I made this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, a slender apple tart with puff pastry, and it was oh so good.
But the real story belongs to the humble apples that went into the tart, and where they came from.
My friends, I went apple-pickin’ this week! Brace yourselves for a plethora (a gaggle? a herd? a murder?) of apple-pickin’ pictures, and please do say that to yourselves in a country accent in your heads. If you’re not the apple-pickin’ type, there is more tart deliciousness at the end of the post, so scroll on down. I won’t mind too much.
My very favorite sous-chef, my ma (of Tuesdays with Mommie fame One, Two, and Three) was in town visiting. What better field trip than to drive an hour outside of Pasadena, into the mountains of San Bernadino, and visit Oak Glen, an apple-pickin’ paradise?
Our first stop was Riley’s Farm, which offers U-Pick apples, pears, and raspberries. We were wildly optimistic and decided we needed a half bushel of apples, and I foolishly opted for the raspberries too. Did you guys know raspberry bushes have wicked thorns? Truth.
We know a thing or two about fruit trees, but we still felt like city slickers in the midst of the apple groves, wandering around trying to figure out which varieties they were, and if they were really ripe. Most of the apples were fairly small and many seemed quite green, even when they pulled from the tree easily. When it seemed like all the good apples were high up in the branches, my mom took matters into her own hands and employed THE CLAW to pick the tree tops.
By the end we had a box overflowing with freshly picked apples and pears, still warm from the summer sun.
Next stop was Snow-Line Orchard. We already had more apples than we knew what to do with, so why a second apple farm stop?
Snow-Line is famous for their apple cider doughnuts. To look at them they don’t seem so special. They’re small, maybe 2 inches across, and rolled in a light coating of cinnamon and sugar. They’re sold by the dozen, and not to flaunt our piggishness, but we easily polished off 2 dozen between the 3 of us.
They didn’t have a strong apple flavor, but the cider did lend a deeper sweetness that was marvelous with the cinnamon-sugar on the outside. I honestly don’t know what made them so good, but they were light, and crispy, perfectly fried and still soft on the inside. Our visit to Snow-Line consisted mostly of moaning and making these faces:
Once we got home and faced the mountain of apples, we knew we had to act fast. Fortunately, the Tuesdays with Dorie recipe this week called for apples (but, um, I’ll need to make this tart 25 more times before I use up my stash).
I love the simplicity and elegance of this tart, but just like with the Parisian Apple Tart before it, I always make some modifications when baking apples in puff pastry, and I thought I’d share my tips to getting the perfect tart.
First suggestion: if you want clean lines around the tart, make a border. I prefer an even crust all along the outside, so after the tart is rolled out, I use a pizza cutter to cut thin (less than 1″ strips) from the length and width of the rectangle. Brush the edges of the tart with a little egg wash, then press the strips along the outer edges of the tart. When it bakes up, you’ll have a nice square shape, instead of lumpy edges with apples poking into them.
Second suggestion: cook the apples. I know, I know, the beauty of this tart is that it’s so simple, and cooking the apples beforehand adds more time and complication. But honestly, every time I use this method I end up with apples that have dried out due to high heat and extended baking times. I prefer to take a little more time to make luscious apples that taste great, even after a long bake.
And really, sauteeing apples is pretty low-stress. I don’t even measure, I just eyeball things. I put a good-sized chunk of butter (3 tbsp?) in an iron skillet and let it melt until it’s foamy. Add a cup (or two!) of sugar, and slowly let it dissolve, stirring as little as possible. Squeeze some lemon juice on top to prevent crystallization. Let the sugar get to be a nice dark brown color, then add the apples. The caramel will seize–not to worry. As the apples cook, it’ll liquify once again, and soon your apples will be swimming in a delicious caramel soup. You can add other things at this point–I added the seeds from a vanilla pod and a little cinnamon. Simmer until the apples are soft and have taken on some color, then remove them with a slotted spoon and let them cool. Once cool, you can arrange them on your pastry and you’re good to go. They have an awesome flavor and stay nice and soft in the oven.
Bonus: keep the saucepan on the stove, add some cream, and cook it down. You now have a delicious apple-caramel sauce to put on your tart! It pairs wonderfully with vanilla ice cream and this warm apple tart: