I find it very inconsiderate of apples, pears, and quinces to suddenly burst into season in late August and early September, just when bakers like me are scrambling to make good on all the summer fruit recipes we spent the last 11 months ogling. Finally, all the berries, stone fruit, figs and melons are in season, clamoring, pleading to be baked, poached, pureed, jammed, and spun.
And now, in the midst of the frenzy, here come the pomes to ruin all the fun.
The Gravensteins let me know that they won’t be around for long. The Boscs and Bartletts demand to be sliced and eaten, with cheese, pronto. The quince tree at Jay’s mom’s house begs for picking, poaching, and membrillo-ing, whispering of minced pies, sweaters, fires in the fireplace. Suddenly, though we still have another two months of warm, sunny days, though the box arrives weekly full of strawberries and plums, I’m browsing the ‘winter’ section of cookbooks and blogs, wondering what do with all those darn pomes. I look at the spice rack, at the cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves, and shake my head firmly. ‘Sorry, guys. I can’t go there just yet.’ (Though I’ve heard that you oughtn’t anthropomorphize spices – they hate that.)
In the midst of researching peach cobblers, raspberry cream tarts, fig focaccia and rustic plum cake, a friend delivers pounds upon pounds of coy pink pearls from her tree. Plain looking on the outside, their insides reveal shockingly pink flesh the color of cotton candy, daring me not to use them.
So after a bit (well, a lot) of protesting, of shoving the apples in the fridge and defiantly making peach buckle instead, I settled on this apple tart. Layers and layers of thinly sliced apples are laid in an unbaked (yay!) pate brisee shell, a simple custard of eggs, sugar and dairy is poured over them, and the tart is baked. No spices to warm things up, just the smooth custard holding things together, the tender tang of the blushing apples, the delicate chew of a nubby crust.
Though the crust is put into the oven unbaked, a few things ensure that it browns and doesn’t sog up: baking the tart in the bottom of the oven, placing it on a baking stone or heated baking pan, and starting the oven at a higher temperature.
Serve this tart slightly warm, at room temperature, or chilled, with a dollop of creme fraiche or whipped cream. A bit of Calvados would make an ideal accompaniment. Leftovers (of the tart, not the Calvados, you lush) make a lovely breakfast.
Light in texture and flavor, this tart doesn’t even feel like a wholly inappropriate thing to eat, cold from the fridge, on a warm, late summer afternoon.
Then again, summer in San Francisco feels like winter most of the time anyway, so who am I kidding…?
Pink Pearl Apple and Custard Tart
Adapted from Once Upon a Tart
The original recipe called for a 9″ tart pan and only 4 apples. I used a 10″ pan… and 8 apples! So I’m not sure exactly how many apples you’ll need, but somewhere between 6 and 8 large ones should be just fine. Some apples oxidize when cut; mine didn’t, as they were quite acidic, but if yours begin to brown, toss them with a bit of lemon juice as you work to prevent them from browning. The easiest way I’ve found to prepare the apples is like so: use a T-shaped vegetable peeler to peel a ring from the top and bottom of the apples. Peel the rest of the apple downwards. Cut the apple off of the core. Then, with the cut-side down, slice the apples very thinly, keeping the slices together. This will make it easy to fan the slices into concentric circles.
All-Butter Pate Brisee: (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook) (or use a half recipe of sourdough pate brisee)
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry or whole spelt flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 3/4″ dice
1/4 -1/3 cup ice water
6 – 8 large apples (pink pearls, or any tart baking apple), peeled, cut off the core, and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoons for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup half and half, or a combination of milk and cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup apricot or plum jam
For the crust:
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar and salt. Scatter the butter pieces over the top and rub with your fingertips until the mixture is the texture of cornmeal with some larger, pea-sized butter chunks remaining. Sprinkle the ice water over 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with your fingers or a rubber spatula, until the dough begins to clump together and no loose, floury bits remain. Gather the dough into a ball, flatten into a disc and wrap tightly in plastic wrap or a plastic bag. Chill at least 30 minutes, or until firm.
Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 12 – 14″ round (depending on the size of your pan). Fit the dough into a 9 or 10″ tart pan. Trim the overhang to 1 inch, then fold it over to make a lip, pressing the sides gently. Freeze the tart crust while you prepare the apples and custard.
For filling and baking the tart:
Position a rack in the bottom third of your oven and preheat to 425º. If you have a baking stone, put it on the rack. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the stone or right on the rack.
Remove the unbaked crust from the freezer, and begin layering the apples in concentric circles, beginning on the outside and working your way in, until the layers sit just above the top of the tart crust, 3 – 4 layers in total.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and salt until well combined. Whisk in the dairy and the vanilla. Slowly pour the custard into the center of the tart. Sprinkle the apples with 1 tablespoon of sugar.
Place the tart on the heated baking sheet. Reduce the oven temperature to 375º. Bake the tart for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the apples on top are golden and even slightly burnt at the tips and the custard is set, not jiggly. Remove and let cool at least an hour.
Heat the jam slightly in a small saucepan with a few drops of water until warm and loose. Strain. Brush the glaze all over the apples and edges of the crust. Slice and serve.
The tart is best the day it is baked, but can be stored for up to several days in the fridge.