trying again and again to get it just perfect. A couple of tips: use the best, most flavorful apples you can find, since this tart is all about highlighting them - you shouldn't be burying the taste beneath butter and sugar. You can use store-bought applesauce if you like, but I agree with Dorie that it's so much better when you make it yourself - take advantage now before apples are gone from the farmers' markets! Finally, if you're nervous about slicing your apples evenly, a mandolin works wonders.
A slice of this apple tart, still warm from the oven and topped with a bit of crème fraîche, makes me think of fading afternoon light shining through the few copper and russet leaves clinging to the trees, fuzzy woolen scarves tucked into snuggly warm sweaters, and the cool, crisp smell of autumn in the air. If you have the chance to try Philippe's apple tart, please do. If you don't, maybe you'll try making it yourself, and you can feel just like a French pastry chef in your own kitchen.
Normandy Apple Tart
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours
makes one 9-inch tart
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoon butter, very cold, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk
2 pounds baking apples, such as Empire, Cortland, McIntosh, or Pippin
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1-4 tablespoons sugar to taste
2 medium-sized, firm apples, such as Golden Delicious or Granny Smith
1 egg for egg wash
1/3 cup apple jelly for glaze
For the applesauce: Peel and core the apples, and cut into smallish chunks. Place into a 3 quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan.
Add in the water and brown sugar, and stir to combine.
Cover the saucepan and cook the apples over the medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to make sure none of the apples scorch.
If the water seems to be boiling away too quickly, you can add in a little more. Over about 20-30 minutes, the apples should start reducing and softening in the bubbling water. Don't leave the pan unattended for too long or the water could boil over or the apples burn.
When the apples are soft enough to be mashed with a spoon, remove the pan from heat. Scrape the apples into a food processor and blend quickly to turn into applesauce - don't process too long or you'll liquefy the apples. The applesauce should still be thick.
Taste and add sugar to taste - traditionally this applesauce is not meant to be very sweet, but you can add at your discretion.
Pour the applesauce into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface, and refrigerate until it is no longer warm before using. You can keep the applesauce in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
For the tart shell: Put the flour, confectioner's sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the pieces of cold butter and pulse until the butter is cut into pea-sized pieces. Add the egg yolk and combine in several pulses until the dough starts to turn from dry to clumpy. Do not let the dough form one giant ball or it will be be overworked - just keep checking after every pulse and when the dough pieces looks like they will stick when you press them together, stop.
Butter a 9-in tart tin with removable bottom. Turn the dough out into the tin and press into the bottom and up the sides with your fingers. You probably will not need all the dough - save the extra for patching the shell after you bake it. Do not press the dough too hard or it will become tough - just enough for it to form to the tin.
Freeze the tart shell for at least 30 minutes. When you are ready to bake it, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
To partially bake the tart shell, take a piece of foil and butter the shiny side, then press the buttered side tightly to the shell. You do not need pie weights. Place the tart shell on a baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, until the shell is dry and lightly colored. If any places have cracked, repair with the extra dough. Let cool on a rack until room temperature.
For the tart: When you are ready to finish the tart, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Fill the tart shell with the applesauce almost to the top of the crust and smooth the top. Place the tart on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat.
Peel and core the two apples. Cut each apple in half and then again lengthwise. Cut each apple quarter into about 7 slices - they will be quite thin.
Arrange the apple slices over the top of the applesauce in a pleasing pattern. I found that the apple slices shrink a bit while baking so be sure the edges overlap the tart crust and each other enough.
Make a egg wash by beating the egg with a teaspoon of water. Brush the egg wash over the apple slices.
Bake the tart in the oven for about 40 to 50 minutes. The applesauce will puff up a little bit and the apples slices will turn golden and slightly burnt at the edges. When the apple slices are soft enough to be pierced by the tip of knife, you can take out the tart.
Remove the tart and let cool on a wire rack. If you'd like to glaze the top of the tart, mix the apple jelly with a teaspoon of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Brush the glaze lightly over the top of the tart.
The tart should be served as soon as possible to prevent it from getting soggy.
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