Apple season always puts me in this crazed fanatic mood. I stock up on dozens and literally change all of my meals so that they somehow incorporate this beautiful seasonal ingredient. I’ve been making pork chops topped with sautéed apples and blue cheese, sweet potatoes stuffed with apples and cheddar, butternut squash soup sweetened with apples and cider. There is nothing comparable to the taste of a freshly picked Virginia apple. The skin is rough and bumpy, free from that awful wax that defiles the outside every store-bought variety. The flesh is firm and dense as if every square inch is packed with as much pure apple flavor as possible. And of course nothing beats that satisfying crunch with each and every bite.
But a celebration of the fall apple wouldn’t be complete without an apple pie, right? Well, the thing is, I’m not a huge pie fan. They are just so heavy and the crust seems to overtake the fruit inside, the ingredient that should stand out instead. The filling usually ends up as a sickeningly sweet and syrupy concoction that masks that great fruit flavor and that syrup eventually runs to the bottom and transforms what used to be a flaky crust into a pile of mush.
Yep, definitely don’t like pie too much.
But a tart…now a tart is not a pie. A tart takes all of the unfortunate aspects of pie and gets rid of them, leaving all that is good and tasty. Whether it’s a fruit tart, chocolate, frangipane, etc., it just seems to get the proportions right.
This simple apple tart I made is a proper tribute to the fall apple. A thin, flaky, and buttery crust serves as a sturdy base for a whole lot of pure and simple apple. No gelatinous flour sauce coats this fruit. It gets a little brush of butter, a sprinkling of coarse raw sugar, and a dash of cinnamon. That’s it. It bakes long and slow and the apples slowly soften, the sugars condensing and turning the tart flavors slightly sweeter. A sweet and toasty smell fills the air in a scent that speaks of nothing but fall. The crust crisps up, turning delicate and tender with a subtle crunch from the sugar and a thin glaze of jam puts a lightly sweet glisten over the top. It needs nothing on the side (though a little whipped cream or vanilla ice cream wouldn’t be bad at all) for the apples speak for themselves. If you want to celebrate apples this year, this is the way to do it.
from Smitten Kitchen’s adaptation of Alice Water’s recipe
This tart actually keeps for a while in the fridge. Though it’s best warm and fresh out of the oven, it revives beautifully when recrisped in a toaster oven. Like any pie, it can also be frozen after cooling and reheated in the oven if you want to make it ahead of time. But it is so light and fresh and fragrant, you may not be able to resist from gobbling it up before it makes it to the freezer.
for the dough:
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
6 Tbs. just-softened butter cut into cubes
3½ Tbs. cold water
for the filling
5 firm and tart apples (I used enterprise apples) peeled, cored, halved, and cut into thin half-circle slices
2 Tbs. butter, melted
3 Tbs. coarse sugar
a dash of cinnamon
for the glaze
your favorite jam
First make the dough. Mix the flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add 2 Tbs. of the butter. Rub the butter into the flour with the tips of your fingers until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the rest of the butter and rub into the flour until you have pea-sized pieces. Dribble in the water, one Tbs. at a time and toss it into the butter and flour mixture with your hands. Continue adding the water (add more or less as needed) until the dough is able to form into a ball. Roll into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
While the dough is sitting in the fridge, you can work on preparing you apples, peeling, coring, halving, and cutting into thin slices. When ready to assemble, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin until about 1 inch bigger that the tart pan on each side. Lightly grease the ban and drape the dough overtop, pressing it up the sides and letting the extra hang over the edge. Arrange the apple slices inside, flat, cut-side down, overlapping and working in a circle from the outside in until you use all of the apples. Take the overhanging crust and drape it over about two inches of the apples on the outside. Remove any excessive crust. Brush the melted butter over the apples and the crust and sprinkle over the sugar and a little bit of cinnamon. Bake for 45 minutes, turning every 15, until the crust is golden and the apples soft.
Remove from the oven to cool about 15 minutes before serving. Before serving, heat a small amount of your favorite jam or preserves (apple or apricot would be nice) in the microwave and brush a thin layer over the apples so they shine. Serve alone or with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.