At times when I don’t have clarity, the only thing that saves me is baking. I sit by my window with a cup of coffee, wondering how that pie or cake is going to turn out. I might’ve done everything right but I can still never be sure. And when the cake or pie comes out as it should, the little pieces come together, my thoughts aren’t as cloudy and I feel as though I’ve been injected with a fresh dose of endorphins.
I might’ve baked many cakes over the years, but I still behave like a novice baker who has baked for the first time in her life when I see a perfectly baked cake come out of the oven. For me, the idea of something uncooked transforming into something pretty, something edible, without the element fire in the picture is simply magical.
The thing that puts me to task till date is a tart. Everybody can make a tart but only a few manage to make a perfect tart. Perfectly browned, brittle, melt in mouth tarts without soggy bottoms is something you achieve out of practice. I am still practicing the art of making perfect tarts. Making a tart tests your skill right from the beginning. It’s not like you can combine the ingredients together in a bowl and pour it into a pan and let the oven do its work.
You can’t over work your pastry, you can’t get your butter-flour ratio wrong, your ingredients have to be cold, too much water will give you a wet dough and too less water will give you a dough that’s too crumbly. So it’s touch and feel all the way and of course, a little bit of intuition goes a long way – if you think a tablespoon of extra water will make a difference, go for it.
Anyway, you may have noticed that I’ve been posting quite a few tart or pie crust recipes of late. Aside from the fact that I love making them, I’m learning too; from doing patchwork on the tart tin with broken pieces of shortcrust pastry, I’ve progressed to rolling out a perfect circle and lining it perfectly on a tart tin. Along the way, I’d like to believe that I’m imparting some of that tart wisdom to you too, like with this classic French apple tart.
For flaky pie dough
- 190 g (1 ¼ cup + 2tbsp) plain flour
- Pinch of salt
- 85 g (1/4 cup + 2 tbsp) unsalted butter, cold cut into small bits
- 84 g (1/4 cup + 3tbsp) vegetable shortening, cold cut into small bits
- ¼ cup ice cold water
- 6 medium sized apples, peeled, cored and sliced
- 170 g (3/4 cup) sugar
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- Pinch of cinnamon
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 2-3 medium sized apples
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1 ½ tsp caster sugar
- In a food processor, combine flour and salt. Add the chilled butter cubes and pulse 10 times. Now, add the shortening and pulse another 10 times. Add the cold water and pulse a few more times. Tip the dough onto a floured work surface, gather it together to form a ball, pat it flat, wrap in a cling film and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- For the filling, preheat the oven to 180 C. Squeeze lemon juice over the apples as you are slicing it. In a bowl, combine the apples, flour, cinnamon, bread crumbs and sugar. Mix it thoroughly and pour it on to a baking sheet. Bake the apples for 15-20 minutes. Mash the apple filling roughly (it doesn’t have to be a fine paste) and allow to cool.
- Take the well chilled dough out and roll it out into a 1/8 inch circle to fit a 9” loose bottomed fluted tart tin on a floured work surface. Fold the pastry in quarters and place it on the tart pan. Release the pastry and neatly line it against the base and the side of the tart tin. Trim off the excess pastry. Chill the pastry for another 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200 C.
- Once the tart has been chilled, place a piece of parchment paper over the tart tin and fill the tin with dried beans or baking beans. Bake the tart for 30 minutes until semi baked.
- Meanwhile, for the topping, peel and core 3 medium sized apples. Cut each apple into 4 quarters and halve each quarter. Make 1/8 inch slices out of each half. Squeeze lemon juice over the slices.
- Once the tart has been half baked, removed the beans. Fill the shell with the cooled apple filling and even it out with an offset spatula. Line the filling with prepared apple slices in a concentric fashion, overlapping each other. If there’s too much gap in between two slices, tuck a small slice in between. For the center, cut out a small circle of apple and place it in the center.
- Brush the melted butter over the apples and sprinkle sugar. Bake the tart for another 30 minutes at 180 C.
- Cool the tart before slicing. You can reheat the tart slices and serve it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Recipe source: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan