Saturday, November 13, 2010

French Apple Tart: Is It Still French If I Add Cinnamon?

The apple tart on the road to my friends at the dessert bar. Who better to share with and get feedback from?

This is going to sound incredibly cheesy, but bear with me. Do you ever wake up in the morning and just feel inspired? That instant I've-just-got-to-do feeling and you're not even quite sure what it is that you've got that feeling about yet, but you know something is coming?

 I had these apples in the kitchen to have with yogurt and granola for breakfast, but I think they were dedicated to a far greater cause.

That's how I felt Friday. I was itching to bake. It's not as if I was going through withdrawals; I'd made two different batches of cookies, a crepe cake, and a lemon cake the week before. Still, I itched. I knew I didn't want to make more cookies or cakes. Then I thought about fruit and what was in the kitchen. Grapes... Dried cherries... Grapefruit... Apples... Bright green apples... Granny Smith apples. DING DING DING! It was time to make a tart.

 One of my favorite tools in the kitchen: The humble pastry blender. It is used to cut solid fats into dry ingredients, which plays a major roll in achieving the lightest, flakiest pie and tart crusts you can imagine. I hope there are other people that wax poetic about you, pastry blender, because you deserve it.

Google, that brilliant, mildly creepy creature that knows way more than a magic eight ball, gifted Ina Garten's French apple tart recipe to me. Not one to be ignored, the search engine put the Barefoot Contessa's recipe at the top of the list.

Measuring out the flour, sugar, salt, and butter for the crust.

French Apple Tart
Adapted from Ina Garten at The Food Network
Halved from the original recipe, makes one 8" round tart

Left: The pastry blender at work. Top right: After using the pastry blender, the dough resembles coarse bread crumbs. Bottom right: The crust pressed into the pie pan and pricked with a fork.

1 C (100g)  all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp  salt
1/2 T  sugar
6 T (86g)  unsalted butter, cold and cubed
1/4 C  ice water

Quarter inch apple slices.

2  Granny Smith apples
1 T  sugar*
1 tsp  cinnamon (optional)*
2 T  unsalted butter, cold and diced (softened is fine)
2 T  peach jam*
1/2 T  water*

*All of these are deviations from the original recipe. These are the original ingredients and amounts: 1/4 C sugar, no cinnamon, 1/4 C apricot jelly or sieved jam, 1 T water, Calvados, or rum.

 Butter makes the world go round.
  1. Combine the dry crust ingredients (flour, salt, and sugar) and cut the butter in until the mixture resembles coarse crumbles.
  2. Add the ice water tablespoon by tablespoon, tossing with a fork after each addition, until the dough just holds together (you don't want it too wet; I only used 2 T).
  3. Quickly knead the dough together (just a few turns), wrap, and refrigerate at least an hour or pat it down to about 1/2" thick and keep it in the freezer for 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 204C (400F).
  5. If the dough is in the freezer, remove it and let it sit on the counter while working with the apples. If it's in the fridge, leave it there. Now peel, halve, core, and slice the apples into 1/4" slices. You can toss the finished slices in a little lemon juice if you work slowly and are worried about browning.
  6. Roll the dough out to fit your tart or pie tin and press it in. Prick the dough with a fork to prevent warping while baking. (Ina says to line the bottom of the pan with parchment, which I did, but I don't think it's necessary.)
  7. Overlap the apple slices in concentric circles on the crust or do whatever looks nice to you.
  8. Mix the cinnamon (optional) and sugar, sprinkle it over the apples, and dot with butter.
  9. Bake the tart 45-60 minutes, until the crust is brown and the apples have begun to brown.
  10. Warm (maybe 10-20 seconds in the microwave) the jam and water, mix, then brush it over the tart.
  11. Serve at room temperature or warm.
  12. Enjoy!
French Apple Tart Reflections
 It's funny that the light in the cab was better than the light in my apartment, though I'm not surprised.

  This tart is amazing. It's the kind of tart that makes my stand-in big brother at the dessert bar exclaim, "Oh my god. Spectacular." At first, I thought it was a little too tart, but as I ate my way towards the edge of the crust, I realized it was the triple layer of apples at the center that was a bit strong. I placed little slices of apple in the center to support the second ring of slices and then topped the center with a few more slices. Next time, I'll sprinkle a little cinnamon-sugar between the layers.

Also, I sort of cut the sugar topping down by 75% on accident. But what a happy accident that was! I knew sugar was going on top, but I read the crust sugar content again and sprinkled away. This is the way my not-professionally-diagnosed-mild-dyslexia manifests itself. Deliciously. I think the original amount would have cut the tart, Granny Smith flavor way too much. I mean, what's the point of using a sour apple if you smother the defining factor?

 This almost ended up on the cab windshield after some hard breaking. Luckily, I had it clutched in my hands because I didn't want my apple slices to slide around as it cooled. Pie-psychic. Uh, tart-psychic, technically, but pie-psychic sounds sooo much better.

Can I get an electronic hand clap for the cinnamon and jam please? The cinnamon is a throw-back to all my apple pie experiences in the States. I don't know how the French feel about cinnamon on apple tarts, but I think it's mighty fine. Also, I used my favorite peach jam from Organic Himalaya. I, um, didn't sieve it and sure, it was on the aesthetically lumpy side, but my taste buds could care less. I used about half of what the original recipe recommended, and I'd say this was the right choice, since more jam just would have distracted from those awesomely tart apples.

Finally, that crust. Man oh man, that crust! I think I got hung up on the pie crust recipe from my mom's late 1970's/early 1980's edition of The Good Housekeeping Cook Book and never bothered to try anything else, but it had slipped my mind this time and thank goodness for my brain's gentle reminders that I am no spring chicken. The crust is something that would make a person with the munchies' mind spin. Light, softly sweet, flaky beauty.

 Taking the first slice at the dessert bar.

I will definitely be making this again. This tart lands a pretty solid spot on my potential future bakery cafe list. Still, if that bakery cafe never happens, you can rest assured that the tart is easily made at home.

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