Sunday, 8 June 2014

French apple tart (Tarte aux pommes)

French Apple Tart (Tarte aux pommes)

When I was growing up, my family and I would stay in a gite somewhere near  Honfleur or Coutance for a week every Spring. One thing I always looked forward to on these holidays was a trip to the boulangerie - patisserie in the nearest village where we would invariably buy a Tarte aux Pommes (the regional speciality, or "specialite de la region" as they say), along with our croissants for the morning. And we'd take it back to the gite, to have as a dessert after dinner. Having grown up with this as the pinnacle of treats, imagine my surprise when I found out that this rather impressive looking, and fantastic tasting tart is so easy to make, although it does need a bit of time, so not something you can throw together in an evening after work I'm afraid. But none the less, it is yet another classic example of how simple "peasant food" can be as good as it gets.


175g plain flour (and more for dusting, rolling and a couple of spoonfuls for the frangipane)
250g butter (I know!!)
1 egg
2 egg yolks
100g caster sugar (and a bit more for sprinkling)
1 dessert spoon (or a cap full) of calvados (Normandy apple brandy) or brandy
100g ground almonds
3 tablespoons of water
5 table spoons of apricot jam
3 or 4 large cooking apples

The cooking:

Start by mixing together the flour, half your butter, one of your egg yolks and the 3 tablespoons of water and mix to a dough that you can knead with the ball of your hand. If it is really sticky to the touch then you might have added a whole egg rather than just the yolk? Duh! I know because I've done that before! But if you have not made this school boy error but still find it overly sticky, just add a bit more flour. If it is so unsticky, it is not picking up all the dry mixture in your bowl, then add a tea spoon more of water. Once you have a dough ball, wrap it in cling film, and put it in a fridge for about half an hour (or until it firms up).

While that process is under way, make your frangipane. You need to soften up the other half of your butter, by cutting it into small cubes, then popping them in a small, oven proof mixing bowl and in to the micro wave for about a minute. Once soft, pour in the cater sugar and with a wooden spoon and some muscle, stir together into a creamy consistency. Leave that to one side and beat together your remaining egg yolk and an egg in a bowl. Now gradually, bit by bit, add your beaten egg mix to the creamed sugar and butter, stirring furiously after each drop to keep the mixture creamy, otherwise it will curdle and separate. Once your eggs have gone in, add your calvados (or brandy will do if you haven't go any). Once it has all been blended together, pour in your ground almonds and add a couple of tablespoons of flour as well to give the mixture some weight, and stir the whole lot together until it is all perfectly blended.

Now might be a good time to preheat an over to 200 degrees centigrade.

When your 30 minutes on your dough ball in the fridge is up, take it out of the fridge, dust a surface with some flour and roll it out until it will fit into 30cm pie tin. Grease your pie tin with butter, then lay your pastry into it, pushing down into the corners and sides and prick all over with a fork. Then pop it back into the fridge for another 15 minutes or so.

When your base has firmed up in the fridge, take it out, and use a spoon to evenly spread your frangipane into it. Then peel, core and slice you apples, laying the slices in a spiral pattern on top of your frangipane base. Start from the outside and work inward, making sure at least one edge of each apple slice is buried into the frangipane.

Put your pie tin into your preheated oven for 20 minutes then drop the temperature down to 180 degrees. After 10 minutes, take the tart out of the oven and sprinkle liberally with sugar and then return to the oven for another 10 minutes. Meanwhile scoop your apricot jam into a ramekin (or anything small and oven proof really), add a couple of spoon fulls of water (to help liquidise it) and put it in the oven to warm up as well.

When the 10 minutes is up remove your tart and remove the ramekin with the jam in it.  Give the jam and the water a good stir to mix together so it is a runny liquid, then with a pastry brush, brush the jam solution all over your tart to give it a nice, golden glaze. Then  put it back in the oven for the final 5 - 10 minutes, or until the edges of the apples have just started to catch and the rest of the tart topping is golden all over.

Take it out of the oven and cool it on a wire rack.

When it's at room temperature, serve it cut into slices, with a posset of really thick cream (clotted cream would be ideal) on each plate, and dust with a sprinkle of icing sugar. 
Get you you debutante!

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