Monday, December 22, 2008

Queen of Tarts Tuesday

That soup really hit a spot with many of my readers! Thanks for your email messages. How was your soup?!

I promised dessert and I've saved it for today. It deserves a place all its own.

A unique spin on the apple tart, we'll call it Apple Pizza. It would be another delicious option to slide out of the oven and into your holiday tradition.

A veritable mandala of apples, this. A kaleidoscope of the world's most famous fruit for seduction, I suspect this simple little tart has its roots in Italy as it was the previously mentioned displaced Italian soul who brought this to the table...after that soup.

The bulk of the work is in the apple prep. It would certainly be made easier with the apple corer/peeler/slicer that I have - err...stored in my boxes of stuff at my sister's house. (Note to self: next trip out, bring back apple corer/peeler/slicer.)

I tried to save a bit of time using my French food processor. I'm thinking that the French know food, this is true, but they don't know food processor efficacy if my little machine is any example. It cut thin slices but I couldn't manage the position of the apples well so their shape left a lot to be desired. It may be just as easy to slice by hand if you're quick and nimble. Next time, I'll pull out my industrial mandolin. (The French seem to still have a corner on the market of manually run slicers and dicers...I'll give them that!)

Once the work is done, you have only to enjoy the apple slices baking to a golden brown; soft in the body of the slice and a touch of extra sweetness in the caramelized edges. As the pâte brisée is baked in a pizza pan, it crisps up more like a cracker...or thin crust pizza, for that matter!

Serve this warm so you can enjoy the full effect of the perfume of warm apples and honey. I used demi-sel butter with fleur de sel (little sea salt crystals). It worked for me as I like that sweet/salty combo. But if you want to toss the salt, use sweet butter and enjoy the bass note that it adds to the mélange of scents. Though this is not swimming in butter, the flavor really comes through. Your taste buds will be saying, "Oh yeah, baby, butter with a capital 'B'!" And with a crust covered edge to edge with fruit, I'm guessing that there will be no dry edges left on the plates of crust-haters.

I can't really decide if this is a bit more refined than the jumble of apples that fill a good old American apple pie or more simple an expression. Whatever it is, the apple-ness comes singing through without having to push through a blast of cinnamon. What a way to get your apple-a-day in!

Start with the basics and dress it up or down with anything that speaks to you in your apple fantasies. While it was still warm, I gave this a drizzle of French honey then hit it with a flurry of powdered sugar before serving just to make it seem like a party. Get it to the table while it's still warm and dig in - fork and knife in choreographed moves from plate to mouth or treat it like the pizza that it is and just pick it up aiming the longest corner toward your mouth for the first bite. Yeah...that's it. See?!

Where will yours make its appearance? (Keep this recipe handy. After it introduces itself on your holiday table, it will be just as fitting - and impressive - on your summer table to end a dinner al fresco some summer day in your 2009!)

Bon appétit!


One pâte brisée (recipe below)
4-6 apples, peeled, cored and sliced very thin - 1/4 inch
3-4 tablespoons butter, melted
powdered sugar

Roll out pâte brisée to 9 inches and place on a flat pizza pan. Brush with butter and begin along the outer edge laying the apple slices perpendicular to the edge of the pan and overlapping, one on the other. Work to the center with a pretty windmill design completing your tart.

Brush lightly with butter and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until apples and crust are golden brown.

Remove from oven and while it is still warm, drizzle with honey.

Serve warm with a dusting of powdered sugar on the plate.

Serves 6-8

(adapted from French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David)

4 oz. plain flour
2 oz. butter
1 fresh egg
cold water

Make a well in the sieved flour, put the butter cut in small pieces, the egg and a good pinch of salt in the middle. Blend quickly and lightly but thoroughly, with the fingertips. Add a very little water, just enough to make the dough moist, but it should come cleanly away from the bowl or board. Place the ball of dough on a floured board and with the heel of your palm gradually stretch the pate out, bit by bit, until it is a flat but rather ragged-looking sheet. Gather it up again, and repeat the process. It should all be done lightly and expeditiously, and is extremely simple although it sounds complicated written down. Roll it into a ball, wrap it in greaseproof paper and leave it to rest in a cold larder or refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours, so that it loses all elasticity and will not shrink or lose its shape during the baking.

This is one version of the pâte brisée or pâte à foncer used for most open tarts in French cookery. Without being as rich or as complicated as puff pastry, it is light and crisp.

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