I still remember the worst apple dessert I’ve ever eaten. It was an apple “cobbler” at the restaurant next door to my apartment, and it was truly hideous.
Roger and I were both surprised at how terrible this dessert was because the restaurant itself is decent — your typical burger/salad/sandwich joint, with surprisingly excellent dinner rolls and occasionally interesting soups. So we figured dessert was a safe bet. After all, who can mess up apple cobbler?
Well, apparently this restaurant can. Aside from the fact that they put strawberry ice cream on top (we’ll let that one go for now), the taste fell somewhere between “medicinal” and “metallic.” How they accomplished this feat, I do not know. But I do know that we have never — ever — ordered dessert there again, despite the fact that we go there a few times a month.
What’s funny is that you don’t have to do much to apples to make them taste good in desserts. Sure, a little brown butter here, a little spice there, but less is usually more. The more you throw into the pot, the more the apples start tasting like a pile of spicy goo, rather than something sweet and honey-like.
Historically, my favorite apple tarts have been those along the lines of the tarte tatin — the apples bare and exposed, not overtaken by the caramel flavor but melding with it — that is, until I made this Alsatian Apple Tart. Here, the apples are bathed in a mellow vanilla custard and encased in a sweet buttery crust. There are no spices, no competing flavors, just the tender apples, soft custard and crisp crust.
Oh, and did I mention it’s also a snap to make? You don’t even need to roll out the tart crust; you can just dump the raw dough right into the pan and press it up the sides (thank you, Dorie Greenspan). When a delicious apple dessert is this easy to make, one wonders why an entirely repellent one would show up anywhere. As long as a bad one never shows up in my kitchen, I guess I can’t complain!
I should also note that the so-called “Breakfast Series” will return soon — I just couldn’t resist posting this tart recipe.
Alsatian Apple Tart
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours
Sweet tart dough
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk
1 pound medium sized sweet apples, such as Golden Delicious (3-4)
3/4 cup heavy cream
6 Tb. sugar
1 egg yolk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup apricot preserves
2 tablespoons warm water
To make the crust:
Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in — some pieces will be the size of oatmeal flakes and some will be the size of peas. In a small bowl, stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time to the flour mixture, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses — about 10 seconds each — until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change, so pay attention. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
You can now press the dough right into the pan. Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Dump the dough into the pan and gently press it along the bottom and up the sides, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Don’t be too heavy handed. Prick the crust all over with the tines of a fork and freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.
Partially bake the crust. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375ºF. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. (Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights.) Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and allow the crust to cool to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.
To make the filling:
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Peel, core and slice the apples into 1/4″ thick slices. Layer the apples concentric circles on the bottom of the crust, beginning on the outside and working in. In a 2-cup or 4-cup measuring cup with a spout (for easy cleanup), measure out the cream, then add the eggs, sugar and vanilla and beat together with a whisk or fork. Pour on top of the apples, being sure not to add to much custard; the cream mixture should come just below the rim of the crust. Place the tart on a baking sheet and bake for 50-55 minutes, until the apples are tender when pierced with a knife and the custard is golden and set (it shouldn’t jiggle much when the tart pan is shaken). Allow to cool completely.
To glaze the tart, whisk together the apricot preserves and warm water, and strain the mixture through a seive. Using a pastry brush and a gentle hand, brush the warm glaze over the apples (but not the custard).
Yield: 6-8 servings