Saturday, October 10, 2009

French Apple Tart

For my first course I actually chose to make a dessert and I did this for a few reasons. First, I love dessert. I have a huge sweet tooth and I don't think a meal is really complete without something sweet, preferably something chocolate. Secondly, I wanted to start with something I felt comfortable and confident doing, and for me, that's baking. 

I chose Ina's French Apple Tart, the first dessert listed in Back to Basics and Ina's personal favorite. The last apple dessert I made for my family fell flat...literally. I had attempted to make an apple tart tatin, which I had never made before. It's basically a fancy upside-down apple tart covered in caramel that looks very impressive once unveiled...theoretically. I even convinced my mother to buy a special Emile Henry tart tatin dish and was really excited to try it out. However, after two separate attempts to make the caramel (one of which resulted in burned sugar that my mother had to practically pickaxe off the pan), apple juice all over myself and the counter, and a lackluster result, we chocked it up to a loss. Needless to say, my mom traded in the tart tatin pan for a new Cuisinart food processor on steroids, and I felt it was time to redeem myself. So was I successful?  

Well, the first component I started with was the tart dough, which the recipe suggests is done with a food processor. I have been making pie and tart dough this way for years and have found that this is by far the easiest method. It eliminates kneading and pastry cutters and is virtually fool proof. Seriously, just try it the next time you're just whipping up a quick pie in your free time. My first challenge was trying to figure out the intense new food processor my mom upgraded to:
Please note the instruction manual.

After a phone consult with my mother, I managed to assemble the food processor correctly and added the flour, salt, and sugar, and pulsed to combine. Next I added chilled butter which I had diced into small pieces. Here's what the mixture looked like before its spin in the processor:

I pulsed the mixture until the butter was the size of large peas, and then added a stream of cold water through the feed tube while the machine was still running. I then pulsed the whole mixture until it just started to hold together and looked like this:

I spilled the mixture out onto a floured surface and formed it into a disc (see, no kneading!)

I wrapped this in plastic and it chilled out in the fridge for one hour. There's a note in the directions that a sheet of defrosted puff pastry can be used in place of making this dough, but considering that it only took about 7 minutes to make and was flaky and buttery and delicious, I don't think I would ever make the substitution.

With an hour to kill it was time to catch up on the Grey's Anatomy episode I missed last night, punctuated by some games of fetch with Layla.
I mean, come on, how could you resist that face?

After the dough had been chilling for about an hour, I preheated the oven and lined a sheet pan with parchment paper. I took the dough from the fridge and rolled it out on a floured counter top. 
Let me also say, this dough was incredibly easy to roll out. I've been known to get just a tad frustrated when working with a particularly tough or hard dough (visions of crumpling it into a ball and throwing it against the wall come to mind), but not this one; it was soft and smooth and lovely. Ok, ok, enough about the perfect dough. I rolled it out into a large rectangle and measured to ensure it was at least 10'' by 14''
Next, I trimmed the edges so I had straight sides. Ina suggests using a ruler for this step but I felt that was unnecessary since this is sort of a rustic tart. (Ok, so I actually couldn't find one, but in the end it didn't make a difference.) I transferred the dough to the prepared baking sheet and put it back in the fridge. Next, it was on to the apples:
The picture you see in the background is Ina's version of the tart, so you can compare mine to hers once we get to the end. Oh and Layla made an appearance when she heard mention of apples.

This recipe uses Granny Smiths which are my favorite type of apples to use in pies since the tartness of the apple is balanced by the added sugar and butter. I peeled the apples, halved them, and cored them using a melon-baller. Next, I sliced the apples crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
And gave a piece to Layla
since she's more akin to a cow than a real dog.

Next, I started layering the apple slices in diagonal rows across the pastry, starting in the middle and slightly overlapping them as I went:

I made 3 complete rows and filled in the empty spaces around the edges with some smaller slices. My sister, Alex, took a break from her duty as photographer and also helped with this step since she's the more aesthetically inclined one. Once the dough was covered in apple slices,  I sprinkled it with sugar and dotted it with small pieces of butter. Here's the final product pre-baked:
While the tart baked, I prepped the glaze. Since I couldn't find the apricot jelly the recipe favors, I used Ina's second choice, apricot preserves and followed the directions to heat and sieve it.  The recipe calls for 1/2 a cup, but I started with about 3/4 of a cup since I knew some of the volume would be depleted once it was strained. I heated it over medium heat for just a few minutes, and put it through a strainer so it was nice and smooth:
I know the red bowl makes it kind of hard to see, but it was jammy and smooth

At this point, the tart had been in the oven for about 25 minutes, so it was time to rotate the pan. I was worried the apples were looking a little brown already, so I also moved the pan down to a lower rack in the oven. The recipe's suggested baking time is 45 minutes-1 hour, but after only 40 minutes, the apples were pretty brown and the pastry looked done so I took it out of the oven. There's something in the recipe about burning apple juice (which is apparently nothing to worry about...) but this wasn't an issue for me. Some of the sugar and juice caramelized around the edges of the tart, but this was easy to break away once the tart had cooled. 

While the tart cooled slightly, I re-heated the sieved apricot preserves with a few tablespoons of apple brandy to make the glaze. I then brushed this on the tart, covering the apples and any exposed pastry. Using a spatula, I loosened the tart away from the parchment paper to ensure it didn't stick later.  And here's the finished product:
Looks pretty good, right?

I was pretty proud

The suggested serving method is to cut the tart into 6 pieces, allotting 1 piece per person, but we found that you could easily cut these pieces in half again (as in the bottom right piece), which resulted in an adequate serving size as well. Theoretically, you could even cut these pieces further, into 24 bite-sized pieces to feed a larger crowd:

Unlike Ina, my family and I are die hard chocolate lovers so I was a little skeptical about how this dessert would be received, but we all really enjoyed it, even Alex who was probably the most skeptical given her distaste for the typical apple-cinnamon combo.  This was a nice departure from that classic preparation which can be over bearingly sweet and cinammony and completely hide the apple flavor. The combination here of the tart apples with the sweet sugar and super-flaky pastry was just delicious. The apricot glaze added shine and intensified the apple flavor, without competing with it. This dessert was such a hit, it even got clearance to be served as our choice for the fruit dessert at Thanksgiving this year. 

Make this when: you want to impress someone, such as your boss or your significant other's parents.  

Next Course: Cape Cod Chopped Salad 

Photogarphy courtesy of my sister, Alex. Editor's note: this post probably has more pictures than will be customary since I had my own personal photographer on hand, a luxury that may be scarce in the future.


  1. Mmmm I can attest that this apple tart was super yummy, and I say this even though I generally am not a fan of apple desserts.

    This was another well written entertaining post! I cannot wait to continue along on this cooking journey with you. I just hope I am around to enjoy more of the end products! Guess this means more quality time in the gym for me :)!!!

    Oh and how amazing are those photos...I mean let's be serious ;)

  2. Deelicious, I just need to keep up my jogging and working out so I can keep eating all of Morgan's creations!

    The photo's are great, you need to find a way to include them each time!

  3. Nice caramelization, it looks great! Can't wait for the next post!

  4. I just discovered your blog and I have to say it is great! This dessert looks beautiful, but not too complicated. I think I may give it a try. I cannot wait to look through the rest of the things you have made so far and then continue along with you as you make more dishes.


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