If you have a husband like mine who claims that the only apple pie worth his adulation is his dear departed mother’s, and sniffs about my humble efforts because I “always tart them up” (his words) with weird additions such as thyme (from a New York Times recipe, to be sure) or cheddar cheese (in the crust), or my crust is pretty (but tough as a board), and to top that you, the baker, the person determined to make an apple pie that meets his demanding standards, don’t even like apple pie all that much, apple pie is not just an all-American dessert, it is a Problem.
De premier choix apple tart...photo by Kate McMullan
But last week I hit one out of the park with an apple tart, and being an unabashed Francophile, I love the tart rather than the pie aspect of what I made for a meal at a friend’s house last week. Crowds went wild! Kate and her husband Jim cheered! Aforementioned husband tasted approvingly, smiled sideways and said that “his mother would like the recipe….” Well, Dear Reader, you can imagine my intense relief and unbridled joy. At last, after all these years. So herewith is the recipe for the World’s Best Apple Pie…er, tart.
I began with a recipe from a book called French Tarts, naturellment, but of course made it my own, substituting here and there and cutting back on the butter.
THE PERFECT APPLE Pie/TART (FOR TRADITIONALISTS, or nearly so)
Crust or Pate Sucree
This is a sweet, sugary pastry, almost like a cookie, with a touch of crunchiness from the addition of egg. It’s good for all sorts of fruit tarts, or one with creme patisserie and topped with fruit. And with a food processor, you have to work at it to screw it up…if you follow the directions carefully. This recipe works well with half whole wheat and half white flour. I generally use white but unbleached, after what I read about how flour is unnecessarily bleached, leeching nutritional value, and then they add some back in. Dear Reader, do I have to tell you ? It is not the same.
1 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour I usually use Heckler’s unbleached.
1/2 cup Wondra flour This is the white over-processed stuff that comes in a blue and white paper can (can cans be made of paper?) Yes, I know, less nutrition but it’s great for gravy and crust. You can probably juggle the amounts of the Wondra with the regular flour, but this is the combo of the two I prefer. Flour does have some nutritional value and Wondra, unquestionably less.
1/4 cup chilled butter Can be nearly frozen, if like me, you buy butter on sale and freeze it; but it needs NOT to be soft. Butter adds flavor, but makes the crust a bit more cranky as the least bit of overworking the ingredients and it will get tough and hard, flakiness be damned!
1/4 cup oil Safflower, olive, corn; I use safflower which I keep in a can by the stove. This is better than all butter for the cholesterol level of you and your beloved. But you can fool with the butter/oil mix as you choose. An all oil crust will be fine also, for those really watching their cholesterol.
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons of ground almonds Blanched, toasted or not
1/4 teaspoon salt Or less, but do add some, it brightens the taste
2 large eggs, beaten
Combine the flour, salt sugar, almonds and butter in a food processor. Add butter in small chunks throughout. Pour oil in a thin stream over it, spreading the amount evenly over the mixture. Pulse for about 10-12 seconds, until the mixture is a dry crumble, like a strudel topping. Add the eggs, again pouring them in a stream around the entire mixture, not just dumping them in and making an egg puddle. This allows you to “pulse” less to mix everything. Pulse again a dozen or more times (or about 12 seconds) until the dough comes together but before it forms a ball. If the dough is too sticky, add cold water, a tablespoon at a time and pulse again, but just until you reach the desired texture. I can’t stress enough that too much mixing will result in a tough, unappetizing crust. I know. Been there, done that. And I can’t/won’t do it without a food processor even though in olden times of course, good bakers (like my mother) produced flaky, tender pastry with a hand blender. Good luck!
Turn on the oven to 375F
Remove the dough, form it into a ball with your hands, set it on a piece of plastic wrap and press into a flat disk. Wrap and refrigerate for an hour, or overnight. It can stay a couple of days in the refrigerator, but after that, freeze until using. This makes one 14 inch crust, but read on–it is good enough to be a thicker crust for a 10 1/2 inch tart pan.
When you transfer to the tart pan, roll it out between two sheets of plastic wrap. Much much easier than doing without, as the crust does not stick to the plastic wrap the way it will if you roll it out without the wrap. I use two sheets for each side because the dough you roll out on the counter will stick to the counter without the addition of a lot of flour on the counter. Are you following me? You set down two overlapping sheets of plastic wrap on the bottom and roll out the top until you need to add a second sheet. Yeah, it’s a little tricky but you will be glad when you are transferring the dough to the pan. Once you’ve got it covered with plastic wrap, roll it out with the rolling pin. if it starts coming apart, dip your hand in water and do your best to “glue” it back together.
Remove one sheet of the plastic wrap and turn over dough with the dough side towards the pan and fit it in; pull back other sheet of wrap. Voila! You are almost there.
Fit dough to tart pan or pie plate with your fingers. It shouldn’t be sticky, but if it is, flour your fingers. If a pie, make a fluted edge with your fingers, or the stamped down look with a fork, by pressing the tines on the edge and around the whole dish. If a tart, fit the crust down to the edge of the side, and then cut off excess with a knife so the side is even with the edge of the pan. Congratulations, you have just finished the hardest part of the tart–the crust.
Le Pomme Part or, the Apple Addition
5 or 6 apples I always like to use at least 3-4 Granny Smiths for their tartness and firmness, but in combination with other softer, sweeter apples, some of which will get mushier and fill in the spaces. Delicious, Golden or not, Macouns, McIntosh, Northern Spy, Fuji, and Gala in combination with Granny Smiths all work well, and if you have an abundance of these apples and no Grannies, I’d try it but not all McIntoshes as they are too soft. Coming from Michigan, I think my mother was a big fan of Northern Spies, and you seldom see them here in New York, where I live now. Peel and cut up into chunks or nice decorative slices.
2-3 tablespoons of butter Omit if cholesterol is an issue.
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons white sugar If you only have white, no problem. Brown sugar is brown because it has molasses in it.
1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon If you can get the darker kind from Vietnam, get that.
1 fat tablespoon flour No need for Wondra here.
2-3 tablespoons of almonds, slivered or ground 3 tablespoons is a quarter of a cup, since you asked.
2 tablespoons bourbon Absolument
Generous grating of nutmeg–about half a nut I use the Microplane grater for cheese, lemon zest and of course, nutmeg. Like a food processor for making crust, nothing beats the Microplane for grating. Here I really go for grating a whole nutmeg, because the flavor and aroma will be much stronger and fresher, but if you must use pre-ground, between a quarter of a teaspoon to a half, depending on your nutmeg predilection. If you have the pre-ground kind, store it in the fridge. Keeps it fresher.
Sprinkle the juice of a lemon (or use bottled) over the apples as you cut them up. Keeps them fresh looking and adds that the touch of lemon flavor. About two-three tablespoons total. We have a stainless steel gizmo that screws into the lemon and make it easy to get the juice without a lot of hassle. You screw in the gizmo, squeeze the lemon, and out comes juice. If your lemon is hard and not ripe, boil a small pot of water and drop in the lemon for a minute, no more, turning it so that the whole lemon is exposed to the simmering water. This turns any hard lemon into a juicy, soft one. Some suggest zapping the lemon in the microwave, but that results in uneven softness. I don’t like it and it only takes a minute or so to heat up the water. If you are going to zap, no more than a minute! Probably less, depending on the wattage of your wave.
And if you have a Microplane grater (about $10 and well worth it) add some of the zest–about half of a lemon. Unless you are real lemon freak, then it’s up to you.
Add everything (sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, almonds) but the butter to the apples and gently mix so the apples are coated. If you have forgotten the poor lemon, add it now.
Arrange the apples in the pie shell, fitting them snugly, filling in any places with small bits of apple to completely cover the bottom of the shell.
Add the butter in small bits on top
More grating of nutmeg
Sprinkle the bourbon over it all.
Put in a hot oven (375F) and bake for about 35-45 minutes, until the apples are soft and the top is golden brown, and the crust a deeper shade. If your tart pan is dark, the cooking time will be shortened. Light shiny pans take longer, as does glass.
By now your abode will smell heavenly. Enjoy. Take a shower, have a cup of tea, and tonight when your guests see and smell the tart, they will rejoice with sounds of a heavenly choir of ahhs. You can rewarm it in an oven if desired. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or ice cream–vanilla, butter almond, dulce de leche.
If there is any left, don’t put it in the fridge. The crust will get soggy and besides, you are going to finish it tomorrow. Just pop it in an unheated oven and let it rest.